Wakasa agate work | a unique red colored stripe pattern


Wakasa agate work, Traditional crafts pursuing the luster of depth

Wakasa agate work is a traditional craft of Obama City, Fukui Prefecture. The raw stones are vividly colored by Wakasa’s unique “quenching” technique, and are carved and polished over time to create figurines and ornaments. Traditional techniques produce a translucent luster.

Agate-zaiku (works)” is the root of Japanese precious stone craftsmanship. It is one of the traditional crafts with a beautiful vivid red color. What do you imagine when you hear the word “agate”? Or, many of you may be hearing the word “agate” for the first time. Let me first explain what agate is.

What is “agate”?

In Japan, agate is produced in Aomori, Ishikawa, and Fukui prefectures. In the world, the main producing countries are Brazil and South America. Agate has a unique stripe pattern on the stone, which appears as a beautiful pattern when processed.

The Morse code, which is a guideline for the stone’s shape, is 6 to 7, which is right in the middle of hardness. It is neither too hard nor too soft, making it an easy stone to work. The history of agate is long and it is called the oldest power stone. It is often used as a stone to ward off evil spirits.

*Morse code
It refers to the hardness of a gemstone and is classified from 1 to 10. Hardness is not a measure of whether or not a stone will break when struck, but rather an indication of how easily the stone can be damaged. In this case, 10 is the hardest [diamond], and as it gets closer to 1, the hardness of the stone becomes lower.

Traditional agate
Source: https://www.asahi.co.jp/rekishi/2006-09-04/01.htm

What unique for  Wakasa agate work?

Wakasa agate craft is basically an ornament made of beautiful red agate. The beautiful red color of the agate is brought out by using heat, and this process of changing the color by applying heat is called “hi-ire”. The process of hi-ire is not merely applying heat, but using iron to heat the me-no-u, which changes its color to a beautiful red.

The nature of agate to change its beautiful red color with heat and the development of carving have made it a precious stone that is easily accessible in daily life, such as ornaments for lucky charms such as chickens and carp, and recently, chopstick rests and bowls that can also be used as gifts.

Before World War II, gemstones were excavated in Hokkaido, but nowadays they are depleted, so in addition to gemstones of Japanese origin, they are often imported from overseas and processed.

Source: AUCFAN

Manufacturing process of Wakasa agate work

(1) Stone inspection

As the name implies, this is the selection of stones. The selection of stones is very important. Basically, most gemstones are formed by the force of lava or magma. The lava is slowly cooled and hardened over many years, and the gemstones are formed by combining with various minerals over the course of those months. In addition to minerals, the stone also contains air and other substances, which may not be visible from the outside of the stone, but may have holes inside that are not suitable for estuaries, making the selection of the stone very important.

The presence or absence of patterns and scratches is also an important part of the stone inspection process. Even if a stone is found to be in good condition and processing begins, there may be scratches or other defects that are not visible, and the stone may be damaged during processing. It can be said that this is the most important work in the production process.

(2) Cutting

A rough sketch is drawn on the stone, and the stone is roughly cut. A special cutting machine is used for this cutting.

(3) Field bleaching and fire-quenching

The aforementioned “hi-ire” process is carried out. Although the word “hi-ire” conjures up images of stones being immediately put into a fire, the process is called “no-zarashi,” in which the stones are left out in the open for a while. Thanks to this “field bleaching,” the inside of the stone oxidizes and turns a bright red color. After the bleaching process is complete, the stone is placed in a fire to change its color.

This fire-roasting process is extremely difficult and requires skill and technique, as the stone will crack if heated too hot or will not develop a beautiful red color if the temperature is too low.

(4) Carving and Shaping

Once fire-hardening is completed, the carving and shaping process begins.

(5) Polishing

Finally, the finished product is polished. This polishing process is a very important and nerve-racking work, and is the process of creating beautiful and smooth curves. During the final polishing process, the work is sometimes broken due to frictional heat. You can see that this is a very delicate and nerve-racking process.

Japanese agate work
Source: Nippon no waza.com

Wakasa agate work – History

The origin of Wakasa agate work dates back more than 270 years ago. 1716 to 1735, a man named Kichibei Takayama came back to Wakasa based on the techniques he learned while working for an optician in Naniwa. It is said that he started making menou balls based on his skills.

It was in the early Meiji period (1868-1912) that a turning point came to this craft, which had only been making jade. Heisuke Nakagawa, a craftsman of Wakasa agate work in the Meiji era, wondered if he could use agate not only for jade making but also for a wider variety of expressions. Heisuke Nakagawa’s attempts paved the way for carving animals such as carp and chickens, as well as sculptures, as we see today.

As a result of this broadening of its scope as an art form, it was exhibited at art expositions around the country and attracted attention not only in Japan but also abroad. In 1976, it was designated as a traditional national craft.


In addition to its value as an arts and crafts product, the agate crafting technique has been handed down to the present day, and its accessories, ornaments, and decorative items are highly valued around the world. These traditional crafts are among the highest quality made in Japan, where product precision is said to be the highest in the world. Here is agate work with such overwhelmingly high quality as a product.


Echizen Lacquerware       Echizen Knife

 1              3       

Let's share this post !