Kanagawa Virtual Exhibition

Get to Know Japan Series: Kanagawa

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Virtual Exhibition

An Art Progression from Buddhist Carving to Urushi ware, Kamakura-bori

"-The Goto family continues twenty-nine generations-"

Exhibition Gallery

Kamakura-bori is a traditional woodcraft from Kanagawa Prefecture. At this virtual exhibition, enjoy exquisite examples of this carving art, as well as an interview with a Kamakura-bori artist.

What is Kamakura-bori?
Kamakura-bori is a form of urushi lacquerware from Kamakura, Japan. It is known for being a practical craft with impressive carving and rich urushi finishes. Many people are not aware of the origins of Kamakura-bori.

800 Years History
The art form was originated by the Buddhist image sculptors around 800 years ago when Zen Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from China. We believe the Goto family are descendants of Buddhist sculptors from the Kei School in Nara, and have inherited the tradition and dignity from their ancestors until today. Presently the 29th generation of the Goto family are creating beautiful Kamakura-bori. It has not been easy for the Goto family to keep this continuity for all these generations. In fact the history of Kamakura-bori could show us how to survive the turbulent times we are now experiencing.

Japanese Zen and Kamakura City
Zen Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from China the end of 12th century. Since Kyoto was the headquarters of the older schools of Buddhism, it was almost impossible to start a new school in Kyoto to practice Zen. Around that time the shogunate founded in Kamakura was increasing in power and influence. Zen Buddhists moved to Kamakura for the support of the shogunate. Thereafter Japanese Zen flourished in Kamakura.

The Origin of Kamakura-bori
During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), several Buddhist temples were built in Kamakura. In addition to the Zen faith, many arts and crafts were brought to Kamakura. Buddhist sculptors attempted to imitate the carving and lacquering techniques of Chinese artisans. They further refined their skills to create furniture and decorations which adorned temples besides the Buddhist statues. As you can imagine, Buddhist sculptors are a sacred profession that requires very high skills. These wooden pieces became highly prized for their beauty and durability. It said this was the origin of Kamakura-bori.

Prosperity and Decline
The sculptors passed the art form down through the Muromachi (1336-1573) and Azuchi Momoyama (1586-1600) periods. Gradually the design and carving became more bold, rather than just an imitation of Chinese lacquerware, this art form had transformed to a unique Japanese style. Elaborately decorated items were created and highly valued. The word, “Kamakura-bori” first appeared during the Edo period (1603-1869). Later at the beginning of the Meiji period (1862-1912), a large crisis occurred. The Meiji government implemented the policy shinbutsu bunrei which refers the separation of Shinto and Buddhism. This policy triggered the movement haibutukisyaku to abolish Buddhism . As a result, the Goto family, who had been working as Buddhist sculptors, lost their jobs.

The Art Progression from Buddhist Carving to Kamakura-bori
The Goto family wanted to continue the tradition and dignity from their ancestors, and focused on developing Kamakura-bori into more practical and decorative items that are more suited to everyday life. It was a dramatic change, but their ingenuity and creativity preserved the pride of the Goto family and the tradition of Kamakura-bori. In 1900 the Goto family opened Hakkodo, their store selling Kamakura-bori at the entrance of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the largest shrine in Kamakura. The impressive motifs and beautiful urushi finishes, which were Kamakura-bori's prominent character, still continue while retaining the essence of the Buddhist sculptor spirit that had been passed down for twenty nine generations. In this video the process is explained and there is the story of how the Goto family survived the crisis.

Kumiko Jitsukawa
Kumiko Jitsukawa is the founder of Ki-Chu New York which infuses traditional Japanese culture into modern western world, and sells traditional ceramics and lacquer ware as well as creates custom-made pieces by highly skilled Japanese craft men.



Kamakurabori (Shuntaro Goto); Shufu to Seikatsu Sha
Kamakurabori Goto family Four Generations; Kamakura Shunju-sha
Kamakurabori Masterpiece Exhibition; Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History 
Zen and Japanese Culture; (Daisetz T. Suzuki) Kodansha
Get to Know Japan Series: Kanagawa is co-organized by Kanagawa Prefectural Government..

Image: Pentagonal box (Sakura floating in the water, detail).

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