【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Nagaoka Buddhist altar (Niigata Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Nagaoka Buddhist altar (Niigata Prefecture)~


Nagaoka Buddhist altar



【Production area of Nagaoka Buddhist altar】

Around Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture



【What is Nagaoka Buddhist altar ?】

Buddhist altars and fittings manufactured in and around Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture.

It is made using traditional techniques that have been handed down from around 1600 to 1700.

Without being bound by tradition, craftsmen actively incorporate designs that suit modern lifestyles.

Recently, the number of houses without Buddhist altars is increasing, but it is a furniture-like Buddhist altar that can be placed together with ordinary furniture.

It was designated as a traditional craft in 1980.



【Features of Nagaoka Buddhist altar】

The main features of Nagaoka Buddhist altar are the following two.

・Three-roof palace

・Pedestal and body can be separated


*Three-roof type palace

The Nagaoka Buddhist altar is a three-roofed palace that imitates the main hall of a temple.

At the top of the Buddhist altar is the Shumidan, where Buddhist statues such as the principal image of worship are enshrined.

The space above the Shumidan is the ‘Palace’.

There is a roof inside the palace, which differs for each denomination.

The Nagaoka Buddhist altar has a three-tiered roof and looks gorgeous.

In fact, it incorporates “Higashi Honganji type two roofs” and “Nishi Honganji type one roof”.

Specifically, on both sides of the double roof made of “Karahafu (= convex gables in the center and concave curved gables at both ends)” and “Chidori gables (=small triangular gables)” , It is made with a Karahafu roof.


*The pedestal and the main body can be separated.

Nagaoka Buddhist altars are assembled so that the pedestal and main body can be separated.

Therefore, even after several decades have passed since completion, it can be separated and repainted, and the original shine can be restored.

Of course, the purchaser can use it for many years with peace of mind, and it will also be passed down to future generations.



【History of Nagaoka Buddhist altar】

It is said that it began to be made in the area around Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture around 1600-1700.

In order to build shrines, temples, and other temples within the Nagaoka domain, skillful carpenters, sculptors, Buddhist sculptors, and lacquer makers gathered from all over Japan.

The time when temples can be built depends greatly on the climate and season.

The area around Nagaoka experiences heavy snowfall and the winter is long, so construction work cannot be carried out during that period.

Therefore, it is said that craftsmen such as shrine carpenters started making Buddhist altars as a side job during the winter.


In the 19th century, the Nagaoka clan launched a protection policy of the Jodo Shinshu sect.

Due to this policy, customs have changed to enshrine the mortuary tablets of ancestors in each household.

As a result, the demand for Buddhist altars to enshrine important mortuary tablets increased, and they spread all at once.

Based on this historical background, Nagaoka Buddhist altars have become an indispensable part of the local industry.


※Miyadaiku: Carpenters involved in the construction and repair of shrines and temples

※Busshi: A technician who specializes in making Buddhist statues



【Production process of Nagaoka Buddhist altar】

wood making


The materials used for the bare wood include zelkova, cypress, Japanese white pine, hiba, yew, and ho.

It is necessary to identify wood that has fine grains and that does not go out of alignment even after a long period of time.

The ability of craftsmen to show off is how they can make the wood grain look beautiful and lumber.


After drying the board after sawing, the size is measured with a bar-shaped “shakujo” and cut to the size required for Buddhist altar production.

The cut wood is processed using chisels and planers, and an uneven notch (tenon) is made on the edge of the wood.

After that, the overall structure is completed by combining the “tenon” on each part.

The production of the palace is also done at the same time as the wood base production.

Then, the three-roofed roof, which is one of the characteristics of Nagaoka Buddhist altars, will be installed inside the palace.




Using the technique below, carving is performed on a board with a thickness of 3 cm or more while considering the perspective of the pattern.


・Round engraving

A technique that creates a three-dimensional effect by engraving through both the front and back of the board.


・Flat engraving

A technique of engraving a thin plate to make it look thicker


・Layered carving

A technique of carving and stacking thin plates


Creating metal fittings


Plates such as “copper,” “copper alloy,” and “brass (alloy of copper and zinc)” are hammered out and colored to create metal fittings.




Disassemble the main body assembled in step ①, apply lacquer, and then dry.

After that, the series of processes of “polishing the surface → applying lacquer → drying” is repeated over a period of 3 to 6 months.

A typical “painting” is as follows.

Various types of coating are combined with the deep luster of lacquer.

By repeating this work, the craftsmen can create a beautiful and luxurious atmosphere.


・Roiro coating

Glossy and finish like a mirror.


・Wood grain painting

Brings out the grain of the wood.


・Sand powder coating

Sprinkle with sand to create a rough surface.


・Nashiji coating

After applying lacquer, finish by sprinkling Nashijiko.

※Nashijiko is fine powder of gold, silver, tin, etc.


・Blue shell painting

A technique of decorating the lacquered surface with seashells.

The material is abalone and green mussel shells that have been polished to a thickness of about 0.1 mm.


gold lacquer


People, flowers, birds, etc. are carefully drawn using the following techniques.


・Flat gold lacquer

A picture is drawn with lacquer, and powder such as gold and silver is sprinkled on it. After drying, apply lacquer and polish.


・apply lacquer

A technique in which lacquer is applied repeatedly to create a three-dimensional pattern.


gold foil stamping


Using the following technique, pure gold leaf is carefully applied one by one.

By applying a combination of multiple techniques, the craftsman creates a sense of luxury and glamor.


・Gloss push

How to paste to bring out the shine of gold


・Matte press

How to paste to suppress the shine of gold


・Gold powder sowing

A technique of sprinkling gold powder on the lacquer work





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