Kamakura-bori is The valuable remnant of Samurai culture


Kamakura-bori ;  Telling the history of Samurai culture

Kamakura-bori is a craft made in Kamakura City and its surrounding areas, in which a wooden base is formed from Katsura, ginkgo, or other trees, a pattern is carved, and lacquer is applied on top of the carved design. It is characterized by strong and bold carving of mainly Japanese-style floral designs and lacquering that gives it softness and warmth. The technics of Tokon and Higuchitori are unique to Kamakura carving.

History of Kamakura-bori

Kamakura Period – Kamakura Carvings from Zen Temples

Among the arts and crafts introduced from the Song dynasty (960-1279) in the mid-13th century with the introduction of Zen Buddhism, there were Tsuishu trays, large incense containers, and other carved lacquerware. These were very expensive and valuable objects with elaborate designs carved into the surface of multiple coats of lacquer. Influenced by these carvings, Buddhist priests began to make new carved wooden Buddhist ritual implements based on their designs, and this was the beginning of Kamakura carving.

Muromachi Period – Court nobles, shoin and Kamakura carving

During the Muromachi period (1333-1573), many fine examples of Kamakura carving were produced, such as the large incense containers at Nanzenji, Chionji, Kinrenji, and many other temples in Kyoto, the inkstone stand with a lion and peony design at the National Treasure Museum in Kamakura, and the camellia oi at Chusonji and Jigenji temples in the Tohoku region. The term “Kamakura Mono” first appeared in the “Jitsutaka Kouki,” the diary of a court noble of this period, and since then, these wood carvings and colored lacquer related to Kamakura have generally been called Kamakura carvings.

Edo Period – Popularization of the Tea Ceremony and Kamakura Carvings

During the Edo period (1603-1868), as the tea ceremony became popular, there was a growing demand for tea containers, incense containers, and incense trays. While exquisite maki-e lacquerware was highly developed during this period, the elegant style of Kamakura carving was also favored by people, and the name “Kamakura carving” can be found in a manual on tea ceremony utensils called “Manpo-zen-sho” published in the Genroku period. In such an era, Kamakura carvings with the aroma of Edo culture, such as wabi, sabi, and iki, were also produced.

Meiji and Taisho Periods – Kamakura Sculpture as a Lifestyle Craft

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Shintoism-Buddhism Separation Order was promulgated, and the movement to abolish Buddhism that followed put Buddhist sculptors out of business. This was a turning point for Buddhist sculptors who found a way out of making Buddhist statues and into “Kamakura carving” as a craft used in daily life, among them were Goto Itsuki and Mitsuhashi Kamayama. In 1889, with the opening of the Yokosuka railway line, Kamakura flourished as a vacation resort, and the craftsmen began to make daily necessities and souvenirs for visitors, which developed into the present-day Kamakura carvings.

The Modern Era 

After a period of rapid economic growth, people in today’s world have a more comfortable lifestyle. The warmth of handmade craftsmanship is sought in contrast to mass-produced industrial products, and Kamakura carving has become a favorite of many people. In 1979, the then Minister of International Trade and Industry designated Kamakura carving as a traditional handicraft, and the Traditional Kamakura Carving Cooperative Association is playing a leading role in fostering successors and creating new products.

Source: Kamakuraborishiryokan

Manufacturing Method for Kamakura-bori

The method of making Kamakura-bori differs slightly from craftsman to craftsman, but we refer to the following production method as the most basic method.

1. Rokuro-Higaki (carving by rokuro)

The wood used is mainly katsura, which is dried for 6 months to a year, and then shaped according to the product’s use. Round pieces are processed using rocro and other methods.

2. Tachikomi

A design is made according to the shape, size, and use of the product, and then an incision is made with a small knife. The angle of the incision gives the figure perspective, volume, etc.

3. Sword marks

The outside of the incised lines are removed with an engraving knife to bring out the pattern, and then various types of knives are used to flesh out the pattern, leaving knife marks on the areas outside of the pattern. The carving marks left intentionally are a characteristic of Kamakura carving and give a deep flavor to the work.

traditional method of curving
Source: Kamakuraborishiryokan

4. Undercoating

The sap taken directly from the lacquer tree is called “ki-urushi,” or raw lacquer, and is applied to the entire surface and soaked in to form the foundation for the coating. The carved surfaces are then covered with maki-ji to make the best use of the carving and to gradually create the skin. Between the lacquering process and the lacquering process, there is always a process called “Togi” (polishing).

5. Maki-chi (base coat)

The engraved surface is coated with raw lacquer to the same thickness, sprinkled with Sumiko or Tonoko (polishing powder), and polished after drying. After drying, the surface is polished. This process makes the carved surface smooth and even.

6. Middle Coating

A middle coat of black lacquer is applied, taking great care not to allow the lacquer to accumulate during carving. After drying, the piece is polished using a whetstone, polishing charcoal, or sandpaper.

7. Top Coating

The top coat of lacquer is made by kneading vermilion pigment into highly transparent Suki-Urushi lacquer.

traditional coating method
Source: Kamakuraborishiryokan

8. Makomo maki-ki

After the surface of the top coat of lacquer has settled and just before the lacquer has hardened, Makoshi or Susudama powder is sprinkled on the surface of the lacquer. After drying, the lacquer is polished to give shading to the carved parts and a subdued, old-fashioned color to the entire surface.

9. Suri-urushi

A thin layer of raw urushi lacquer is applied to the entire surface, wiped off with a cotton cloth, and polished. The process is repeated two or three times until a good shine is achieved.

10. Completion

The more a piece of lacquerware is used, the more deeply it becomes appreciated. One of the reasons for this is that the lacquerware is painted through this process.


As the name suggests, Kamakura-bori is a traditional craft that originated in Kamakura during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). It is one of the characteristics of traditional crafts that it represents the characteristics of the period as it was. Now, next is Odawara Lacquer Ware. This is another craft that was born in the land of Odawara, in the period when Odawara Castle was reflected.

Odawara Lacquer

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