Owari Buddhist altar equipment Owari butsugu
Beautiful amber tortoise shell
transformed by the art of water and fire
What is Owari Buddhist altar equipment ?
Owari Buddhist altar equipment is made in the prefecture of Aichi. More specifically in the city of Nagoya and its suburbs, called the Owari suburbs.
Owari Buddhist altar equipment was first founded as a religious craft by the missonaries of the forefather of the Jodo-shinshu sect's restoration, Rennyo.
A canal was excavated around Nagoya castle which led to a raise in available kiso-hinoki and other types of wood, making it easier to procure wood and different goods.This favorable environment for making crafts was the foundation of Owari Buddhist altar equipment.
Lacquered wood crafts were the most popular but many other articles of different shapes and utilities were created.
This craft was the first to be considered an expert in this field and to provide so many different high-quality articles all around Japan.
Wood blocks and round table boards used in today's Buddhist temples around Japan are only produced in the Owari suburbs.
There are several unique techniques proper to this craft such as applying heavy pressure to gold leaves or axis-bending wood.
Other than Buddhist altar equipment, different articles for festivals and other rituals are also produced.
In the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), lower-class samurai used to work in crafts on the side. The techniques they developed from these jobs were used to create Buddhist altar equipment.
During the Meiji period (1868-1912), the high quality of Buddhist altar articles made in Nagoya using kiso-hinoki wood had made them so popular that they began selling them all around Japan. Even the region of Kobe, known for their Buddhist altar articles, started to order more from Nagoya.
Nagoya became a major production area for Buddhist altars and their equipment at the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989). The export of products started with Taiwan, Korea and a few of the then Empire of Japan's territories. There were now over 630 ateliers in the Owari suburbs and more than 1700 employees.
A lot of shrines and Buddhist altars were destroyed by the air raids during WWII. However, thanks to a great effort of reconstruction right after the end of the war, Buddhist altar equipment construction was back on its track by 1950 and soon spread all over the country.
In 2014, the association to preserve Owari Buddhist altar equipment was inaugurated.
In 2017 Owari Buddhist altar equipment was designed as a Traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.
General Production Process
- 1. Creating the wooden base
Different dry wood such as pine, cypress, zelkova or camphor tree are used to prepare the wooden base.
Each step and every part of the equipment requires special tools.
- 2. Carving
Several types of chisels and knives are used during this step.
High-skilled artisans use their many years of experience to finely carve the traditional designs.
- 3. Making of the base
The base is made from the powder of the whetstone or a traditional powder made from calcium carbonate called gofun mixed with nikawa glue or raw lacquer. It is applied to the wooden base and dried.
This base serves several important purposes. It will help fixing and bringing out the colors as well as assuring a smooth ans soft finish to the lacquer.
- 4. Applying the lacquer
Different special instruments are used such as brushes and spatulas. It is then dried out in a type of drying room where the humidity is controlled.
There are many techniques to apply the lacquer and each have a different finish.
- 5. Applying the color
Colors are applied using painting tools.
Gofun (see step 3) is sometimes used to give more dimension to the design.
- 6. Creating the metal ornaments
Arabesques or Buddhist flower designs are carved in copper or brass metal sheets. In the spaces left uncarved, little round spots called nanako are pushed into the metal.
- 7. Adding the gold leaves
A coat of lacquer is first given to places where gold leaves are going to be applied. The lacquer is uniformed using a cloth, then the gold leaves are applied. After some time, they are pushed to fix them using silk. The gloss can be adjusted by the number of times the leaves are wiped.
- 8. Finalizing with the gold lacquer
The base is drawn on Japanese traditional paper (washi ), traced with red iron oxide lacquer and reproduced on the right spot.
Lacquer is then applied to this spot and different sorts of gold powder are sprinkled on top of it.
Ater letting it dry in a drying room, the finished gold lacquer is sometimes wet sanded with charcoal, rubbed with lacquer and polished again.
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