Kanazawa Household Buddhist Altars

It is possible to trace the origins of Kanazawa Butsudan back to the 17th century. What prompted their production was the sheer number of people who had been converted to the Jodo Shinshu in the Hokuriku region of Japan, after Rennyo-shonin, a Buddhist priest of the same order visited the area to spread the word.
What was also contributive was the number of fine craftsmen which existed in the area as a result of being trained in workshops set up by the third generation feudal lord of the Kaga clan, Maeda Toshitsune and the fifth generation lord, Tsunanori. Furthermore, the Kaga clan encouraged every household to have an altar in keeping with the religious policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Also, because Kaga had a rich culture sustained by its well-known assets, production of the Kanazawa style of household Buddhist altar with its impressive tenor and beautiful gold leaf supplemented by maki-e gold and silver lacquering techniques began as a reflection of all these factors.

Given the extent of the popularity of Jodo Shinshu teaching in the area, the demand for household altars here was greater than in some areas. The use of gold leaf became one of the special features of these altars that were established on the carving and maki-e gold and silver decorative lacquering techniques perfected in the Kaga clan workshops.


In Kaga, also known as the Shinshu Kingdom because the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism thrived there, there has always been a high demand of Buddhist household altars compared to other regions. As the use of the gold-sprinkled lacquer techniques and the sculpting techniques of the Kaga fief’s handicrafts spread to the making of household altars, an abundant use of gold leaf has become a prominent feature of these altars.

How to make

Manufacturing stages include preparation of a wooden-base, sculpting of images, painting, application of metal ornaments, application of gold-sprinkled lacquer, gold embossing and a finishing stage; woods used as raw materials are mainly ginkgo, cypress, pine, cedar, etc. while ivory and coral are used for the sculptures. The gold-sprinkled lacquer is given a vivid finish thanks to the use of a special polishing technique called “honkin-tokidashi-migaki.” The use of the “kirikane” coloring method involving the application of pieces of cut gold and silver leaf was designed to give a luxurious air to the altars.