Japan's Centuries-old Cultural Heritage:

Inami Woodcarving

Brief history

In 1390, during the Meitoku era's first year, Shakunyo Shonin, the fifth head priest of Honganji Temple, established Inami Betsuin Zuisenji (temple) by imperial decree from Emperor Gokomatsu. Despite multiple reconstructions due to fires, the temple's legacy endured. The significant development in Inami's woodcarving tradition occurred in the mid-Edo period with the reconstruction of Zuisenji Temple's main hall. Sanshiro Maekawa, a sculptor from Kyoto's Honganji Temple, was commissioned for this task, mentoring four local apprentices in the process and laying the foundation for Inami woodcarving.

By 1792, the artistry of Inami woodcarving was epitomized in the Zuisenji Chokushimon, featuring Shichizaemon's chrysanthemum gate and "lion cub drop" carvings, celebrated for their Kano-style relief techniques. This period marked the beginning of a competitive era among schools, focusing on shrine and temple sculptures.

The advent of the Meiji era saw the diversification of Inami woodcarving into residential architecture, particularly through the innovation of transoms by Goun Oshima. This evolution continued through the Showa era, with notable contributions to major temples and shrines across Japan, as well as to the decorative elements of private homes, including transoms and lion heads.

By 1945, the Inami Sculpture Cooperative was established, achieving recognition as a traditional craft in 1975 by the Minister of International Trade and Industry. Today, Inami woodcarving, enriched by 250 years of technique and tradition, is celebrated in both sacred and secular spaces, from temple transoms to household decorations, and remains a vibrant part of Japan's cultural heritage.

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