Nikko carving | knife scratches generating designs


Nikko carving, The hidden gem Traditional craft

Although Nikko carving (also called Nikko-Bori)  is not an official traditional craft, it is a popular craft, partly due to the fact that it originated during the Tokugawa Shogunate period. We want to introduce it to you because it is an important culture for history buffs and those who are interested in the origins of Japan.


The main feature of the carving process is the use of a unique “triangular knife” called a hikkaki. During the restoration of the shrine pavilions at Nikko Toshogu, a hand tool with a bent tip was used to remove lacquer from areas that were difficult to scrape off. This tool came to be called “Hikkaki,” “Hikkaki knife,” or “Nikko Triangular knife” in the late Edo period, and was used for carving. The most distinctive feature of Nikko-Bori is that it is produced by Hikkakibori, which is carved by pulling one “Hikkaki” sword toward the front.

Nikko carving

Another characteristic of Nikko-Bori is that plants such as buttons, chrysanthemums, plums, and cherry blossoms are mainly used for carving patterns, which is strongly influenced by the carving patterns of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.

Origin of the Scratching Sword (Hikkaki knife)

Hikkaki knife

Nikko City is home to Nikko Toshogu Shrine, which was built in the early Edo period and boasts world-class architectural and decorative beauty. During the restoration of the shrine pavilions, hand tools with bent tips were used to remove lacquer from areas that were difficult to scrape off by hand.

This tool was modified and used for line engraving at the end of the Edo period, and is said to be the origin of Nikko carving. The most distinctive feature of Nikko-Bori is that it is carved by pulling one “hikkaki-knife” toward the front. And this Nikko-Bori technique has been handed down to the present day by craftsmen who have been working for many years.

 Manufacturing methods of Nikko carving


Japanese horse chestnut, katsura, and bamboos


Nikko carving techniques include hikkaki-bori, ukashi-bori, sukashi-bori, maru-bori, and kago-bori, all of which use a unique “triangular sword” called a hikkaki. (Bori means Carving) The hikkaki is a blade for line engraving, but unlike ordinary triangular knives, it is called “Hikkaki” because it is engraved by pulling the “kiridashi”, the tip of which is bent at about 60 degrees, toward the front. It is an indispensable carving knife for Nikko carving, which is a deep, masculine curve.

carving a Nikko-bori

Historical background

The origin of Nikko carving is not clear, but it is believed to have started between 1634 and 1636, when the third shogun Iemitsu rebuilt Nikko Toshogu into its present majestic and splendid shrine pavilions, and master carvers from all over the country were recruited to create them as an extra skill.

Nikko Toshogu was built in 1617, and the aforementioned Kan’ei rebuilding project was so extensive that it completely changed the scale of the original construction, requiring a total of 1,680,000 carpenters and carpenters’ assistants, including 400,000 carving carpenters. Many of these masters probably lived permanently in Nikko, as medium- and small-scale shrine buildings were frequently constructed and renovated even after this period.

In addition to various types of trays, the products being made today include a wide variety of items such as tea sets, confectionery, namazu-plates, drawers, tables, and flower stands. Each of these works is a work of art that makes the best use of the warmth of “wood” and the taste that only handmade work can bring, and the masculine, yet delicately attentive carved mouths are more than just daily necessities, they are works of prestige.

Nikko carving

Stores selling Nikko carvings

There are several specialty stores in Nikko City that have inherited the tradition of Nikko carving and sell their products.

1. Toyohachi Murakami Shoten

It is a famous store that has been involved in the production of Nikko carvings for three generations. The shop sells Nikko-engraved business card holders and mirrors for daily use, fashionable clocks that look good as interior decorations, and luxurious furniture. The shop also sells wood carving materials for those who enjoy carving as a hobby, so those who want to enjoy carving at home should definitely visit the shop.

Toyohachi Murakami Shoten

nikko carving store
Souce: Toyohachi Murakami Shoten

2. Utagahama Yamadaya

One-of-a-kind products with the store’s original designs are available for purchase. A wide variety of products are available, including straps, key chains, interior products, lucky faceplates, wall decorations, welcome boards, and family crests. There is also an engraving service in front of your eyes, where you can have your name or date engraved according to your wishes. In addition, although reservations are required, Nikko Carving Photo, in which a picture is carved under the guidance of a traditional craftsman and placed in a photo frame for you to take home, is available.

Utagahama Yamadaya

nikko carving store
Source: Utagahama Yamadaya

Try your hand at Nikko carving!

 Nikko Wood Carving Village Craft Center

To learn more about Nikko carving and experience it for yourself, visit the Nikko Wood Carving Village Craft Center. At the exhibition corner where you can see Nikko carving works and tools, you can learn about the trees used for carving before you try it for yourself.

All you need to pay for the experience is the cost of materials. All tools can be borrowed. There are several wood bases and designs available, and you can choose the one you like best. To make it easy to understand the level of difficulty of the carving, the designs are marked with a number of stars to indicate the level of difficulty, so please use this as a reference when you experience the carving.

Please note that reservations are required for groups of five or more people.

Nikko Wood Carving Village Craft Center

Nikko Wood Carving Village Craft Center


Nikko carving is not, strictly speaking, an official traditional craft. As I wrote in a previous article, there are conditions to be met in order to be recognized by the government as a traditional craft and to obtain a certain level of protection and support. Because of the extensive preparation and procedures required to meet the strict requirements to obtain this recognition, there are many traditional crafts that have given up on the idea.


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