Hiroshima Household Buddhist Altars

The Jodo Shinshu of Buddhism has found favor among the people in Hiroshima for any hundreds of years. At the beginning of the 17th century a number of artisans skilled in making decorative fittings, braided cords and lacquerers moved into the Hiroshima area from Kishu, and it was their skills that became the foundation of household altar making in this area.
Later on, a local monk, Tonko learned much about the making of household altars and Buddhist religious paraphernalia while in Kyoto and Osaka. It was these skills which helped to establish the making of household altars in Hiroshima after he returned. The Meiji period (1868-1912) saw the shipping of altars to many parts of Japan along sea routes through the Inland Sea but everything came to an abrupt stop with the devastation of the Second World War. The traditions of this craft were, however, revived after the war.

One of the things particularly special to Hiroshima Butsudan is the use of oyster shell that are crushed to a fine powder and applied as a ground mixed with lacquer. The top coat and the gilding are equally fine. The overall style of these altars is, however, similar to those made in Osaka.


“Gofun” chalk base made from finely crushed oyster shells, a Hiroshima specialty, is used as base element in Hiroshima butsudan. The "vertical coating" top coating technique employed has a very good reputation and the gold embossing techniques used are very advanced. Design and shapes are similar to those of Osaka’s altars.

How to make

The manufacturing process is based on a division of roles. The departments involved are the wood base preparation department, the shrine making department, the sculpture department, the ornamental fittings department, the gold-sprinkled lacquer department and the lacquering department. The wooden base preparation department creates groove-and-tenon dovetail assemblable prefabricated sets using cedar, pine, cypress wood or similar materials. Shrine department produces using square framing. The lacquering department is in charge of all intermediate steps between base coating and top coating as well as gold embossing. All components manufactured by each department are then assembled into a single altar.