Kamakura, in Kanagawa Prefecture, is a part of Japan with an immensely rich history. The city was once the nation’s capital, and was even the country’s most populated area from 1200 to 1300 AD. Perhaps best known for the Great Buddha at Kotoku-in, visited by thousands each year, there’s a whole different side to Kamakura which is less well-known, but definitely worth your attention. Something unique that I was able to experience recently was the artistic side of Kamakura, through Kamakurabori (鎌倉彫), a type of lacquerware unique to the region.
The history of Kamakurabori
The creation of Kamakurabori is said to date back between 700 to 800 years ago, around the time when Zen Buddhism was being introduced to Japan from China. Kamakurabori pieces are made by intricately carving wood, lacquering it, and polishing it to give it a unique finish. The lacquer is applied in several layers, so each piece can take up to a month to be completed when taking into account the drying time of each coat.
Where to explore this craft
Hakkodo is one of the best places to explore and enjoy Kamakurabori while you’re in Kamakura. The family who runs the store and their workshop has been creating these pieces for 29 generations (yup, that’s not a typo!) and they are the oldest manufacturers of Kamakurabori in the city.
The pieces that you will see displayed in the front of house store are all created by experienced artisans behind the scenes, and include items such as platters, lamp bases, tea caddies and more. Watching the artisans behind the scenes at their craft can be hypnotizing. They make the process look almost effortless courtesy of their years of experience. Some of the craftsmen I saw at work had been involved in creating Kamakurabori for more than 40 years!
The Hakkodo Store and Workshop are located right by the entrance to Kamakura’s famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, so be sure to leave some time to check it out before or after your visit to Hakkodo.
Kamakurabori Assembly Hall (鎌倉彫会館)
The Kamakurabori Assembly Hall is a fantastic place to visit for food, history, and hands-on activities that get you up close and personal with this traditional handicraft.
The first floor of the premises has a cafe and a gift store where you can buy Kamakurabori pieces. The cafe serves up a unique kind of food – shojin ryori (精進料理), or devotion cuisine. These vegetarian dishes are said to be in line with the Buddhist teaching of non-violence, and the set I enjoyed contained a tofu and vegetable soup, a fried tofu dish topped with more seasonal veggies, rice, beans, and kurumi miso (a walnut based miso paste). The meal was light and fresh, yet surprisingly filling – and everything was served on beautiful Kamakurabori lacquerware!
The Kamakurabori Assembly Hall also offers a museum to explore historic Kamakurabori pieces, and workshops where you can try and carve a plate in the same way as Kamakurabori artisans do. At one of their workshops, I chose to carve a plate with a fish on it, which was said to be one of the simplest designs – and it was honestly very difficult! It gave me a whole new appreciation for the mastery of the craft that these artisans have.
If you want to see a different side of Kamakura that few tourists know about, or if you enjoy hands-on experiences during your travels, I highly recommend exploring the region’s Kamakurabori culture.
Want to learn more about Kamakura’s history and some of the great things to see and do in the area? Check out the following articles from Storyteller Yokosuka-With-Love on Japamigo!
- Kamakura through time: Kamakura period, part one
- Kamakura through time: Heian period and earlier
- Tokyo day trips: Kamakura in one day!?
- Three cafes you can’t miss in Kamakura
2-1-28 Yukinoshita, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0005
From Kamakura Station, Hakkodo is approximately a ten-minute walk away. It is located right by the entrance to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
The store is open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. between March and October, and from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. between November and February.
Kamakurabori Assembly Hall information
2-15-13 Komachi, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0006
From Kamakura Station, Kamakurabori Assembly Hall is approximately a five-minute walk away. It is located on Wakamiya Oji, the avenue that continues to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
The Kamakurabori Assembly Hall and Cafe Guri are open from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except Mondays, their scheduled weekly closure day.
http://kamakuraborikaikan.jp/ (link in Japanese)