Temple Altar

Temple Altar

HIKONE Household Buddhist Altar, recipient of the Traditional Craft Industry Promotion Association Award.

This masterpiece epitomizes all of the traditional knowledge of making Hikone Buddhist altars that has been passed down in an unbroken chain from centuries ago.
The three-stage kazarikanagu accents of this Buddhist altar express the flow between the changing phases of matter and represent clouds, snow, and running water from top to bottom. In addition to representations of auspicious traditional motifs such as pine, bamboo, and plum trees; the crane and tortoise; and the snow, moon, and flowers, there are also beautiful depictions of the mythical Mt. Horai. The execution is playful and imaginative, incorporating both the client’s family crest and auspicious imagery into many different scenes while maintaining a traditional design.
This piece has been produced in a totally uncompromising matter, using the highest quality materials and techniques available to modern Hikone Buddhist altars, including the highest quality high-gloss lacquer, wood frame, carving, model making, gold leaf, maki-e, and kazarikanagu. We are proud to say that this piece represents the highest apex of Hikone craftsmanship available today.

TitleTemple Altar
ThemeTraditional art object, a Hikone Buddhist altar
TechniquesWood framing, kumiko, kuden, carving, lacquering, polished maki-e, raden zaiku, kirikane zaiku, gold leaf, gold powder maki-e, kazarikanagu, matte gilding, lacquer enameling
MaterialsKiso hinoki, zelkova, hiba, and red pine, natural lacquer (including 100% Japanese lacquer), mother-of-pearl, gold powder, kirikane, gold leaf, gold dust, silver, copper, and brass foil
SizeWidth:1300mm; height:1775mm; depth:880mm
ClientProduced for an individual
DesignYosuke Inui
PhotographyHiroshi Ohno

Integrated traditional materials and techniques

Hikone Buddhist altars are produced by combining the efforts of craftsmen who are highly skilled in seven different areas: wood framing, kuden, carving, lacquering, gold leaf application, maki-e, and kazarikanagu. Even among the genuine traditional art pieces, the creation of this piece was remarkable, as it made use of the highest quality materials and techniques and involved two years of labor.

  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. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.