Makie (蒔絵)

Makie is the technique of Japanese lacquer art.

In the technique, pictures, patterns, or letters are drawn with urushi (a Japanese lacquer) on the surface of lacquerware, and metal powder, such as of gold or silver, is sprinkled before the urushi dries to secure the design on the lacquer surface. Makie technique is distinguished from other lacquerware decorating techniques including: hyomon (also referred as heidatsu) technique, whereby a thin metal sheet is placed on the surface; the chinkin technique, whereby the lacquerware surface is carved and gold and silver is inlayed in the depression; and the 'raden' technique, whereby green turban shell, abalone or other type of shell is cut out into decorative pieces, and glued or inlayed into the lacquered material.

While 'hyomon' and 'raden' are originally Chinese techniques, the makie technique is regarded as a Japanese lacquer art only seen in Japan with the earliest piece of work being Kingindenso no karatachi (commonly called 'makkinru no tachi,' a sword made by the ancient lacquer-decorating technique with sprinkled gold powder), which is a Shosoin treasure.

Main Techniques

Togidashi Makie

After sprinkling gold or silver powder, lacquer is applied over the entire surface of the piece; when it is dried, the lacquer layer is polished down with a piece of charcoal to reveal the pattern of makie layer. When polishing is completed, the surface of the lacquerware piece is flush with the designed layer, forming a smooth surface plane. The makkinru technique, used in the Shosoin treasure Kingindenso no karatachi, is a type of togidashi makie technique. Early on, up to the Heian period, when the gold and silver pulverizing technology was still in a primitive stage and incapable of producing fine powder, this was the standard technique.

Hira Makie

After the motif is drawn with lacquer and gold and silver powder is sprinkled, applying suri-urushi process (applying lacquer only over the motif) and is then polished. Hira makie differs from togidashi makie in that in the former lacquer is applied only partially while in the latter the entire surface of the piece is covered with lacquer. This technique emerged in the late Heian period; kodaiji makie (ultra-refined style of makie) in the Momoyama period is based on the hira makie technique.

Taka Makie

Lacquer is applied onto the motif to produce a relief effect.

Shishiai Makie

A combination of taka makie and togidashi makie techniques. After part of the motif is formed into a relief, lacquer is coated over the entire piece, and is then polishing with charcoal. Unlike togidashi makie, the surface of the piece is not smooth after the completion of polishing.

Rankaku Makie

A technique of inlay with chicken or quail egg shell.


Koami School
Igarashi School

[Original Japanese]