Kyo-Butsudan Buddhist Altars
Kyo-Butsudan Buddhist Altars function as the most important part of a Japanese family's religious and spiritual life, housing the spirits of the ancestors.
Kyo-Butsudan, Kyo-Butsugu: The world of spirit homes and ritual tools 仏壇
The Buddhist altar, which can be found in many Japanese family homes, functions as the most important part of a family's religious and spiritual life. Since the time when Indian Buddhist philosophy and Chinese ancestral worship beliefs combined to form Chinese (and consequently Japanese) Buddhism the idea of an altar to house the spirits has been a primary distinction.
And with the elaborations that arose though time the Buddhist altar and ritual accessories developed and multiplied. These include the formal, ornate door enclosed altar, candle stands, metal vases, symbolically designed metal lamp shades, power objects (such as the vajra), and a wide assortment of smaller objects, vessels and tools. If the altar set up in the home is considered to be sophisticated then the seemingly endless craft work (and expense) represented by the Buddhist accessories used as both ceremonial tools and decorations in temple altars are fantastic to say the least. Such objects and accessories make full use of nearly all traditional Japanese craft techniques. All these techniques - such as woodwork, lacquerwork, metalwork, gold plating, painting, and textile technology - require great skill and extensive knowledge based on many, many years of training. In the bright, often garish light of modern Japanese civilization, the world of Buddhist crafts and artwork remains a necessity. And this in itself makes these things so unique and so exclusive in this fast changing, modern society. Praying at the family altar; Kyo-Butsudan Buddhist Altars
Buddhist accessories were first manufactured in Japan in the 8th century, when founding Buddhist priests like Saicho and Kukai began introducing the new religious concepts they had brought back from China to Japan. In the 11th century, purely Japanese Buddhist crafts made with precise Japanese techniques and characterized by outstanding quality rapidly developed. In Kyoto a group of famous craftsmen, including Jocho, established a Buddhist craft guild on Shichijo street in the southern part of Kyoto. As it was previously a center for blacksmiths, silversmiths, and goldsmiths, the Shichijo Street location was chosen to demonstrate the strong connection between Buddhist crafts and metalwork. Today, Buddhist craftsmanship and manufacturing still thrives in Japan, and Kyoto is considered one of the main centers for this. Family altar with candles and incense; Kyo-Butsudan Buddhist Altars
Kyo-Butsudan Production Processes
- First, various woodworking skills are used in the construction and sculpturing of the altars. And, just like a full-scale temple, a Buddhist altar is built without nails or glue.
- Second, lacquer application, which requires an environment in which there is no dust or wind, is carried out. Lacquer affixes itself to wood not by oxidation but through a special combination of temperature and humidity.
- After the initial lacquer process is completed, another kind of special lacquer is brushed on the wood for adhesive purposes. Immediately after application gold paper foil is applied to certain parts.
- Finally, using pigments which consist of a mixture of lacquer and gold, silver, and mother of pearl powder, the altar paintings, called maki-e, are added. Sometimes these paintings are also done using special mineral color pigments.
- Metalwork is also an important process for carving and cutting the metal parts which are used for ornamentation. These copper or bronze parts are also usually covered in gold paper foil.
Kyo-Butsugu Production Processes; Kyo-Butsudan Buddhist Altars
Woodwork: Statues are often created with special woodworking techniques which use select grades of pine, hinoki, cherry, and sandalwood. Metalwork: Many Buddhist accessories are produced using a range of special metalwork techniques (molding, casting, and carving). Painting: In addition to maki-e paintings, Buddhist images are also created on silk coated with a resin-glue treated using special mineral pigments.
Kyo-Butsugu Kobori: Buddhist ceremonial production open to the public
As one of the largest makers and repairers of and dealers in Buddhist altars and accessories, Kyo-Butsugu Kobori has continued to maintain a high standard of quality and an impressive reputation for more than 200 years. Kyo-Butsugu Kobori employs a large number of artisans and craftspeople at its extensive Yamashina production center, where nearly every type and style of Japanese Buddhist religious object is made and repaired. The work carried out by Kyo-Butsugu Kobori covers every traditional artistic process everything from woodcarving and joinery to lacquering and special metalwork. Kenichi Kobori, the president of Kyo-Butsugu Kobori, is well known within the Butsudan, Butsugu industry for developing a unique way of introducing highly traditional Buddhist altars and religious works into modern environments. His recently established factory (in Yamashina) is open to the public. Visitors are given a chance during their visit to observe how Butsudan and Butsugu are created. In an industry made up mainly of private family-run operations, where each artistic process is handled by a single family, the Kobori factory is quite unusual. His new promotional style has proven to be a turning point for his business, which dates back to 1775. The new factory is not only a showroom for viewing finished pieces. Instead, this factory offers the visitor a chance to actually observe craftsmen at work, both producing new items and repairing old items (such as precious temple altars). In all, the Kobori factory is sure to leave the visitor with a very realistic and lasting impression. The factory facilities are modern, clean and efficient, with the work space divided according to each process: a woodworking area, lacquering area, gold-plating area, assembly area, etc. After you finish your tour, be sure to have a look upstairs at the information center where all Kobori's outstanding altars and accessories are one display. You'll also get to try your hand at gold-plating technique on a little sake cup that you can take home as a souvenir! The Yamashina factory is open from 10 am to 5 pm; courses are held at 10 am, 1 pm and 3 pm daily for parties of up to 30 people. To make a reservation call the main Kyoto shop (address and phone number below). Translation or interpretation services are not part of the tour.
Access - Getting There
The Kyoto shop for Kyo-Butsudan Buddhist Altars is located on Karasuma, north of Shomen, in front of Higashi Honganji Temple. 5 Kame-machi, Shimogyo-ward, Kyoto Tel: 075 341 4121 Fax: 075 341 4128 Hours: Open 9 am - 6 pm; Closed from December 30th to January 4th. Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours. Buy something from Japan