- Other Fiber Crafts
- Pottery and Porcelain
- Buddhist Altars and Accessories
- Miscellaneous Crafts
- Craft Materials
Buddhist Altars and Accessories
A Meeting of Many Crafts
Buddhist household altars are much more an industry than a craft. These opulent objects are, or at least were, an everyday part of Japanese life; they do not relate to the lifestyle of other countries and are included here simply because they exist and still have importance in Japan.
To try to list all the craft techniques and stages in the making of a household altar would take far more space than is possible here. It is said that there are 2,000 stages and processes involved in making an altar. This number seems a bit excessive, but just a cursory glance at one of these extravaganzas will reveal many different disciplines of woodworking (cabinetry, fine joinery, carving, latticework, lathework, etc.) as well as lacquer work, metalwork, paper (sometimes), and so forth.
A household altar may, and commonly does, occupy an entire wall of a room. The size is determined by the size of the house, the prosperity of its occupants, the sect of Buddhism, the social standing of the family, and a list of other sociological and social considerations. Clearly, an urban apartment will have a much smaller altar, if there is one at all, than a farmhouse in which resides the head of a village.
The industry is spread quite evenly throughout the country, as can be seen by a quick glance at the locations of the fifteen altar makers included here. Each local maker has idiocyncracies and uniquenesses, and such are determined by historical precedent and the principal Buddhist sect of the region.
A Product of Peace and Prosperity
Clearly, such an expensive and massive object could and would not be a part of a household if incessant war and threat of having to flee before invading armies was the rule. Such a thing is thus the product of extended peace and the developed economy that accompanies such peace. Though household altars may have existed in the age of civil strife (roughly 15th and 16th centuries) in Japan, they were probably temporary structures or portable things that could be grabbed in a hurry and carried away. The lasting peace of the Edo period (1603-1868) and a settled nation also saw the census of the population and the establishment of a system of administrative control of the entire populace. One unit of such control was the local Buddhist temple and the temple parish.
The temple and its priest(s) had a tightly knit relationship with temple parishioners in a manner similar to parish churches in Europe and North America, including a counselar or decision-making role in such things as marriage, naming children, rites of passage, funerals and burials, etc. The symbol of continuity of relationship between household and parish temple came to be the Buddhist household altar, and the temple, in turn, came to consider the household altars symbols of the temple's importance to the household. Since different sects had different altar designs, the allegiance of a household could be seen at a glance. The pressure to purchase larger and more ornate Buddhist altars increased with time and with increase in a community's prosperity. This reached a peak in the so-called bubble economy years in the late 1980s and received a serious setback when the Japanese economy then slowed dramatically.
No Frills and Frills
oday Buddhist altars are being produced, but the industry is feeling its way cautiously with the maturation of the country's economy and its more realistic and slower energy. Bringing the size of altars down to fit both apartment living and a slower economy is the trend today. In Kanazawa, a minialtar, measuring 45 x 33 x 12 cm., small enough to hang on the wall, is being produced. The makers are not cutting corners, however; the minialtars are being made in the traditional manner with traditional materials. The first trial run of 30 units sold out immediately. The same company is now thinking of producing a Buddhist altar with a drawer to hold a video tape of a deceased family member, so the entire family can view the video on commemorative occasions.
- Yamagata Household Buddhist Altars（Yamagata）
- Niigata Shirone Household Buddhist Altars（Niigata）
- Sanjo Household Buddhist Altars（Niigata）
- Nagaoka Household Buddhist Altars（Niigata）
- Iiyama Household Buddhist Altars（Nagano）
- Nagoya Household Buddhist Altars（Aichi）
- Mikawa Household Buddhist Altars（Aichi）
- Kanazawa Household Buddhist Altars（Ishikawa）
- Nanao Household Buddhist Altars（Ishikawa）
- Hikone Household Buddhist Altars（Shiga）
- Kyoto Household Buddhist Altars（Kyoto）
- Kyoto Buddhist Paraphernalia（Kyoto）
- Osaka Household Buddhist Altars（Osaka）
- Hiroshima Household Buddhist Altars（Hiroshima）
- Yamefukushima Household Buddhist Altars（Fukuoka）
- Kawanabe Household Buddhist Altars（Kagoshima）