Information for non-Japanese

Onishi’s (Roof Tile Artisans) Message

Roof tiles were introduced to Japan 1400 years ago and throughout their history have been made locally in different parts of the country.  Roof tiles evolved in different ways; aesthetically, for weather resistance, earthquake resistance and due to their sound insulating properties. They gradually became an essential part of Japanese life.


There are a wide-variety of roof tiles. ‘Onigawara,’ Japanese gargoyle tiles, are most unique and beautiful of all those found in Japan.


‘Onigawara’ are believed to protect buildings from evil spirits and disasters and at the same time bring good fortune to the people who live there. They can last for 100 to 200 years depending on the weather conditions. ‘Onigawara’ also decorate roofs and give aesthetic beauty to Japanese traditional buildings, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.


Artisans who make ‘Onigawara’ are called ‘Onishi’ or ‘Oni-itashi’ and are particularly respected and looked up to by roof-tile makers and the public. Onishi artisans oversee the entire process from preparing the clay, drawing up a plan, forming, drying and kiln firing. Making each piece by hand, Onishi artisans put their entire souls into their work.  


However, in modern days, ‘Onigawara’ became mass-produced using a metal mold in the same way as how regular roof tiles are made. We at the Minobe Onigawara Gargoyle workshop stick to the traditional handmade technique that has been passed down in our family for almost 100 years.


What is ‘Ibushi Onigawara’ Gargoyle?

Roof tiles are divided into two types. One type is glazed roof tiles which have a glass-like coating. Just like glazed ceramic, it does not allow water to penetrate. Also, the colors remain which makes it suitable for both Japanese and Western architectures.


Another type is ‘Ibushi’ roof tiles. ‘Ibushi’ means to smoke. After firing, gas is injected into the kiln to create smoke that results from the oxidation-reduction reaction. By this process, smoked metallic natural colors appear on the tiles. Unlike glazed tiles, this metallic color fades away and changes as it ages. This is the true value of Ibushi roof tiles which glazed tiles cannot recreate. By this process, roof tiles are carbonized and become durable for many years.


Japanese people may think of a demon faced gargoyle when hearing the word ‘Onigawara’. However, there are many types of ‘Onigawara’. For example, for regular houses, gargoyles shaped like clouds or waves, symbols of good luck called ‘Fukurin,’ are common. ‘Kaizu’ which are more simple designs with lines and curves are also popular.


Another type of roof tile is called ‘Shishiguchi’ and is often used on temple roofs along with demon faced gargoyles. ‘Shishiguchi’ has designs of family crests such as a chrysanthemum (family crest for the imperial family) or ‘Mitsu-Tomoe’, which is a comma like symbol. ‘Roban’ is attached to the top of hipped roofs. ‘Hoju,’ a ball-like tile, and a ‘Kaen’ flame are common designs for this type.


Rainwater is a clear threat to buildings. ‘Onigawara’ are attached to the top or corners of the roofs where rainwater can seep in as protection. People may have considered rain as an evil spirit in the old days. Another threat is fire. Many old ‘Onigawara’ tiles on townhouses’ roofs have symbols related to water or waves. These symbols are to protect your houses from fire disasters. ‘Shachi’; a dragon headed fish which is a water deity, are attached to the roof of temples and castles for the same purpose. There are also examples of how people used to put their wishes and hopes to ‘Onigawara’ in order to protect their houses and family members.

About Onibi

‘Onigawara’ were attached to roofs to exorcise evil spirits and lead people to happiness. However, they are not seen as much as before. There are many reasons why Japanese people are growing apart from roof tiles but earthquakes, the increasing number of western buildings and cost are some of the causes.


On the other hand, ‘Onigawara’ is attracting attention as art work and we have been receiving orders for ornamental pieces. Also, customers who live in western houses and apartments now have started to purchase our work for house protection and purification.


All the work you find on our website is made by us ‘Onishi’ artisans. If you like our work and would like to purchase or make inquiries, please send us message using ‘Inquiry’.