Takaoka copperware | Making the most of copper Authentic beauty


What is Takaoka Copperware?

Takaoka copperware is the generic name for metalwork (crafts made by processing metal) made in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture, a casting town that has been in existence for about 400 years. Although the word “copperware” is used in the name, Takaoka copperware is also made from aluminum alloys, tin, iron, gold, silver, and other materials in addition to copper alloys such as brass and bronze.

Takaoka copperware has been produced since around the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868). At first, daily necessities made of cast iron such as pots, kamas, and farming tools were the main items produced, but gradually, large copperware such as Buddhist bells, lanterns, and large Buddhist statues were produced, as well as Buddhist ritual implements, braziers, smoking pipes, and arrow shafts.

In other words, Takaoka-douki is the general term for copperware made in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture. All metalworking techniques, including prototype, casting, finishing, coloring, and engraving, are concentrated in Takaoka City, and each process is characterized by the division of labor among skilled craftsmen. It is difficult for such a division of labor to be established in only one town, and this is the strength of Takaoka City.

Essential industry for Japan

In addition, Takaoka copperware accounts for 95% of Japan’s copper production, making it an essential local industry for Japan’s copper exports. Although not famous by name in the world, it is now one of the most important traditional Japanese crafts in the world.

Source: Japan Design Store

In Takaoka, all metalworking technics, including prototyping, casting, finishing, coloring, and engraving, are concentrated, and the basic principle is that multiple factories and craftsmen share the production process. It is rare for the division of labor to be established in just one town, and this is one of Takaoka’s strengths.

History of Takaoka copperware

The birth of a casting town under the auspices of the Kaga Clan

Takaoka copperware began around the beginning of the Edo period. In 1611, Maeda Toshinaga, the second lord of the Kaga Domain, established seven founders (imoji, craftsmen who make castings), including Kanamori Yaemon, Kita Hikozaemon, Fujita Yoshimo, Kanamori Yoshimo, Kanamori Yohei, Kanamori Tozaemon, and Hannya Sukeemon, as new industries for Takaoka. The Kaga clan invited seven foundry workers, including Fujita Yomo, Kanamori Yomo, Kanamori Yohei, Kanamori Tozaemon, and Hannya Sukeemon, to open a foundry. The Kaga Clan continued to support the foundry workers in various ways. Takaoka, known today as the “City of Cast Iron,” boasts the largest share of copperware production in Japan, and was born from this background.

The name Takaoka became known throughout the world at the World Exposition

When casting began in Takaoka, daily necessities made of iron, such as hoes, plows, pots, and kettles, were mainly made for farming. From the middle of the Edo period onward, highly artistic metal carving (a technique for engraving patterns on metal surfaces) was applied to copperware, and large items such as Buddhist ritual utensils, Buddhist bells, lanterns, and large Buddha statues were also produced.

 After the Meiji period (1868-1912), they also began to make flower vases, Kiseru (wooden vases), and hibachi (brazier). It was also during the Meiji period that master engravers were born. When the demand for sword engraving was eliminated due to the abolition of the Sword Act, talented craftsmen from Kanazawa who had lost their jobs flocked to Takaoka, and inspired by them, craftsmen in Takaoka improved their skills. Also, in 1872, the Meiji government, in an effort to save local industries, requested Kanazawa and Takaoka to compete for entries to the Vienna World Exposition to be held the following year (1873). Later, works from Takaoka were also exhibited at the World Expositions held in France and the U.S., and the name of Takaoka copperware became known throughout the world.

Becoming the largest copperware production area in Japan

Although Takaoka had focused on export products since the Meiji period, this period did not last long, and by the Taisho period (1912-1926), the city was shifting to products for the domestic market. After World War II, demand for daily necessities increased, and the company grew further on the wave of rapid economic growth that began around 1955.

In 1975, it was designated as a national traditional craft. In 1977, the Takaoka Copperware Complex (44 companies as of 2020) was established to improve productivity, promote cooperation among related companies, and eliminate pollution problems, etc. Since 1986, the annual “Takaoka Craft Competition” has been held, where crafts and artworks from all over Japan are exhibited. Crafts from all over Japan are exhibited and sold in the city of Takaoka.

Copperware in Takaoka
Source: Takaoka Copperware Promotion Cooperative Association

Manufacturing Method of Takaoka copperware

1. Prototype production

The basic production method for Takaoka copperware is casting, in which metal is melted at high temperature and poured into a mold to form the desired shape. Casting begins with the production of a prototype. The Prototype making is the process of creating a prototype that will be the basis of the product using easily processable materials such as wood, plaster, clay, and resin according to a blueprint such as a design or sketch of the product.

2 . Clay dipping

Based on the prototype, a mold is made using refractory materials to melt and pour copper. A mold release agent is applied to the prototype, and then layers of paper clay or coarse sand are placed on top to cover and harden the prototype. In some cases, reinforcing bars are added as reinforcement. After hardening, the mold is allowed to dry sufficiently to complete the casting.

3.Mold Matching

A mold consists of an outer mold and a core mold that is slightly smaller than the original mold. The thickness of the cast product is determined by the gap between the outer mold and core mold, which can be adjusted. It is said that the more uniform this gap is, the more beautiful the finished casting will be.

4. Completion of the outer mold

After sufficient drying, the mold is removed from the casting mold to complete the outer mold.

5. Refining and melting process

Refining” is the process of removing impurities and raising the purity of the metal. The metal is heated to a high temperature to refine it, and the solid metal is melted to produce molten metal, which is a high-temperature liquid.

Copper melting
Source: Takaoka Copperware Promotion Cooperative Association

6. Casting (molten alloy injection)

The process of pouring molten metal into a mold is called casting. In Takaoka copperware production, molten copper alloy is poured into a mold at a temperature of about 1150 to 1250℃. Temperature control during casting is very important because if the temperature is too high, the surface of the finished casting will be rough and its beauty may be shaded. Also, because of the high temperatures, the work is carried out with the utmost care, as there is a risk of accidents.

7. Mold removal and finishing process

After molten metal is poured into molds during casting, we wait for the copper to cool down, and when it has completely cooled and solidified, we dismantle the outer and core molds and remove the product. The products are then removed from the molds and moved to the finishing process. 

8. polishing, engraving, inlaying, coloring, etc.

Finishing operations include polishing, engraving, inlaying, and coloring. Polishing involves not only polishing, but also chemical polishing, in which the product is dipped in an acetic acid solution to remove irregularities through corrosive action.

Source: Takaoka Copperware Promotion Cooperative Association

In engraving, a metal tool is used to cut and press the engraved metal surface and engrave patterns into it. Cast metal with engraving is called karakaneimono (karakane cast metal), and is said to have been created by Takaoka copperware. Zogan (inlaying) is a decorative technique in which the surface of a product is cut and another metal is inlaid. There are three types of inlaying techniques: line inlaying, in which gold or silver is inlaid on a line; kirifitame zogan, in which a hole is drilled in the surface and another metal is inlaid and waxed; and takaniku zogan, in which a raised area is created on the surface.

9. Unmolding and finishing process

In the coloring process, natural coloring materials and chemicals are used to color the bronze with greenish-blue or other colors that take advantage of the bronze’s characteristics.


When discussing the beauty of Takaoka copperware, it is important to talk about decorative methods such as engraving and coloring. In the process of engraving, patterns are carved into the surface of the copperware using a tool called a tagane. There are dozens of types of taganets, each of which has a different shape that can be engraved. Therefore, craftsmen use different types of taganets according to the engraving style they want to express to create artistic patterns.

Copper, which is mainly used for Takaoka-douki, is more workable than iron and can be used to create fine and complex shapes. One of the characteristics of Takaoka copperware is that it can be processed in any size, from small to large.

Takaoka copperware

In addition, Takaoka-copperware uses a variety of metals such as gold, silver, iron, and aluminum, and it is possible to select and process materials according to your needs. It is no exaggeration to say that “no one else but Takaoka Copperware craftsmen” have the skills to make full use of all of these materials, not to mention the abundant variation in the materials used.

Inami wood carving 


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