Translated by Jasmine Nishino
Kamakurabori Assembly Hall - See Exquisite Kamakura Carvings
Written by Mami Wakamatsu
The Kamakurabori Museum, found in Kamakura, is not only dedicated to this traditional engraving technique, but also a popular lunch spot. Today let's take a closer look at the museum and its charms.
Kamakurabori, an engraving and lacquerware handicraft, has been produced and passed down through the generations in Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture for centuries. It is a type of Japanese traditional manufacturing called ‘mokucho saishitsu’, wherein a carved wooden base is finished in lacquer. This art form has been around since the Kamakura era (1185-1333), when the samurai class claimed governmental power in Japan.
Depending on the engraved design in the wood, the lacquer creates depth in the piece, and depending on the lacquer, the engravings come to life with beautiful contrasts of light and shadow.
Learn About Kamakura Lacquerware at the Kamakurabori Assembly Hall
You can discover more about the fascinating world of Kamakura lacquerware at the Kamakurabori Assembly Hall, located in Kamakura city. It is an institute where you can use, learn about and even make Kamakura lacquerware. The facility has a museum, classrooms, and from 2016, a cafe where you can enjoy coffee or vegetarian lunches made from Japanese produce according to Buddhist teachings.
On the first floor is the cafe and shop, the second and fourth the Kamakura lacquerware classrooms, and the third is where you will find the Kamakura Lacquerware Museum. In two articles we will cover all of the Kamakurabori Assembly Hall; in this article we will focus on the museum and introduce the classes available there.
Encounter the Works of the Craftsmen
You can head to the museum by going to the elevator located at the side of the entrance on the first floor. Go to the third floor and check-in by purchasing an admission ticket (300 yen).
Upon entering the museum you will first be introduced to how Kamakurabori is made. There is an informative video showing the craftsman's techniques too.
Actually, Kamakura lacquerware is made by multiple craftsmen: one who prepares the base shape of the wood (to be a plate, bowl or other object), one who engraves the design and one who applies the lacquer.
Learn About the History of Kamakura Lacquerware
Now let's continue on and look at the displays on the history of Kamakurabori.
At the Kamakura Lacquerware Museum, the newest pieces are displayed in the front of the museum, so that the further you go back in the museum, the older the pieces become. It is set up in this way so that you can not only see the differences in design but also the usages of the items according to various time periods. Let’s start with the modern pieces and make our way back through time.
First, there are ones made between 1926 to the present. Thanks to the post-war economic growth Japan experienced, Kamakurabori became more of a business than it was in the past. Many of the pieces created during this period have quite modern designs and appearances.
From 1868 to 1926, Buddhist ritual implements and other items produced by Buddhist monks entered the Kamakurabori landscape. This is the period wherein the basis for modern Kamakura lacquerware grew.
These are some of the extant items from 1603 to 1868. During the culturally rich times of the Edo era, Kamakura lacquerware also grew in prosperity and daily use items and tea utensils made in this method were introduced to the public.
Thanks to the influence of the Song Dynasty (10th-13th centuries) in China, a great number of Buddhist ritual implements and other items were produced and the techniques gradually grew and developed in Japan. The Muromachi period (1333-1573) is generally felt to be the time in which the Kamakura lacquerware tradition was established.
By looking back through the ages and comparing these items to the modern ones, you can truly appreciate the brilliant, showy impressions that these new pieces have. The designs of these modern pieces are far more consistent and more novel than their predecessors. Thanks to this museum you can truly come understand just how Kamakurabori has grown and adapted over the years into the technical art form that it is today.
On the second and fourth floors of the Kamakurabori Assembly Hall there are classrooms where you can take part in a class to make Kamakura lacquerware for yourself. English assistance is not available in these classes, however there are several non-Japanese speaking participants in these classes. If you wish to make a reservation or ask any questions regarding these lessons, please send an email (in English) to email@example.com.
In the hopes of introducing more people into casually using Kamakura lacquerware in their daily lives, as people once did, the staff of the Kamakurabori Assembly Hall are making every effort to spread awareness of these works around the world. Why not stop by this fascinating place on your next trip through Kamakura and see these handicrafts up close?
Kamakurabori Assembly Hall
Address: 2-15-13 Komachi, Kamakura City, Kanagawa
Hours: 1st, 2nd and 4th floors 9:30-17:00, 3rd floor 9:30-17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Closed: Mondays (if a national holiday, the next day is closed, refer to website for details); Culture class closed in summer and New Year’s holidays
Credit cards: –
Other Languages: -
Nearest Station: Kamakura Station, JR Yokosuka Line or Enoshima Dentetsu
Access: 5 minute walk from east exit of Kamakura Station.
Price Range: Free (3rd Floor Museum has an admission fee)
Phone Number: 0467-25-1500
Homepage:Kamakurabori Assembly Hall (Japanese)