My Obutsudan

Title: My Obutsudan


Grade Level: 3

Keywords: Altar

This is at a part of at least a 5 weeks project to make a complete Obutsudan. The project consist of the base Obutsudan, a flower vase, lotus candle holder and an incense holder. It is best to have a shoe box or a similar container to store all the pieces as they are constructed. Many of the materials are available from various craft stores such as Michael's.

Due to the duration of the project, we split the lesson plan into the various components


  • Learn about the parts of the altar and their significance
  • Construct a complete Obutsudan for their home use



  • 5 Wooden Kamaboko Boards per obutsudan
  • Sandpaper
  • Small Brads or Nails – 12 per obutsudan
  • Wood Glue


  • Save kamaboko boards. One way to easily do this is to ask a Japanese restaurant to save the kamaboko boards. Be sure to scrub them thoroughly before storage since kamaboko will get moldy.
  • Prepare a completed Obutsudan (or show a picture)
  • (Optional) As some students have not eaten kamaboko before, it might be an good idea to bring one to serve to the students. In that case, bring a plastic knife and paper napkins

Method: (1st week)

  1. Explain the project.
  2. Show a completed Obutsudan with all the parts
  3. Have students sand the kamaboko boards outside.

Tools: (2nd week)

  • Hammer
  • Saw

Preparation: (2nd week)

Assemble the "kits"

  • Five boards are required for each obutsudan: one for the central image and stand, one for each side and two for the top and bottom. It is easiest to prepare a “kit” of five boards for each student as follows:
  • Sides: Pair up kamaboko boards with similar wood grains – this is for aesthetics only. Mark these boards in some way to differentiate them from the top and bottom boards
  • Central Image: Cut one inch off the length of one kamaboko board for a stand
  • Top and Bottom: need 2 boards.

It is easiest to assemble the obutsudan if you mark the angled placement of the side boards on the “bottom” board.

Ask parents to come with hammers to help with the assembly.

Method: (2nd week)

  1. Glue pieces before hammering
  2. First, glue and nail central image piece to “stand,” then to bottom board
  3. Glue and nail side boards to bottom board
  4. Place, glue and nail top piece.
  5. Be sure to have students write their names and date on the bottom.


Buddha of Infinite Wisdom and Compassion occupies the central position in the Obutsudan


  • Bright White Shrinky Dinks plastic - Do not use the clear plastic because the glue will show through. These are available at Michael’s in packages of 6 sheets. Cut each sheet in half so each one measures 8.5” by 5.5”.
  • Masking Tape
  • Fine Tip Permanent markers in a variety of colors
  • Amida image (below)


  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Toaster Oven to bake plastic when completed


  • Make a sheet with the baking instructions for the Shrink-a-dinks
  • Make sufficient copies of the Amida Image


If you lay the plastic sheets on a table, you will see that the edges of the plastic sheets curve slightly – either up or down. Center and tape the plastic to the copied image, so it is convex (puffs up in middle). This lessens the chance that the plastic will stick to itself when shrunk.

Students can trace and color the image onto the plastic. The light colors should be applied before dark. Have students date and sign the picture. Some students also wrote “Namu Amida Butsu” on the image. It is easier for the students to trace if the paper is taped to the window and the sunlight shines through. For students that finish early, have them color the paper image.

The images may be taken home to bake if the students do not finish in time. The instructions are:

  1. Preheat toaster oven to 325 degrees F. Place two images colored side up on a brown paper bag on the metal tray.
  2. Bake 1-3 minutes until the pieces shrink and lay flat. Wait another 30 seconds for the process to complete.

See detailed baking instructions, hints and solutions to problems at website:

Use a glue gun to attach image to obutsudan.


Flowers are symbolic of the impermanence of this life. Flowers should be kept fresh at all times


  • Small glass bottles or vases (the ones shown in the photograph are vaccine bottles purchased from RAFT in San Jose)
  • Mod Podge Gloss (from Michael’s)
  • Multi-colored tissue paper cut into small (1 inch) pieces
  • 1-inch Foam Brushes
  • Newspaper to cover table
  • Foil Trays or Plates


  1. Cover tables with newspaper for easy cleanup.
  2. Write students’ names on the bottom of the bottle/vase before starting


  1. Pour a very small amount of Mod Podge on a plate/tray for 2-3 students to share.
  2. Use foam brush to apply a thin coat of Mod Podge on the bottle/vase and cover with a piece of tissue paper. Repeat until the bottle/vase is covered.
  3. Finish with a coat of Mod Podge over the entire surface (except bottom), so the finish will be shiny.


The practice of burning incense is symbolic of a spiritual “cleansing” or preparation for approaching the Buddha and listening to the Dharma. At the same time, the ash and the smoke rising from the burning incense represents the transience of all existence.


  • Small Metal or Plastic Containers - Altoids, Icebreakers, round or rectangular
  • Gold Spray Paint
  • Stick Incense
  • Dharma Wheel Stickers from Jodo Shinshu Center or BCA Bookstore


  1. Clean containers.
  2. Have an adult spray the tins.
  3. Apply the sticker to the top of the container.
  4. Break sticks of incense into pieces that fit the container.


The candle or light symbolizes the Wisdom of the Buddha, which drives away the darkness of the human mind and shines without discrimination on all. In Jodo Shinshu, this is directly related to the name of Amida Buddha.


Sculpey clay is available at Michael’s It is fairly soft and get more pliable when you work with it. It comes in a square block that is scored into 4 pieces; cut each block into pieces as specified. After the project is completed, bake the Sculpey and it hardens.

  • White Sculpey Clay in 1.75 pound package for petals, separate the strips
  • Green Sculpey Clay for base, cut into 8 pieces
  • Yellow or Orange Sculpey Clay for flower center, cut into 24 pieces
  • Scrap White Paper to work on
  • Wipes for hands
  • Candles – size in proportion to other items in obutsudan
  • Knife to cut sculpey clay
  • Oven to bake clay when completed

Each child needs a piece of green and one of yellow, plus pieces of white strips.


  1. Roll the green piece into a ball and flatten into circle about 1.5 inches in diameter. It doesn’t matter if if’s not perfectly round. Wipe hands, so green does not transfer to white pieces.
  2. Roll the white pieces into long smooth snakes. Cut into pieces about 1.5” to 2”. Taper one end so it looks like a flower petal. Press the other end into the base. It’s easiest to place four opposing petals, then fill in with the others.
  3. When done. Roll the yellow piece into a ball. Place in the center of the flower, and press down slightly to about 1/4 inch. Use a candle and press into the center – this will form the holder for the candle. Be sure to remove the candle before baking.
  4. Bake at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. A glass baking sheet or dish is recommended, however, you can use a cookie sheet, covered in foil. Always allow the clay to cool completely before handling it because it may break.


  • When the project is complete, photograph each Obutsudan with the student. Ask the student to place each part and ask for its significance.


Original obutsudan project was created by Moschel Kadokura and modified by Karen Akimoto


Karen Akimoto, n/a, San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, 2002