Nagaoka Household Buddhist Altars

During the 17th century, a number of temples and shrines were built in and around the city of Nagaoka. It seems that the specialist carpenters, sculptors of Buddhist images, sculptors of other carved elements and lacquerers who had come into the area from all over the country because of this building work, started making household Buddhist altars during the winter months.
Then, during the first half of the 19th century, a production center became established in the area. This had a lot to do with the fact that the Nagaoka clan gave its official patronage to the Jodo Shinshu. As a result, the demand for household altars increased as the worship of Buddhist mortuary tablets took hold, and homes throughout the fief were furnished with them.

Because the upper cabinet and lower stand of the Nagaoka Butsudan can be separated, it is possible to re-apply surface coatings of lacquer periodically, over say 30 to one hundred years. The ""trinity style"" of roofs of the kuden or inner part of the altar is a noteworthy feature. Traditional in style, there is a combination of Chinese style gable and a more conventional gable with a rising profile above further Chinese style gables to either side.


Nagaoka butsudan is built with a base and Kuden which can be separated, which allows them to be reborn with fresh lacquering even after 30 or 100 years. A key feature is their Kuden palace having a unique design using three roofs. The roofs are arranged in a traditional design with a large central Chidorihafu pointed roof with Karahafu cusped gables, and a smaller gently curving Karahafu cusped gable roof on each side of the central roof.

How to make

The construction of a household Buddhist altar is divided into five major stages: assembling the wooden base, carving the wooden sculptured decorations, making the gold finishings, lacquering, applying gold dust and leaf, and painting the Maki-e gold lacquer paintings. Each stage of the process is handled by a separate independent master craftsmen unique to the long years of experience and demanding techniques required.