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The Seven Stages of ButsudanMaking

Until a Butsudan reaches completion, seven different types of craftsmen engage in its construction.  Here, you will see their delicate artisanal processes applied toward creating a beautiful finished piece. You may also enjoy the introductory movie of our city, Hikone.

butsudan making

The kijishiThe Kijishi craftsman, who makes the main body of a butsudan altar, is responsible for the first important step in crafting the butsudan.  Starting from carefully chosen wood pieces, he builds the butsudan body with the mortise and tenon joint technique, which requires very high artistry to join the wood pieces together precisely without the use of nails.   Because of its nailless structure, the body of the butsudan can be disassembled later on.

kudenshiThe Kudenshi craftsman, known as the palace maker, creates each of the small details by hand to make up the roof of the butsudan, called the kuden.  Similarly to Kijishi craftsman, he uses the mortise and tenon joint technique which allows for disassembly into small pieces.   To make this possible, he never ignores even a 1mm inaccuracy of measurement.

The sculptorThe sculptor choses the design, and carves the sculptures out of wood (commonly hinoki cypress or pine) using small chisels and knives. Starting from a sketch on a wood base block, he carves out vivid three dimensional depictions of plants or animals.

the lacquererThe lacquerer manually applies urushi lacquer after treating the surface of the already carved wood pieces.   The urushi application process takes much time and effort.  Depending on the product, not only does he apply it using a brush, but he also polishes it with a premium technique called roiro finishing, to give the work a deeper hue and lustrous mirror-like surface, the trademarks of quality urushi lacquer work.

The gilderThe gilder, who is responsible for gold leaf stamping, applies each individual sheet of pure gold leaf using special lacquer glue. This gold leaf sheet is extremely thin, about .0001mm, so it will blow away with even a slight breeze.

The chaserThe chaser uses a tagane, an engraving tool, or a hammer to create different shapes of decorative fittings by carving, cutting and bending copper and other metals.  He then finishes it with a coating of either urushi lacquer or gold plating.

makieshiThe makie artist designs and paints various types of objects, traditionally natural landscapes or flowers and birds.  He first sketches the design using lacquer paint, then sprinkles gold or silver powders, or inlays mother-of-pearl pieces.  Finally, he touches in the finishing details to complete the polished look of the butsudan altar.