Traditional Crafts of TokyoTraditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品

Tokyo Gakubuchi

(Picture Frames)

Tokyo Gakubuchi Photo

Painters, art dealers and art collectors: Our customers are giving the largest number of requests in the world.
Painters regard picture frames as part of own work and take pride in the completeness that they provide. Whereas art dealers look to frames to add extra value to paintings, art collectors are interested in the integration of paintings with interior spaces. That is why there is no standard design for picture frames; no ready-made picture frame can meet a special or specific demand. The craftsmen of Tokyo Gakubuchi (picture frames) listen to the requests of painters and art dealers, and create the best designs, sometimes based on consultation with the client. In the picture frame manufacturing process that developed in the 19th century with the popularization of Western art, Sashimono (cabinetwork), sculpture, and coating craftsmen were separately involved. In Tokyo Gakubuchi, these independent skills are brought together and applied in a continuous operation to produce frames that reflect various demands. Clients trust the craftsmen’s sense of beauty and their experience, including a method for matching the painting colors to the display space, in addition to a technique for creating a grainy texture through coating. Although a particular design may be copied for picture frames intended for printmaking, the craftsman places importance on his/her manual work in order to make each picture frame special.
Main Areas of Manufacture Taito Ward, Toshima Ward, Arakawa Ward
Designation/ Certification Date December 24th, 1982 (Tokyo Certification)
Traditionally Used Raw Materials Base woods for picture frames include Cedar, Cherry, Magnolia and other species with similar qualities.
A natural lacquer is used for lacquering processes.
Gold and silver leaf are used for gilding frames.

Traditional Technologies and Techniques

  1. For both wagaku (Japanese picture frames) and yogaku (western picture frames), wedges and joints are used to strengthen the outer frame edges.
  2. Japanese picture frames are finished using the following techniques:
    ① Painting: This involves the application of refined lacquer by hand.
    ② Gilding: This involves the application of gild over primary applications of lacquer.
    ③ Natural Finishes: This involves wax finishing over applications of polishing powder.
  3. When engraving natural materials used in the manufacture of western picture frame facings, decorations are applied using female molds, while gilding is done over primary layers of lacquer.

History and Characteristics

Since ancient times in Japan there has been a love affair with folding-screen pictures used to adorn living spaces.

Among the ancient folding-screens still in existence, a prime example is the "Torige Ryujo no Byobu" (a six-panel folding screen of women dressed in the Tang style). It is held by the Shoso-in (the treasure house of the Todai-ji Temple in Nara). In the administration of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (the 8th Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate) during the Muromachi Period (approx. 1337-1573), splendid folding-screens became widespread. These works were set against backgrounds of gold. During the blossoming of culture in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period under Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (approx. 1573-1603), Kano Eitoku produced the magnificent "Karajishi" (the "Guardian Lions") folding screen. Among other works, the Genroku Era (1688-1704) of the Edo Period saw the production of the wonderful "Fujin Raijin-zu" ("Picture of Wind and Thunder Gods") by Tawaraya Sotatsu.

Full-scale production of picture frames in Japan started in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) as the nation sought to adopt western (oil) painting techniques. In response to instructions received from artists, cabinetmakers made wooden picture frames, sculptors of Buddhist statues engraved decorations on them, and lacquer craftsmen added a finish.

Specialized picture frame craftsman appeared in Japan in the 25th Year of the Meiji Era (1892). In that year, a lacquer craftsman called Nagao Kenkichi established Japan’s first picture frame factory on a small scale in Shibaatagocho (in modern Minato Ward) at the behest of the oil painter Yamamoto Hosui who had returned from France.

In the picture framing business, “gakuso” is a term used to describe the placing of a picture in a frame (it means to literally “dress a picture”). This expression embodies the spirit of a framer in their desire to create frames that bring out the heart and soul of pictures painted by artists.

Contact Details

Manufacturing Area Cooperative Name Tokyo Picture Frame Manufacturing Cooperative Association
Address c/o Mr. Tajima, Gakubuchi Kobo, 4-19-2 Asakusabashi, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0053
TEL 03-3851-9432