Kamakura Bori: an introduction

Kamakura Bori plate

I live in Kamakura (one hour south of Tokyo) and feel very fortunate. It is the ancient capital of the first shogun, Minamoto yo Yoritomo, of the 12th and 13th century, known as the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). A Shogun, “Commander in Chief”, is the military rank and historical title of the Armed Forces of Japan. (The Imperial Family meanwhile stayed in Kyoto). Kamakura became an important center of development. Exchanges between the shogunate government and China brought exposure to myriad facets of Chinese culture. The shogun himself was a religious man and stimulated the building of lots of temples and Zen Buddhist schools. Even today Kamakura has still some very important Zen Buddhist study education centers. The Samurai culture and tea ceremony and all the crafts involved, developed, especially sword making and wood sculpting, the Kamakura Bori, the two art craftmanships and specialties for which Kamakura is known. (Kamakura didn’t have any natural clay deposits, thus ceramic wares were produced elsewhere in Japan.)

Many kinds of art and crafts came from China with the migration of Zen Buddhism to Japan, which were strongly influenced by the Chinese Song style. Especially altar fittings and furniture for temples like plates and bowls and incense boxes were created using the technique known as “Tsuishi”. Tsuishu is made by laying super-fine layers of colored Japanese lacquers (urushi) on top of each other and then after may layers exquisitely carved. Buddhist sculptors modified the technique. This then is the origin of Kamakura Bori, where the body of the object was first intricately carved and then lacquered with many coats of raw tree sap, called “urushi”, and were highly prized for their beauty and their durability. Buddhist sculptors of the Kamakura period applied it to create religious furnishings and statues, primarily for the newly arising Zen temples. The art of Kamakura Bori was born through the efforts of the monks. Kamakura Bori is known for its rich, lustrous finish and hardy, durable characteristics, making the carved and lacquered Japanese wood plates and bowls as practical and esthetically pleasing to use today as they were centuries ago.  Over time the craft has been perfected to reflect uniquely Japanese sensibilities and has become a useful and esthetically pleasing art form enjoyed by people everywhere.
In general, Kamakura Bori color is red lacquer ware and looks like my red colored glaze ware. Thus the name “Kamakura Red” for my red glaze.

9 Kamakura Bori works

Nine Kamakura Bori art works.

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