Yame-fukushima Buddhist altar Yame fukushima butsudan
Synonymous with magnificence and regal splendor
Uncompromising expertise handed down for generations
What is Yame-fukushima Buddhist altar ?
Yame Fukushima Butsudan refers to Buddhist altars which are made in Yame City (former Fukushima Town), Fukushima Prefecture. Dotted with many temples, the Yame region had been noted for the grounding with devout faith since ancient times, which underlay the development of altar production. Yame Fukushima Butsudan is characterized by its unique style copying from a multi-storied Buddhist sanctum with luxurious and splendid decors. Featuring its uniqueness with gold leaves layered on the overall Urushi-painted surface, it is impervious to other areas of Buddhist altar production.
Yame Fukushima Butsudan is mostly handcrafted to maintain its magnificence and quality based on the tradition passed down from the Edo Period, and is also believed to be the origin of altar production in Kyushu. Household Buddhist altars are built lower to suit to the design of an altar room equipped with a cabinet.
With the original production techniques and outstanding quality, Yame Fukushima Butsudan has been of influence on other altar production areas nationwide. It is classified under three groups according to the shapes of an architrave: Fukushima style, Yame style, and Yahime style. Yame Fukushima Butsudan adopts an integrated production system by expert artisans who have more than 10 years of experience respectively.
History of Yame Fukushima Butsudan harks back to the mid-Edo Period. There is an anecdote that a cabinet maker was inspired by his dream about a majestic, luxurious temple and enlisted the help from workmates to build a Buddhist altar.
The Yame region of Fukushima Prefecture is the home of historical temples, including Daienji Temple built in the Nara Period and Komyoji Temple founded by Buddhist monk Gyoki, spurring Buddhist altar production in keeping with the climate of religious devotion and the prohibition against Christianity imposed by the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In the mid-19th century, when the techniques were established, Yame Fukushima Butsudan went into full-scale production and became the cradle of altar production in Kyushu. By the end of the Edo Period, Yame Fukushima altar production had been expanded while employing craftsmen in respective processes, and it continued steady growth after the Meiji Restoration.
Restrictions on livelihood and housing imposed by the Kurume clan were abolished due to the Meiji Restoration, allowing altar production to be recognized as an industry.
As lifestyle changes with a trend toward nuclear families and a declining birthrate, Yame Fukushima Butsudan has been striving to pursue traditional techniques and the role of Buddhist altars in the family.
General Production Process
- 1. Wooden base
Yame Fukushima Butsudan undergoes more than 80 process steps, which are professionally handcrafted by respective expert craftsmen, except for some steps in the wooden base, inner sanctuary and wood sculpture process. It requires subtle craftsmanship that is acquired over a decade.
It mainly uses carefully-selected cedar, Japanese cypress and Japanese big-leaf magnolia for a base of an altar. Wood is cut to predetermined sizes for a main frame. The base is classified under three groups according to the structure: Fukushima style (triple-layer architrave), Yame style (cabinet-type architrave), and Yahime style (double-layer architrave with a drawer). The upper section above the base is detachable for easy assembly.
- 2. Kuden (inner sanctuary)
Kuden is an inner wooden sanctuary comprised of a roof and peripheral parts, which is located inside the altar. The inner sanctuary is modeled after a sect-designated temple, with a roof designed like that of Higashi and Nishi Hongan-ji Temples. A sanctuary is said to be designed in Kuden artisan’s head, which requires proficient skills. Artisan-handcrafted elaborate parts are assembled in sequence.
- 3. Wood sculpture
There are carving techniques including Maru-bori, Tsuke-bori and Kasane-bori. Maru-bori is drawing a sect-designated design and carving it from a solid block of wood, Tsuke-bori is coarse carving allowing for a design. Kasane-bori is carving multiple layers of three boards to give depth and a three-dimensional appearance. With Japanese cypress wood or Korean pine wood, dozens of different kinds of chisels and knives are used for decor carving.
- 4. Ornamental fine metal
Yame Fukushima Butsudan features handcrafted metal ornaments. Engraved in a copper, copper alloy or base metal sheet, ornamental fine metal is in fine gold-plated. The engraving techniques include kebori (hairline engraving for planar patterns) and jibori (engraving for embossed patterns to give a three-dimensional appearance).
- 5. Urushi lacquering
Urushi lacquering is of coating the shaped wooden base with glue and polishing powder to give reinforcement and prevent it from absorbing urush lacquer. This process involves drying the base, wet-whetting carefully with charcoal, and painting with refined natural urushi lacquer.
Urushimuro is a room used for drying and curing urushiware while protecting it from dust.
- 6. Kinpakuoshi
Kinpakuoshi is a gilding technique to layer a fine gold leaf carefully over the Urushi-painted surface. Using special bamboo tweezers, a gold leaf is gently is layered over the surface with Hakuoshi urushi applied and wiped with cotton. Ornamental fine metal requires baking finishing with charcoal fire to bake gold leaf on the metal ornament for protection. Bits of dust ruining gilding, this process urges meticulous work.
- 7. Maki-e
Maki-e is a traditional and prodigious technique of drawing exquisite patterns or designs which metal ornaments and wood sculptures cannot achieve to express. Painted with Urushi lacquer, the base is dried for 3 to 5 hours. Then, the Urushi-painted surface is sprinkled with gold or silver powder, or naturally shiny shells to deliver an exquisite finish. Sprinkling gold powder only takes 2 to 3 minutes. The right timing of sprinkling powder and shells is judged by the artist’s experience and intuition, along with concentration.
- 8. Assembly
Assembly is a final process of Yame Fukushima Butsudan, which is conducted by artisans in all the processes. All the parts are gathered in a place and assembled to complete one altar by tenoning the bases of the inside and outside of the altar and inlaying the inner parts.