Kanshitsuzo (literally, dry lacquer technique) is one of the oriental wood statue production techniques, in which a statue is formed by layering pieces of hemp cloth soaked in lacquer over a core, and a wood powder and lacquer mixture was thickly applied to create surface details.
The kanshitsuzo technique originates in China, where the technique is called '夾紵' (kyocho in Japanese pronunciation) or '塞' with semantic determinative 土 on the left side (soku in Japanese pronunciation). In addition to statues, the technique was also used to produce containers, coffins, and other objects. In Japan, the technique was frequently used for Buddhist statues from the end of the 7th century to the 8th century, and declined during Heian period or later. Kanshitsuzo has two types: 'Dakkatsu-kanshitsuzo,' the hollow dry lacquer technique, where pieces of hemp cloth soaked in lacquer are layered to a thickness of 1 cm; and 'mokushin-kanshitsuzo,' wood-core dry lacquer technique, which is a simplified version of the former dry lacquer technique.
The method of production can be simply expressed as follows:
First, the framework of the statue is made using shingi (a wooden core), over which clay is applied to create a rough statue. On top of the clay surface, pieces of hemp cloth are laid with mugi-urushi (Japanese lacquer mixed with wheat flour) to create the basic shape of the statue. Mugi-urushi is a paste mixture of urushi (lacquer) and wheat flour, which creates a strong bond. While the size of each hemp piece and thickness of the hemp layer vary from statue to statue, the hemp layer is typically made into roughly about 1-cm thickness. To basic statue formed in this way, makko-urushi or kokuso-urushi is applied to build up the details of the statue. Makko-urushi is a mixture prepared by adding leaf powder of cedar, pine tree, and so on, to mugi-urushi; kokuso-urushi is a mixture prepared by adding cypress sawdust, textile scraps, and so on, to mugi-urushi. During the Nara period, makko-urushi, and during the Heian period and later, kokuso-urushi were mainly used.
When the whole shape of the statue had been modeled, the clay inside the core is scraped out from a hole which was cut in an inconspicuous place such as on the back of the statue; then wooden framework is placed inside the statue for reinforcement and to prevent warpage.
Statues made with this method still exist including at Hokkedo (Sangatsudo) in Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and Toshodai-ji Temple, many of which are some of the most celebrated works in the history of sculpture in Japan. During the Heian period and after, however, very few statues were made by this method, due to the large amount of costly urushi required, and the time-consuming process. The Shitenno ryuzo (standing statue of the Four Devas) in Kondo of Taima-dera Temple in Nara City is severely damaged and believed to be the oldest example of statues made by Dakkatsu-kanshitsuzo.
In this technique, a roughly-shaped core is made by carving wood, which is covered by layers of hemp cloth soaked in lacquer, and makko-urushi or kokuso-urushi is applied to build up the detail over the rough statue. While statues of dakkatsu-kanshitsuzo are hollow, mokushin-kanshitsuzo have a wood core inside with the hemp cloth layer being thinner than the former technique. Some Buddhist statues in the early Heian period were made based on carved wood figures, partially by mokushin-kanshitsuzo to create details such as facial expressions and accessories; therefore, in some cases, it is difficult to categorize them into 'carved wood figure' or 'mokushin-kanshitsuzo' (wood core dry lacquer technique) by rule.
Some of the famous kanshitsu-butsu (Buddhist statues by kanshitsuzo)
Hokkedo (Sangatsudo) of Todai-ji Temple: standing statue of Fukukenjaku Kannon (Kannon of the Never Empty Lasso), standing statues of Bonten (Brahma, a major Hindu deity thought to be responsible for creating the world) and Taishakuten (Sakra devanam Indra), standing statues of the Kongo-rikishi guardian deity and the Misshaku-rikishi deity
Toshodai-ji Temple Kondo: seated statue of the principle image, Rushanabutsu (Vairocana in Sanskrit, which is the principal object of worship at a temple)
Toshodai-ji Temple: seated statue of Ganjin-wajo (Jianzhen, a Chinese monk)
Taima-dera Temple: standing statues of Shitenno (the Four Heavenly Kings)
Kofuku-ji Temple: standing statues of Hachibushu (the eight classes of Indian deities who were converted to Buddhism and became guardians), one of which is the statue of Ashura
Kofuku-ji Temple: standing statues of Judaideshi (the Ten Great Disciples of Buddha)
Fujii-dera Temple in Osaka Prefecture: seated statue of Senju Kannon (Thousand-Armed Kannon)
Kondo in Toshodai-ji Temple: standing statue of Senju Kannon, standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai (Buddha of healing and medicine)
Shorin-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture: standing statue of Juichimen Kannon (the Eleven Headed Kannon)
Kannon-ji Temple in Kyoto Prefecture: standing statue of Juichimen Kannon
Hokuen-do in Kofuku-ji Temple: standing statues of Shitenno
Wood carving and mokushin-kanshitsuzo
Kodo in To-ji Temple: statues of Godai Bosatsu (the Five Great Bodhisattvas)
Kanshin-ji Temple in Osaka Prefecture: seated statue of Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion)
Jingo-ji Temple: seated statues of Godai Kokuzo Bosatsu (the Five Great Akasagarbha Bodhisattvas)