Niigata Shirone Household Buddhist Altars

A specialist, who was responsible for building a temple, introduced various skills and techniques from Kyoto to the area in the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868) and made Kyoto style household Buddhist altars. He also made a plain wooden altar, carving it in a simple manner himself. This was to be the forerunner of Niigata Shirone Butsudan.
In the latter part of the 18th century, skills and techniques characteristic of the area were born and a production system was set up, each operation being carried out by a skilled person.

Because household Buddhist altars are built to last it is important to achieve an overall harmony. It is also important whether or not an altar possesses that majestic dignity which comes from the overall finish. This has a lot to do with the balance between the shumidan and the kuden--the outer and inner sanctuaries-the design of the carving and lacquer work decorations, the quality of the lacquer, the finish of the gilding, and the attachment of the fittings.


The essence of a household Buddhist altar is durability and balance. The balance of key pieces such as the Shumidan base and Kuden palace, the design of the engravings and Maki-e gold lacquer paintings, the condition of the lacquering and gold leaf finishing, and the quality of the gold finishings all play an important role in creating the majestic beauty fundamental to a household altar.

How to make

Using wood from Japanese cypress, white pine, and zelkova, the wooden base and Kuden palace are made. The sculptured decorations of the altar and gold finishings are also made according to the design. The finished base, Kuden and wooden sculptures are then lacquered, Maki-e gold lacquer pictures are painted, gold leafing is applied, and then gold finishings are set to complete the Butsudan altar.