Takaoka Lacquerware | Exclusive lacquering Technics and decorations


Takaoka Lacquerware with unique decorations

Takaoka lacquerware is made in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture. Some Takaoka lacquerware has a special decoration using shells on the surface that emits a pale blue light. The delicacy of the decorating method and the dignified beauty of the lacquerware continue to captivate many lacquerware lovers. There are three techniques used in Takaoka lacquerware.

Three typical lacquering technics

Chokoku-nuri (carving lacquering):

Carved patterns of flowers, birds, winds, and the moon are carved out of wood using the Tsuishu (a technique in which several layers of red lacquer are piled up so that the carvings are not filled in) and Tsuikuro (a technique in which several layers of black lacquer are piled up so that the carvings are not filled in) techniques. This technique produces a three-dimensional effect and a unique luster.]


A technique developed by Ishii Yusuke I at the end of the Edo period based on his study of lacquerware from the Ming dynasty in China. The technique is characterized by the use of rust paintings of flowers, birds, landscapes, and figures in Chinese-style designs, decorated with blue shells, boulders (a technique using lacquer mixed with polishing powder to create a three-dimensional effect), and gold and silver foils (hakue, a technique for applying gold and silver foils to patterns painted with lacquer). A comprehensive lacquering technique in which gold and silver leaf is pasted onto a lacquered pattern.

Aogai-inuri (blue shell lacquer):

 A type of raden (mother-of-pearl inlay) technique in which patterns are created by inlaying shells. Normally, shells about 0.3 mm thick are used for raden, but in Takaoka lacquerware, shells as thin as 0.1 mm are used. By using thin shells, the underlying lacquer shines through and appears blue.

Source: JapanShoppingNow

History of Takaoka Lacquerware

The history of Takaoka lacquerware dates back to the beginning of the 17th century, when Lord Maeda Toshinaga, the second lord of the Kaga Domain, opened the town of Takaoka and laid the foundation of a castle town by gathering craftsmen and merchants from all over Japan.

Shozaemon Oba, who moved from Oba-villege, Shinkawa (present-day Oba, Toyama City) to Takaoka Hinomonyacho (later Hinomonyacho), made Buddhist altars, chests of drawers, nagamochi (long-limbed chopsticks), and other fingerware from the early Edo period (1603-1868). Most of these fingerings were painted reddish brown and called akamono. Sales of akamono lacquerware were not limited to the Takaoka area, but also extended to the whole of the three provinces of Kaetsu-Noh, Echigo, and Hokkaido.

Nushiya Hachibei and Tsuji Tanpo, active in the mid-Edo period, are said to be the pioneers of full-fledged craft lacquerware in Takaoka, producing lacquer techniques such as iromakie, wood carving, tsuishu (red lacquer), and tsuikoku (black lacquer). In the late Edo period, master craftsmen with excellent skills in wood carving and colored lacquer, such as Tonamiya Touzou and Itaya Koemon, appeared, and their techniques can be seen on the Takaoka Mikuruma-yama. From the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period (1868-1912), a variety of techniques were developed, including yusuke-nuri (lacquering), sabi-itchi (rust-inlay), and raden (mother-of-pearl inlay), and the foundation was laid as a lacquer ware production center. In September 1975, it was designated as a “traditional craft” by the national government.

Japanese laquerware
Source: Japan traditional crafts week 2016

Production Process

1. Wooden base process

Woods such as zelkova, horse chestnut, and katsura are often used for Takaoka lacquerware. After the wood is sufficiently dried, it is shaved and processed to make the base of the piece. Takaoka lacquerware is made mainly from the following four types of wood.

  • Kuri ji: Wood that has been shaved or carved using only the wood.

  • Hikimono kiji (ground wood): Wood that has been shaved on a potter’s wheel. The wood is made by bending thin sheets of wood and pasting them together to form a ring shape.
  • Sashimono kiji: Wooden base made by combining multiple boards.

2. Grounding Process 

  1. GroundingThe surface of the wood is smoothed by repairing scratches, and fragile areas are reinforced by applying cloth. Reinforcing by attaching cloth is called “nunoage”. After that, apply a stopper powder evenly and evenly to fill in the pasted cloth grain.
  2. Middle CoatingAfter the lacquer dries, the surface is polished to make it smooth. This is the end of the basecoat process.

3. Blue shell process 

  1. DrawingAbalones, luminous shells, butterfly shells, peacock shells, and other shells are used as materials for the “blue shell” process. The blue shell process and its effects are taken into consideration when creating the design for the lacquerware. This process is important and requires creativity, good observation and expressiveness.
  2. Shell cuttingThe design is transferred to the shell and the shell is cut out. Straight parts are cut out with a knife, small parts are pierced out with a carving knife or chisel, and curved parts such as birds and animals are cut out with a needle. In particular, the “needle cutting” process, in which a needle is used to cut out the shells, requires skilled techniques.
  3. Aogai-tsukiThe design is copied onto the wood, and a thin layer of lacquer is applied to the area where the blue shell is to be attached. Cut out blue shells are placed on the lacquer and pasted.
  4. Hair carving: After the lacquer on which the blue shell is pasted has dried sufficiently, details such as the face of a person or the core of a flower are drawn with an ultra-fine needle. This is the end of the blue shell process.

4. Coating process 

  1. Konaka-nuriLacquer is applied to the entire surface of the wood after the blue shells are applied. After the lacquer dries, a chisel is used to remove the lacquer from the blue shell.
  2. CoatingThe entire surface is coated with the top coat of lacquer. After the lacquer has dried, the entire surface is polished with Shizuoka charcoal for polishing, and then with roirozumi charcoal. Finally, the entire surface is polished with a polishing powder (tonoko). The entire piece is then polished using a mixture of tonoko (the powder produced when the whetstone is cut) and rape oil.
  3. Suri UrushiSuri-urushi is applied by rubbing a very thin layer of raw lacquer into the surface. After the lacquer dries, the lacquer is polished by hand using a mixture of rape oil and horn powder to make it shiny. After the raw lacquer has dried, the polishing process is repeated three to four times to complete the work.


Japan has traditional lacquerware such as stacked boxes for storing festive foods and bowls for soup. The most famous of these is Takaoka lacquerware, a traditional craft of Toyama Prefecture. Please enjoy the history of Takaoka lacquerware with its beautiful and warm luster and texture, its elegant and elegant design, and the techniques and master craftsmen who have cultivated it through tradition.

Takaoka lacquerware

Inami wood carving         Ecchu Japanese paper

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