Materials and techniques

At INOUE, we are equally comfortable employing both traditional and contemporary materials and techniques.
As traditional arts are handmade, they have characteristics that differ from those of contemporary materials, which are typically produced in a factory setting. We have accumulated the knowledge and technical skills to chart a course to a final product while taking various important factors into consideration, such as the aforementioned traditional characteristics, tolerance of production error, work processes, and quality management.
Examples of the traditional materials and methods that we utilize are described below. However, we also make use of traditional arts, materials, and methods not listed here. Please contact us for further details.

  1. Woodworking

    Working with unfinished wood is an important initial process for creating the foundation or frame of a product.
    Woodworking at INOUE is based on the exacting quality found in the traditional arts that have been cultivated by the production of Buddhist altars in the castle town of Hikone since the Edo Period (1603-1868 CE). Craftsmen produced these altars by hand and without nails, demanding uncompromising quality in the careful selection of the best materials for use in mortise and tenon construction. These altars are durable enough to be handed down through many generations. Furthermore, we have connections with woodworking shops in other areas that specialize in mass production, allowing us to select the appropriate methods of woodworking for any project.

  2. Kuden

    The detailed wood construction of the miniature roof that sits inside of a Buddhist altar is called kuden. These “palace roofs” are produced through a miniature construction process that is modeled after the construction of temples and shrines, which are themselves modeled after the buildings of the Pure Land, or the Buddhist paradise. In Hikone, this work is handled by kuden-shi, or craftsmen who specialize in building kuden.
    Sophisticated techniques are required to precisely assemble the components of these structures, such as their characteristic bow-shaped gables or other roof forms, roof tiles, square framing elements, and so on. These skills are not only applicable to Buddhist altars; they can also be used to bring many other sophisticated and delicate designs to life.

  3. Lacquering

    Lacquer is Japan’s exceptionally beautiful and high-quality traditional method of finishing. It is one of the most protective coatings in existence but can be very difficult to handle. Applying lacquer evenly requires the touch of a skillful craftsman from the first coat. The lacquer must be applied in many coats, from the first coat to the final finish, and the painting and polishing processes must be repeated many times over.
    A high-gloss lacquer finish, considered the highest level of lacquer, involves the painted lacquer being polished flat, after which raw lacquer is repeatedly rubbed into the surface and polished to bring out a deep luster that is nearly mirror-like.
    Based on our extensive knowledge of producing Buddhist altars, INOUE is able to offer the appropriate lacquering methods and craftsmen capable of implementing them, from a black, high-gloss lacquer finishes to a broad range of other coatings and lacquer colors.

  4. Colored lacquer

    At INOUE, our lacquer craftsmen have created a color chart with more than 800 colors, and use a unique, high-quality lacquer developed through many years of trial and error.
    Colored lacquers at INOUE are made by mixing natural lacquer with pigments, providing many original colors from the admixture of colors. However, colors such as pure white are not possible to create, due to the properties of the lacquer itself.

  5. Maki-e

    Maki-e is an artistic lacquer technique that involves drawing pictures or patterns using lacquer and then sprinkling them with gold dust or other fine powders. Maki-e originates in Japan and is one of the unique traditional techniques developed here. Maki-e includes many subsidiary techniques, such as hiramakie, takamakie, and togidashimakie. Furthermore, maki-e includes a wide variety of different end products, such as the expression of depth through different types or sizes of gold powder and the application of a variety of processing techniques.
    At INOUE, we have built a network of maki-e craftsmen with a wide range of skills, allowing us to provide the skills needed for any project, from projects demanding the utmost quality to those needing to fit into a tight budget.

  6. Kirikane zaiku

    Kirikane zaiku is a decorative technique that involves cutting gold sheets of 0.03-millimeter thickness and adhering them using lacquer. This technique provides a feeling of three-dimensionality, setting off the beauty of maki-e even more extravagantly. Another term with the same pronunciation but a different meaning also exists; it is also used for ornamentation and involves drawing fine patterns by welding several sheets of gold leaf together and affixing them to an object, such as a Buddhist image.

  7. Raden zaiku

    Raden zaiku refers to another decorative technique that involves shaving off thin sheets of mother-of-pearl, primarily from limpet shells, and affixing them to an object using lacquer. Raden zaiku is often performed at the same time as maki-e, after which yet more gold powder is applied on top of the affixed sheet of mother-of-pearl. Hairlines are also often engraved upon the decoration to make it even more beautiful.
    A variation on this technique is called rankaku zaiku and uses the shells of quail or even chicken eggs in place of mother-of-pearl. Recently, some practitioners have begun to use artificial Kyoto opal as well.

  8. Gold plating (Hakuoshi, hakuhari, or hakuoki)

    Hakuoshi is a decorative technique for covering items with gold or silver leaf or platinum foil.
    While the material is called “gold leaf,” it includes a variety of types. These range from gold with a high degree of purity to silver admixtures that allow for an adjustment of the foil’s color. Techniques for applying the gold leaf include methods that bring out the luster of the foil as well as methods that create an elegant or refined appearance.
    At INOUE, veteran craftsmen employ a wide variety of methods for gold leaf application. We have also developed techniques for the application of gold leaf to modern materials, such as acrylic resin and glass.

  9. Decorative fixtures (kazarikanagu)

    While various types of metal fixtures are used in the arts, metalwork that is highly decorative in nature is called kazarikanagu. Metals such as brass or copper are used to fit the objectives and location of the fixture and various techniques are employed to shape the fixture, such as zibori to give the fixture a three-dimensional feel, kebori to engrave the fixture with fine lines and details, and sukashibori to create openings and provide a sense of depth. Other fixtures can also be produced through more cost-effective methods like metal pressing, electric casting, and etching.
    We also provide the optimal techniques and decorative methods for adding finishes to kazarikanagu, such as gold plating, nickel plating or some other technique or combination thereof.

  10. Carving

    Carving involves using a chisel or other implement to create a three-dimensional from out of stone, wood, or another material. Japan has a rich culture of working with wood as part of its traditional arts, so great attention has been paid to the development of wood carving.
    At INOUE, we can respond to any wood carving request, as we are connected to various wood carving masters of different specialties. These specialties range from plants and animals that are typically depicted along the transom of a Buddhist altar, such as the flowers and birds, to statues of the Buddha himself.

  11. Bringing out the wood grain (mokumedashinuri)

    Mokumedashinuri is an advanced lacquering technique used to accentuate and enliven the wood grain of zelkova or other woods using a dark-brown, semi-transparent lacquer. By applying this clear lacquer, the natural grain of these woods acquires an elegance and an expression of depth.

  12. Rubbed or brushed lacquer (suriurushi or fukiurushi)

    Suriurushi is a technique that involves directly rubbing raw lacquer into a wooden surface to create a glossy finish. Raw lacquer, or lacquer sap, is 100% pure lacquer made from lacquer tree sap that has been cleaned of all dirt or impurities. By rubbing this raw lacquer in repeatedly, a brilliant dark brown finish is achieved. If a colored raw lacquer admixed with pigments is used, a variety of colored finishes can be achieved.
    At INOUE, we can apply techniques like this to nearly any kind of item, from small coffee cups to entire structural elements or other building materials.

  13. Finishes (cashew, urethane, etc.)

    At INOUE, the quality of our finishes is consistently and carefully scrutinized with a watchful eye. From sophisticated traditional techniques such as base coats of natural lacquer to cashew finishes made with the natural resin of the cashew tree, also a member of the lacquer family, to urethane finishes made with synthetic resins, we provide a wide variety of finishing techniques.
    Given our extensive network of craftsmen with unparalleled technical skill, we can fulfill requests for finishes of nearly any kind.

  14. Kumiko

    Kumiko is a stunningly delicate and beautiful method of wood construction that involves assembling wood without the use of nails. It is used for opening and closing components in Japanese construction, such as sliding doors, windows, and so on. Recently, it has come to be used in hotels and other retail locations that wish to create a modern, Japanese-inspired feeling. This has resulted in the development of many novel kumiko patterns. Finishes can be applied to kumiko and it can also be coated in gold leaf.

  15. Magemono

    The single term magemono actually applies to a variety of techniques. Yumage is the most common version, and involves the bending of wood using hot water, but there is also hikimage, in which grooves are dug to assist in bending the wood, as well as the bending in place of disposable shingles. Magemono is widely used as a technique of the traditional arts, and objects are made using it all over Japan.
    At INOUE, we select the optimal technique to suit the requirements of each project.

  16. Hikimono

    Hikimono are objects produced by cutting away at a block of wood with a chisel as it is turned on a lathe.
    At INOUE, we can respond to a variety of requests as we have extensive experience making everything from coffee cups to ritual implements using hikimono techniques. We can also finish these objects with various coatings and provide various ornamentation.

  17. Kirikane

    Kirikane is a decorative technique that involves drawing fine patterns by welding several sheets of gold leaf together and affixing them to an object, such as a statue of Buddha.
    Both flat and curved surfaces can be decorated with a variety of patterns, including traditional Japanese patterns such as overlapping circles, interlocking hemp leaves, interlocking hexagons, and patterns that imitate interlocking wicker work.

  18. Gold-inlay

    This is a decorative technique that involves carving fine lines into a finished surface or coating and inserting gold leaf or gold powder to create a pattern. Many different types of decoration can be made using this technique, from geometric patterns to designs featuring nature motifs. Also, as the gold is set into indentations, the resulting designs strongly resist being rubbed or scraped off.

  19. Coloring

    Coloring techniques involve drawing images and colors on top of wood, lacquer, or gold leaf using the traditional vibrant pigments of Japan. The resulting colors are remarkable for their matte finish. Depending on the design, coloring can be applied to further enhance a variety of different products.

  20. Gilding

    Gilding is a surface processing technique that involves coating a target object, either metal or a non-metal such as plastic, with another metal. In the case of Buddhist altars, brass and copper surfaces are often gilded with gold or silver.

  21. Casting

    Casting is a technique that involves melting a metal such as copper, gold, silver, aluminum, or iron and pouring it into a mold. For Buddhist ritual implements, the metal may then be polished and colored.
    At INOUE, we deal in traditional Japanese cast objects, as well as offering products developed by combining casting with other techniques.

  22. Glass

    Glass is a relatively new material in the traditional arts world. It requires careful handling when integrated into objects to prevent it from shattering. We also use high-quality production methods so that in the unlikely event that glass does break, it can be repaired relatively easily.
    Lacquer that can be painted on top of glass has also recently been developed.

  23. Acrylic

    Acrylic resin is highly transparent, difficult to break, and can be painted with color or lacquer. As it is also thick and has a luxurious feel, we look forward to integrating it into more of our projects as time goes on.
    However, the surface of acrylic can be easily nicked, and it tends to yellow when exposed to the sunlight. We understand these qualities and use acrylic only when it is appropriate.

  24. Mounting, binding, and paper works

    Mounting is a traditional arts technique that involves adhering multiple layers of washi paper or certain types of fabric to each other to create a finished piece. Mounted picture frames, scrolls, and folding or sliding screens are called hyogu.
    At INOUE, we often mount paper or fabric on wooden boxes and other objects and also deal in the repair and maintenance of high-quality picture frames and similar services.

  25. Hand embroidery

    Hand embroidery is a decorative technique applied to the decorative cloth laid on top of Buddhist tables placed before Buddhist altars and in temples, or shoku. It is also applied to curtains, flags, and other similar objects. The photograph here shows a decorative cloth hand embroidered using real gold thread. Cotton has been placed underneath the embroidered image to create a three-dimensional effect. We also welcome inquiries about traditional Japanese decorative fabrics.

  26. Design of traditional arts objects

    In many ways, traditional arts objects are of an extremely high quality. However, as they are handmade, the scope of this quality differs in its conditions and limits from mass produced objects.
    At INOUE, we collaborate with designers who have a deep knowledge of the traditional arts to handle new designs. This includes adjusting a design using their knowledge of each of the arts processes involved in a project’s production. We are also happy to receive inquiries for projects that are still in the design phase.