Kamakura Carved and Lacquered Ware


When Zen Buddhism was introduced from China during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), many arts and crafts were imported at the same time. Sculptors of Buddhist images and carpenters who built temples and shrines were influenced by examples of carved lacquer ware called tsuishu and tsuikoku that were amongst these Chinese imports.
A new style of lacquer ware peculiar to Kamakura was developed by these craftsmen who started lacquering hand-carved wooden carcasses. In the early days, huge containers used for burning incense at Zen Buddhist temples were mainly made but the range of products gradually increased to include tea utensils along with the popularity of the tea ceremony at the end of the Muromachi period (1333-1568). It was not until the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912), however, that everyday articles in Kamakura Bori started to appear.

Kamakura Bori has some very special qualities that cannot be found in any other lacquer ware. The method which emphasizes the three dimensional effect of the carving by applying black ink called makomo sumi on the vermilion lacquer is just one of these. The bold patterns of the carving are also strongly expressed by the unique carving techniques. The distinctive trays, plates, coasters, bowls and boxes of all sizes that are now the mainstay of this craft.


The uniqueness of Kamakur-bori can be seen in its bold, powerful patterns which seem to leap from the surface. These patterns are brought to life by specialized carving methods, and applying Makomo charcoal over red lacquer to enhance the three-dimensional effect to produce a result that can be found nowhere else.

How to make

The three main steps of Kamakura-bori are shaping the wood base, carving, and then coating. Unique techniques include leaving knife scars where there is no design, and scattering charcoal and rice powder on the piece after the lacquer is painted, but before it has dried, and balls of soot are also used to darken the red lacquer while it is drying.
All of these techniques combine to give Kamakura-bori a rough, antique finish. The wood of the Japanese Judas tree is used for the carvings as it is soft and easy to shape. The three primary woodshaping techniques used are Hikimono-kiji - carving the wood using a turning lathe, Sashimono-kiji - assembling wooden boards using joinery, and Kurimono-kiji - carving the shape out of a wooden board.