When Kamakura was the seat of power for the ruling Shogunate in around 1200AD, monk sculptors copied the technique of carving and lacquering wood imported from China into Buddhist images. This way grew and developed into the art of Kamakura Bori.* The first feature is the technique displayed by the carving knife, a sculptor’s chisel, that breathes life and form into the wood. The second feature is the tone of the lacquer which brings out the depth of the carving.
The Katsura tree is used for the wood for the Kamakura Bori. The wood is cured after harvesting and prepared for decoration.
A wide variety of wood materials are lathed, joined, hollowed and other cutting techniques are applied to create this versatile art form.
Designs and patterns are sketched in ink onto translucent sheets of Japanese paper. Then the images are transferred onto dampened wood surfaces by rubbing.
In the preliminary carving the artist carves along the base lines of the pattern creating dimension, angle and perspective.
Then with special, flat-headed knives portions of the surface are chipped away to create a relief pattern.
A final carving is added to the design to produce the trademark gouging effect which gives a special texture to the work and is only known to Kamakura Bori art pieces.
The lacquering process starts by applying a raw sap from a special tree,
called “Urushi”, base lacquer coat to the freshly carved piece. It soaks into
the wood and forms a rich undercoating.
After multiple coatings of the base lacquer and polishing of the piece by using fine grained charcoal, a black lacquer is applied in two coats followed again by polishing with fine abrasives.
Then a vermillion lacquer is applied to create the outer layer, a reddish, highly translucent finish unique to Kamakuri Bori!
After some more polishings the final stage exists of applying a thin layer of lacquer. This is then wiped off, followed by a final polishing with powdered oatmeal material. This process is repeated until the perfect finish is achieved.
In total it will take one to one-and-a-half months to make a round tray (1ft in diameter).
* I used information from a Kamakura Bori pamphlet made by Kamakura City.