Lacquerware with impressive motifs — an art developed from Buddhist carving

Legacies of Buddhist image sculptors
During the Kamakura period the shogunate was established in Kamakura (Kanagawa prefecture), which flourished as the capital of Zen Buddhism in Japan. The wooden lacquerware craft passed down from that era has become Kamakura-bori of today’s Kamakura city. The origins of Kamakura-bori is considered to be temple furniture carving (such as shumidan altar piece and maetsukue table) and tsuishu (red lacquerware with patterns carved in relief) from China. The craft was undertaken by Buddhist image sculptors and passed on to the Muromachi, Momoyama and Edo periods, before falling into decline at the end of the Edo period. However, Kamakura-bori was revived during the Meiji period when the two Buddhist image making families Gotō and Mitsuhashi switched to making Kamakura-bori after losing their livelihood as a result of the anti-Buddhism movement. The exhibition of their works in and outside of Japan led to high appraisals and consequently boosted their confidence in the making of the craft. In addition to that, Kamakura-bori furniture also became much loved by famous people and people with high status (such as the imperial family) who set up villas in scenic Kamakura. This would in turn propel the development of Kamakura-bori. 
Toward a new era of Kamakura-bori
During the Meiji period Kamakura-bori were highly received at national industrial expositions and world expositions. Besides paving the way for art craft, it also provided opportunities for artisans to seek out new forms and designs. 

By basing on classical works, Kamakura-bori artisans added modern elements to their works (such as vivid compositions and deformation or omission of elements), while enhancing their carving and lacquering. The modern Kamakura-bori came into being as a result of the attention given to the aesthetics of the carving and the ease-of-use of the piece as a furniture item.

Kamakura-bori, Meiji period. 
Works by Gotō Itsuki (1838-1908), one of the people who established the foundation for the revival of Kamakura-bori, are completely hand-carved with gently carved low reliefs of phoenix and cloud motifs and brimming with grace. 
Kamakura-bori, Taishō period. 
Created by Gotō運久 (1868-1947), who strived to revived Kamakura-bori with his father Gotō Itsuki. The dragon that appeared in one of the designs pages was used to make this inkstone case. The gently rounded edges of the motifs carved in the Gotō style and the hikuchi-nuri technique perfected by father and son to imitate the aged look of Buddhist images would later greatly influence the making of Kamakura-bori. 
Kamakura-bori, Shōwa period. 
Gotō Shuntarō (1923-2006), grandson of Gotō 運久 who acquired carving techniques from 運久, vigorously produced pieces with a new sensation by incorporated Western carving styles into Kamakura-bori carving. He also contributed to the development of Kamakura-bori in ways such as writing the book Kamakura-bori (published by Shufu To Seikatsu Sha) on the history and techniques of Kamakura-bori. In 1977 Kamakura-bori was designated traditional craft of Kamakura as a production area by the then Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry).
Kamakura-bori, modern day. 
Created by Gotō Keiko, the current proprietor of Hakkodō, this modern-style Kamakura-bori is a piece of high relief of twisting arabesque motif. By inheriting the tradition of Buddhist image carving, she takes on a design-oriented approach to lead Kamakura-bori toward a new era, while seeking out possibilities for lacquered, wooden carving of motifs that is both sturdy and beautiful at the same time.
New challenges
In an attempt to bring lacquerwares closer to daily use by making them lighter and more heat, acid and oil resistant, Kondō Keiko (the current proprietor of Hakkodō) proposes new Kamakura-bori products through re-designing and price adjustments to create new pieces at her Hakkodō workshop. Marketed with the brand name “Hakko”, Kamakura-bori products that include not only carved products, but also lacquerwares for daily use are now being exported from Kamakura.
Kamakura-bori — the hikuchi-nuri process
This lacquering technique was devised by Gotō Itsuki and運久 around the Meiji period and is the main technique used to make Kamakura-bori today. It is characteristic in its antique look, where the polished area appears red and the black lacquer remains within the carving. The entire process from carving to final lacquer finish involves 9 major steps. Katsura wood from Hokkaido is commonly used because the dense yet soft wood is easy to carve, making it suitable for Kamakura-bori. The wood is left to dry between 6 months to 1 year to prevent any warping before being processed. Boxes made by a cabinetmaker, round containers made by a woodturner and a kijishi (a craftsman who refines wood products) are carved before being lacquered. 
The making of Kamakur-bori — Carving 
One of the major features of Kamakura-bori is the decorative carving. Kamakura-bori is created using techniques inherited from Buddhist image sculptors and requires the use of a variety of carving knives to make. Another feature of Kamakura-bori is the visible traces of carving over the entire wooden piece. The movements of the carver seen in every part of the work brings out the beauty of art craft.
Carving knives
Kamakura-bori is created by carving using a variety of carving knives, including the regular knife, flat-blade knife, U-shaped gouge, V-shaped gouge, curved knife, namazori knife, double-edged knife, flat chisel, and gouge. In order to ensure the knives can carve well, the blades must be thoroughly sharpened and ready for carving at all times. Before a craftsman can carve he must first know how to sharpen his knives.
The making of Kamakur-bori — Lacquering
The making of Kamakura-bori is a job requiring sophisticated lacquering skills where the lacquer must ensure that all parts of the carved wood is evenly covered in lacquer, with no excess lacquer in any part of the carved wood. The image shows the lacquerer applying the layer of suki-urushi (clear lacquer) made from red lacquer with honshu (red pigment) added over the intermediate coat of black lacquer. 
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Supported and Images provided by:
Goto Keiko

Text by:
Tanaka Atsuko

Photo by:
Minamoto Tadayuki

English translation by:
Eddy Y.L. Chang

Exhibition created by:
Nakatani Nagisa, Kyoto Women's University
Ueyama Emiko, Kyoto Women's University

Project Directers:
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

Credits: All media
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