Onigawara, the guardian deity of Japanese roofs | Traditional crafts in Aichi prefecture


Onigawara crafts
Source: Chubu bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry

Pottery as a guardian deity

In this article, we will explain the
traditional crafts of Aichi Prefecture. Aichi Prefecture is located in the very
center of Japan and is one of the regions that have produced central figures in
history. In particular, Nobunaga Oda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and Ieyasu Tokugawa,
who unified Japan, spent their youth in the Chubu region, including Aichi
Prefecture, during the period of warfare and later became the rulers of Japan.
The struggle for supremacy in this region gave birth to future rulers.

Due in part to this influence, Aichi
Prefecture has long been one of the most developed in Japan. Industry and
commerce flourished, and this is reflected in the present day. In fact, the
city of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture has long been home to many wealthy people,
and it is a land of great families with strong roots in economic success. One
of the reasons for this is that the area has long been a place of economic

This economic strength has also contributed
to the development of traditional crafts. As industry develops, life becomes
richer, and with it, purchasing power. Naturally, this has also led to the
production of many daily necessities, which in turn has given rise to a large
number of traditional crafts. In fact, there are more than 10 traditional
crafts in Aichi Prefecture. The only prefectures that have a similar number of
traditional crafts as Aichi Prefecture are either traditional metropolitan
areas such as Kyoto and Tokyo or prefectures with fertile soil, and there are
only a few prefectures in Japan at most. Let us now take a look at the
traditional crafts of Aichi Prefecture.

Source: Readyfor

What is Sanshu Onigawara crafts?

Sanshu Onigawara Kohin (Sanshu Onigawara
Crafts) are decorative tiles made in the shape of an ogre’s face, among the
Sanshu tiles produced in the Nishi Mikawa region of Aichi Prefecture. The main
production areas are Takahama, Hekinan, and Anjo cities. The name “Sanshu”
comes from the name of the old country in this region. The tile industry
developed in this area because of the abundance of high-quality clay suitable
for tiles and the concentration of related industries such as blended clay,
glaze, and ceramic machinery.

the material Mikawa clay, the craftsmen thoroughly pursue their skills and
maximize their own techniques, and the handmade onigawara produced from these
pursuits are truly works of art. Their products are highly regarded both in
Japan and abroad, and Sanshu Onigawara are widely used for national treasures,
cultural properties, castles, and public facilities.

Onigawara, meaning “devil’s face”
in Japanese, has long been used to decorate the roofs of Japanese-style
buildings to ward off evil spirits and misfortune, symbolize wealth, and bring
prosperity. Japan has a culture of decorating house with a variety of symbols, such as Inami wood carving or Ichii Itto-Bori, that is said to shield family and house from something bad. In recent years, as architectural styles have changed, the use of
tiles has expanded from being used as roof tiles to include tokonoma (alcove)
and entrance decorations as guardian deities of the home. Sanshu tiles are said
to be one of the three most popular tiles in Japan, along with Awaji tiles and
Ishu tiles.

Sanshu Onigawara crafts
Source: Aichi prefecture

History of Sanshu Onigawara Crafts

According to records, the Fujii family of
Anjo City began making tiles around 1460. Later, in the Edo period (1603-1867),
it spread toward Takahama City and Hekinan City near the sea. Because of the
availability of high-quality clay and the land’s suitability for transport by
ship, tiles could be easily transported to Edo (present-day Tokyo), and the
area became a major production center for tile production. In particular,
during the reign of Tokugawa Yoshimune in 1720 (Kyoho 5), tile roofing was
encouraged among the general population as a fire prevention measure to prevent
the spread of fires. Tile making flourished as a local industry during this
period, and this is the root of the current Sanshu Onigawara craft.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), demand
for kawara increased even more rapidly. In the early Meiji period, tile
production was a dual occupation with agriculture, but by the late Meiji
period, the number of tile makers in Takahama and Hekinan had reached about
350. In 1951, when tunnel kilns were introduced for the first time, which
enabled mass production, the production volume greatly increased, so much so
that National Route 1 was obscured by smoke from the kilns. In 1963, production
reached its peak.

Since ancient times, onigawara have adorned
the roofs of most Japanese-style buildings. As the production of roof tiles
declined due to changes in architectural styles, the production of onigawara
also gradually declined. The use of onigawara changed from being decorative
roof tiles to being used to decorate Tokonoma (alcove) and entranceways, and in
a broader sense, as a guardian deity of the house. 
Furthermore, products for daily use, such
as lampshades and tissue cases, were also produced.

How Sanshu Onigawara Crafts are Made

Sanshu Onigawara crafts were also selected
as a nationally designated traditional craft in 2017. The production
requirements for designation are as follows.

Techniques and techniques

  1. Molding shall be done by dipping clay or
    plaster mold.

  2. Patterns on the base shall be made by
    rough carving, “shibi” or “migaki,” using a metal spatula,
    a wooden spatula, or a bamboo spatula.

  3. Firing shall be done by smoking.

Raw materials

Pottery clay to be used shall be Mikawa
clay, mountain clay, suihi clay, or clay of equivalent quality.

Manufacturing Method & Process

1. Drawing

Calculate the firing shrinkage and draw an
accurate drawing (pattern).

2. Ruled drawing

Using the pattern, the drawing is ruled on
a clay board, and the surface is cut with a sickle.

3. Attachment

Attach the sides to the surface. At this time, all jointed surfaces are
scratched with a tool called kakiyaburi, and then moistened with water using a
brush to make them soft. The back side is attached in the same manner as the

4. Modeling

Clouds and other patterns are added to the
surface, and the overall shape is created.

5. Finishing

When the clay is approximately the right
consistency, it is finished using a spatula.

6. Drying

The tiles are dried slowly in a dry room
for about one month, starting from the center of the onigawara, while adjusting
the drying condition with a cloth and turning the front and back.

7. Firing

The tiles are fired at a high temperature
of approximately 1,150 degrees Celsius. For large onigawara, it takes two to
three months or more from the time the tiles are first made to the time they
are taken out of the kiln.


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