Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kawara: Japanese Roof Tiles

Our trip to Japan in May 2013 had many highlights. I will be doing a series of posts around themes of interest to me: many of these themes were a complete surprise. The first of these was the magnificent art and craft of roof tiles, called kawara. The purpose of Japanese roof tiles is to prevent evil from coming into the home, temple, castle. The origin of Japanese kawara was brought from China via Korea in the late 6th century with the arrival of Buddhism. It is thought that the oldest kawara were used in Asuka Temple in Nara Prefecture (south of Kyoto). These tiles were made under the direction of four tile craftsmen sent from the southwestern Korean kingdom. At that time, Japan's political center was in Nara and the court officers were determined to rule the nation with the power of Buddhism. Kawara have evolved from being traditional roofing material to being waterproof, having unique designs, and remarkable durability.
Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
Some very old temples keep kawara from different time periods on a single roof and the tiles can range in age from 100 to three hundred years old. Recently, new features have been added that include a fixed structure to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, and heat-insulation capabilities based on the way they reflect sunlight.
The shrine on the left, Hachimangu Shrine, is one of the oldest in Kamakura and is an example of how the tiles are laid and the various types. An example of a modern roof is seen in a school/temple complex, also in Kamakura (below). There is a wide range of tile designs with a variety of symbols, meanings, and  types of protective capabilities. These include the sun (gives energy to the home), moon (protect and purify the home), star (power to make wishes come true), symbol of a king (wealth and honor), "magical mallet" (symbol of wealth), shoki (an ancient Chinese guardian), Buddhist sutra (intelligence and peace), lotus flower (purity and life), drawstring bag (brings money into the home), water (wards off fire), dragon (prosperity and success in business),and five-color cloud (five happinesses of life: intelligence, longevity,financial wealth, health, and having a fruitful life and natural death).

The photo, below, of Nijo Castle, built in 1603, shows end tiles, finials, and regular roof tiles.  The next series of photos will be close-ups of tiles in various locations.
Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Daisho-in temple, Miyajima

Sumiyoshi shrine, Fukuoka
shrine, Dazaifu
interesting finial
Kofukuji, Nara
Shrine, Kyoto

Kofukuji, Nara
close-up of roof tiles, Nijo Castle, Kyoto


eric said...

thanks for sharing

Liquid Roof Repair said...

These roof tile are the traditional roof tile from Japanese. I like the designs. Thanks for sharing.

Dan D. said...

Japanese tile roofing has got to be some of the most artistic and elegant type of roofing systems I have ever seen. These are some incredible pictures!

Nelson Mcglaughlin said...

This is a very interesting post. The Japanese really have an amazing sense of aesthetic and you can see it on the way their ancient buildings were constructed. Of course, the fact that their country sits in a disaster-prone area could be a factor as well. For example, those tile roofs are strong enough to withstand typhoons and are durable enough to last several years with proper care.

Nelson Mcglaughlin @

Gwendolyn Yates said...

Wow! These are definitely very unique roof tile designs. Japan sure has the capability of advancing their technology to protect some of their cultural and historical edifices. Such example is by giving their roof the capability to withstand certain earthquakes and rains. They have definitely been able to apply their technology to safeguard their history.

Gwendolyn Yates

Paul Lawson said...

I personally feel that this is an amazing feat of Japanese architecture. I just love their attention on the detail of those roof shingles, as well as the gargoyles that they have on the edges of the roof. This is very commendable.
Paul Lawson