Owari enamel

Owari enamel Owari shippo

Shining examples of the finest craftsmanship
Jewels of Japan: elegance and splendor


What is Owari enamel ?

The Owari Shippo cloisonné produced in Ama City, Aichi Prefecture are decorated with vibrant colorful designs often depicting natural scenery or the beauty of nature. The term shippo refers to the seven jewels of Buddhism, as it was thought the cloisonné was so beautiful it was as if they were indeed inlaid with the precious stones mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures.
Owari Shippo are distinguished by their bright colored enamel on a metal base such as copper or silver, and are produced using a variety of highly-skilled techniques. The basic wired yusen-shippo technique of recent times involves fixing metal wires along the design lines drawn on the metal base. Enamel is applied within the wires, and the piece is fired and polished. In the wireless musen-shippo, either the metal wires are removed before firing, or no metal wires are used at all; this allows subtle gradations of color rather than the clearly delineated borders of wired cloisonné. In the raised moriage-shippo, sections of the enamel surface are raised above the level of the metal wires and fired to give a relief effect. Shotai-shippo (plique-a-jour) are delicate cloisonné very much resembling glass ware. Silver wires are fixed on a copper base, translucent enamels are applied and fired, followed by polishing and the removal of the base by acid corrosion. There are many other techniques which even today are used in different combinations to make original works. Cloisonné with its sparkling glass like effect and vivid colors still fascinates people as shown by the latest modern designs.


Cloisonné artifacts have been found in Ancient Egypt and the technique was introduced to Japan via Europe and China. To date the oldest cloisonné ware excavated in Japan was from a kofun (ancient burial mound) dating from around the 7th century; the artifacts had been used as fittings in castles and temples.
Between 1830 and 1844, cloisonné dishes were imported from the Netherlands, and after carefully studying samples, Tsunekichi Kaji, a retainer of the Owari domain, worked out and modified the cloisonné manufacturing process. His method was to take hold as an industry undertaken by second and third sons of farming families in local villages. Along with the rapid spread of the shippo manufacturing process across Japan, the cloisonné produced in the Owari region came to be known as Owari Shippo. The names of individual makers in Owari were not recorded or inscribed on their work, confirming that cloisonné production was a village artisan type industry, rather than artworks made in a studio.
Even so, standards were so incredibly high that in 1867, Owari Shippo received world acclaim when it won an award at the Paris Universal Exposition. In modern times, being a luxury article, Owari Shippo was much affected by wartime and the rise and fall of the economy; during World War II, due to the enactment of the Limitation Rules on Manufacturing and Selling of Luxury Items known as the 7.7 prohibitory decree, production was ordered to stop. However, in 1943, Shinji Yoshino, upon assuming the post of Governor, reinstated Owari Shippo as a local industry.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Making the Base Since each stage of Owari Shippo manufacture requires highly-specialized techniques, each phase of the production process is basically allocated to expert artisans.
    Owari Shippo usually has a copper base, and nowadays, three techniques are commonly used: hand beating with a hammer or mallet, machine shaping using an iron rod and lathe, or a machine press.
  2. 2. Drawing the Design The design is drawn directly in sumi ink onto the plain metal surface of the base, or onto a fired white enamel undercoat. Recently, a newly-developed cutting print technique using a carved plastic design has greatly improved work efficiency.
  3. 3. Fixing the Wires A hakukyu glue made of the dried ground roots of urn orchid is used to affix silver wires along the lines of the design.
  4. 4. Applying Enamels Enamels are applied between the fixed silver wires on the metal base. Owari Shippo known for its colorful designs uses dozens of enamels made from such materials as silica stone, lead oxide, or saltpeter with the addition of a small quantity of cobalt, manganese, copper, silver, or other metals to add color. To create distinctive colors, some workshops have their own secret recipes, giving artisans the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and color sense. Even with modern technology, wire fixing and applying enamel are difficult by machine, so highly-skilled artisans with many years of experience carry out these tasks by hand.
  5. 5. Firing After the enamel colors are applied, the work piece is fired for about 10 to 15 minutes in an electric furnace at temperatures of about 700 to 800°C; formerly charcoal furnace kilns were used. Firing melts the powdered enamels, which then creates a difference between the depth of the enamel and the height of the metal wire; to raise the enamel to the height of the wire, several applications of enamel and repeated firings are needed. At each repetition of firing, the kiln temperature and timing will vary depending on the work shape and type of enamel used; much practice is required to produce the highest quality work.
  6. 6. Polishing After the final firing, the wire and enamel surface will still be uneven and require polishing and smoothing using water and a whetstone. Further polishing is applied with wood charcoal or tin oxide to give a high gloss. In the course of polishing, as the enamel is worn down the wires appear and delineate the borders. In recent years, keeping abreast of the times, sometimes industrial diamonds may be used for polishing.
  7. 7. Fitting Ornamental Rims and Trims The upper and lower edges are not processed in the polishing stage, and the copper base is left exposed. In this final stage, silver or silver-plated rims are attached; for example, in the case of a flower vase, rings will be fitted to the rim and the bottom to finish.

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