Onigawara, architectural demon 鬼瓦

  • Published on : 30/08/2018
  • by : M.H.
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Demons to drive away misfortune

In traditional Japanese architecture, onigawara adorns the roofs of buildings. These tiles take on the face of a Japanese demon, more commonly called oni.

Le visage du démon

The face of the demon


An oni is a very popular creature in Japanese folklore. It is found in legends, arts, literature, and even theater. Represented as a giant humanoid with a frightening appearance and titanic strength, but also equipped with claws and horns, the oni does not inspire sympathy, and we would not want it at home. However, initially, the creature protected humans from other evil spirits. Thus the Japanese rely on them and their magical powers to act as guardian angels in the same way as the gargoyles found here.

See: Japanese monsters and ghosts.

Représentation d'un oni

Representation of an oni


Manufacturing and expansion

Until the 12th century, onigawara were made by pressing clay into a mold, but the mode of production was changed, and they were then shaped by hand. The great temples of Nara even had their specialized artisans. The Tachibana clan craftsman working at Horyuji Temple is said to be the first to make a three-dimensional two-horned onigawara. The methods further evolved over the following centuries to lead to the onigawara as it is today prevalent across the country.

For a long time, onigawara were only installed on the roofs of temples, palaces, or castles. At the time, houses had no use for it since most were thatched. But from the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), tiled roofs were preferred, as they were resistant to frequent fires. Also, we avoided installing onigawara with oni faces on the top of private residences because the demon looked askance at the neighbor's house.

Les premiers modèles d'onigawara

The first models of onigawara


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