【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Hikone Buddhist altar (Shiga Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Hikone Buddhist altar (Shiga Prefecture)~


Hikone Buddhist altar



【Production area of Hikone Buddhist alta】

Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture



【What is Hikone Buddhist altar?】

A Buddhist altar made in Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture.

There are many large Buddhist altars over 120cm tall, and they use plenty of high-quality materials.

Among the large gold leaf Buddhist altars, it is well known as a luxury product.


Due to changes in lifestyles, the number of houses without Buddhist altars has increased recently.

Craftsmen are also actively adopting initiatives that match the times, such as producing small unit-type Buddhist altars that can be placed at home.


In May 1975, it was designated as a traditional craft for the first time as a Buddhist altar.



【Features of Hikone Buddhist altar】

It is characterized by luxurious and gorgeous decorations that make extensive use of maki-e (a technique in which patterns are drawn with lacquer and then sprinkled with metal powder before it dries) and gold leaf.

In addition, the entire surface uses a coating technique that takes advantage of the natural grain of the wood.


There are seven processes before assembly, each of which is performed by specialized craftsmen.

Called the “Koubu Shichishoku”, everyone works together to complete a single Buddhist altar.

The time required for completion ranges from two months to several years.



A craftsman who uses wood as a material to make the main body of a Buddhist altar.


・Palace master

A craftsman who creates pieces of wood, such as the roof and pillars, in the same way as in actual temple construction, and assembles them using exquisite techniques.



A craftsman who uses chisels and small knives to delicately carve “bodhisattvas,” “flowers,” and “heavens.”


・Golden stamper

The interior of Hikone Buddhist altar is covered with gold leaf.

A craftsman who carefully stamps each sheet and pastes it on top of the lacquer.


・Makie artist

After drawing a rough sketch with lacquer, a craftsman sprinkles metal powder and adds decorations and polishes.



A craftsman who repeatedly repeats the five processes of “priming”, “middle coating”, “top coating”, “sharpening” and “polishing”.

Since Buddhist altars are made of natural wood, these steps improve durability.


・Metal fittings craftsman

A craftsman who creates decorative metal fittings by carving and processing metal.



【History of Hikone Buddhist altar】

Hikone Buddhist altars are said to have originated in the middle of the Edo period.

Until then, craftsmen were manufacturing armor and helmets for the long-lasting war.

However, after the war ended, craftsmen began making Buddhist altars using the techniques of making weapons.


Near Serikawa on the Hikone Road, there is an area called “Nanamagari” because the road bends many times.

Many craftsmen gathered there, and Buddhist altar production began in earnest.

Even now, there are many companies that manufacture and sell Buddhist altars.

In addition, from the beginning, production was based on a division of labor system, and the above-mentioned “Koubu Shichishoku” follows that trend.


Household Buddhist altars became popular among ordinary households, and the Hikone lord protected and encouraged the Buddhist altar industry.

And even now, the traditional techniques have been passed down to the next generation.



【Production process of Hikone Buddhist altar】

①Wood base


Hikone Buddhist altars are made from carefully selected natural wood such as zelkova, cypress, cedar, and pine.

The main body is made using a technique called “hozo-gumi,” which assembles without using any nails.


Also, Hikone Buddhist altar does not have a blueprint.

The dimensions required for production, such as height and width, are based on a stick called a “tsue” on which all values are engraved.

Tsue are not reused and are made each time a new Buddhist altar is constructed.


②Palace railing


It is a process in which the palace master makes each part such as the gable and rainbow beams necessary for the production of Buddhist altars and carefully assembles them.

It is not uncommon for the number of parts to exceed a thousand.

The details such as pillars and roof tiles are all made in the same way as a real temple.



The part of the roof above the “Syumidan” where the principal image is enshrined



A part like a handrail at the end of the Shumidan




This is a process in which the sculptor engraves a pattern where decoration is required.

Using various carving techniques and more than 100 types of carving knives, Buddhas, celestial maidens, and animals are carefully carved.


It is the transom that requires a particularly high level of skill.

This is because a single plate is used, and it is necessary to engrave not only the depth but also the thickness.


④Metal fittings


More than 300 metal fittings are required to make one Buddhist altar.

A metal fitting craftsman produces a wide variety of metal fittings using the following techniques.


・hair carving

A technique to engrave fine patterns such as arabesque


・Ground carving

Technique to create three-dimensional patterns by heaping up base metal


・Relief carving

A technique of engraving so that the pattern etc. stands out on the plane




In this process, a lacquerer applies natural lacquer to the entire Buddhist altar.

Durability is also increased by painting on the bare wood.

By repeating the coating and polishing process over and over again, the unique shades of lacquer are expressed.


The lacquer technique that emphasizes the beauty of the natural wood grain is called “kime-dashi lacquer”, and it requires a high level of skill, which is a characteristic of Hikone Buddhist altars.




In this process, a maki-e artist draws flowers, birds, and people with colored lacquer.

In addition to painting with lacquer, by sprinkling metal powder and pasting blue shells on it, it creates a gorgeous appearance.

There are various techniques such as “doromorimaki-e,” which creates three-dimensional lacquer by layering thick layers of lacquer.


⑦Gold foil stamping


The applying of gold leaf is called “gold leaf stamping”, and this work is done by a gold leaf stamper.

One of the characteristics of Hikone Butsudan is its luxurious appearance, and one of the reasons for this is the over 1,000 pieces of gold leaf.


After applying the gold leaf lacquer, the gold leaf is placed on top of the lacquer and pressed by hand.

Because the appearance and shine of the applied gold leaf changes depending on how it is pressed, it requires the outstanding skill of the craftsman.



This is the process of finally assembling each part made by seven craftsmen.

As mentioned earlier, there are no blueprints, so the craftsmen work while imagining how it will look when completed.





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