Butsudan help needed

Hi Everyone, I've been asked by a couple of friends if I would make a Butsudan (A Buddhist altar) for them. I've done a DAGS for it but can't come up with any plans. I need to know minimum sizes etc. I found plenty of piccys but nothing to tell me what I need to know Can you guys help?
Thanks Mick
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Through google I found a lot of sites with plenty of pix and the outside dims. You may have to use those dims and draw something up yourself. But there is definitely no shortage of ideas out there. www.Butsudan.com When I googled for butsudan, a lot of sites came back, maybe you should look deeper in the search results? It looks as if this is something that can be designed to suit the tastes of your friends, quite freehand in the design.                             Mark L.
Mick stanford wrote:

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On Mon, 09 Aug 2004 19:52:54 GMT, "Mick stanford"

Judging by everything I've just read on a dozen sites (yeah, I got curious, too) there is no specific size or style requirement listed. Anything from a lone candle holder to a room full of offering bowls, candles, and statues is used.
Ask your friends for -their- preferences and build a cabinet (or open altar) to suit their tastes, or have them consult their holy man for his input, Mick.
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On Mon, 09 Aug 2004 19:52:54 GMT, "Mick stanford"

Japanese Buddhist presumably (Nichiren ?), if they call it that. Every tradition has its own styles, so don't expect something from Thailand to hit the spot.
What are they after ? Floor standing or table ? Do they want an "altar" (as Xians might understand it), a statuary cabinet, or both ? If they follow Nichiren, then I believe they favour multiple shelves inside the cabinet (there are several idols in there). Do they already have a statue to place inside it, and how big is it ?
My guess would be that they want the cabinet, and probably just the cabinet. This should have two side-hung doors, not one, and traditionally the cabinet is oval, with proportions of about 2:1. This stuff isn't critical, but the history of such cabinets is that they began as portable (shoulder carried) shrines, so the size and shape should be roughly consistent with that.
As for the style, then they're typically Japanese, yet atypical in that they have this elliptical plan view, with a built-up carcase and hinges. Most Japanese cabinetry is rectilinear and has either lift-off or sliding doors. A Western cabinetry guide (Krenov ?) would explain the techniques you'll need - a coopered carcase is typical, maybe panelled inside in a contrasting light-coloured timber. For moisture-proofing, much Japanese cabinetry is two-layer, with an inner of paulownia (use lime/basswood).
If you're unfamiliar with Japanese styling, then there's a lot to learn to get the "feel" right. Try Toshio Odate's book on tools, and maybe the Heineken's on Tansu (small portable cabinets). There are any number of books on Japanese "style" and aesthetics, but these two convey some of the appropriate joinery. Remember that Japan has huge seasonal variation in moisture, so much joinery exists to cope with this (much worse problems than Western cabinetry has to cope with).
Older cabinets, especially the portable ones, would be lacquered. You just can't do this in the West - if you need real lacquer, then have it done for you in Japan or Viet Nam. Simple lacquerwork can be emulated with black shellac, but it's not exctly right and you can't use decorative styles like maki-e.
Timber choices are pretty broad, but you do need to get a feel for Japanese taste (maybe not "iki" though, on a religious piece). I use lime (basswood) for most of my internal work, because I can't get the exact local timbers. Walnut or high-end figured softwoods are appropriate for visible timber, but be gentle with the finishing - a hand-planed finish should be smooth enough for the texture to be invisible, yet still tactile. Butsudan though are a little "showier" than domestic work - there may be a gloss finish (use shellac) or smooth sanding, there may be inlay work (especially handles or on the lid) in contrasting timber that would be though gaudy in most pieces. A traditional finish would be plain black lacquer outside and gold leaf inside - this enormous contrast between open and closed is very much part of the style.
(I've never made a butsudan and have no intention of ever doing so. It would be like asking a Presbyterian to display a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
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I missed the original post, but....
1) Ask your friends what they want. They are your "customers" and the best source. The more input they give you, the more they will value the results (assuming you build what they ask for).
2) Roll your own. Personally, I have no idea why anyone would ever build anything from someone else's plans (unless they are paying you to) or imitating a style instead of it's essence (I will probably not be popular here!) Half the fun of woodworking is making something that no one has ever seen before! Besides, there are a number of people who make traditional butsudans, so if your friends asked you to make one, they may like the idea of one that is non-traditional.
Anyway, if they are American SGI members, there aren't a lot of hard and fast rules. There is a great respect for cultural plularism, and there is no reason to adopt "Japanese style" because you think you should. Although most butsudans have places to put incense, matches, candle holder, bowl, beads, vase, bell and Gohonzen, it's my understanding (I may be wrong) that the Gohonzen is the only item specific to Nichiren Buddhism. The rest are inherited from Shinto or other Japanese ritualistic practices, though you may never get any SGI members to explain that. (I am just assuming they are SGI Buddhists, here....)
The Butsudan's main function is to hold the Gohonzen, and small ones do nothing else. Task A would be to look at their Gohonzen. Since there may be several (or many) people chanting in front of it, the cabinet should be shallow, or there should be a way for the Gohonzen to hang toward the front of the cabinet, so that it is visible when you are not right in front of it. Yes, two doors which open wide is good. A small light inside (soft light, in the front, behind a top rail) to highlight the Gohonzen would help a lot, although these are not common.
Some people chant sitting in chairs, others sit on the floor, so the height is a user preference. That said, I think the bottom of the Gohonzen should be just above eye level when sitting in a chair (it's better to be looking upward a bit). Most users have a variety of the acoutrements above, and you should find out how many and big they are. Even better, go to a few meetings and chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo. (It's not devil-worship, it won't kill you. But be careful--I was brainwashed!) Scope out a lot of them--not just the cabinets, but the whole setup.
I agree with the inside/outside contrast. "Plain on the outside and absolutely beautiful on the inside" would be a good goal to set.
Good luck!
Andy Dingley wrote:

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Thanks for all the advice lads. The couple who asked me to make their Butsudan are SGI Buddhists, although they are comparatively new to their faith and still learning which is why they couldn't give me any hard and fast information as to what makes up a Butsudan. Again, many thanks, you've all been a great help Mick
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