Yamaguchi Onigawara Shop


The city of Fujioka has a long history of making roof tiles. Yamaguchi Onigawara Shop makes hand-carved ridge-end roof tiles (onigawara). Shigeru Yamaguchi is the fifth-generation to run the business. He’s one of the few skilled onishi—literally, demon masters—remaining. He has worked on numerous historical structures, and in 2012 was named a “modern master craftsman” by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. For generations, the faces of demons on the Yamaguchi clan ridge-end tiles have been recognizable by their large horns and fangs. The tiles created by Shigeru have been praised by his peers throughout the country as “the ferocious faces of the demons behind Gunma’s karakkaze winds.”


Fujioka clay used to make the tiles is soft and lacks a certain firmness. A craftsman must be skilled just to work it. When fired, though, the resulting tiles can adapt well to changes in water and air. Another feature of the clay is the elegant silver matte hue the tiles take on when fired in a wood-burning kiln.


Shigeru’s father Kiyozo was an onishi of rare talent who did the roof-ridge tiles on the main hall of Zozoji Temple in Tokyo. As a young man, Shigeru worked under his father, and trained for master status after work and on his days off. He was never taught how to design or create the tiles, rather he watched his father at work. Shigeru says that he managed to learn the craft out of sheer determination.


All of the paper patterns generated by Yamaguchi Onigawara throughout its 200-year history have been saved. Family and business names go on ridge-end tiles. The style of the characters is first drawn on paper and then converted into three-dimensional form when carved into clay. The process requires an enormous range and depth of skills. Shigeru goes back to look at the designs of his predecessors when searching for just the right style and level of sophistication.



Kiyozo died when Shigeru was 35. His father’s parting words to him were to continue to take on new challenges, striving to do work that was without precedent.

“If an artisan turns down a request because it’s something that’s never been done before, that’s just a missed opportunity. I refuse to pass on chances to do something new and get better at what I do.”



<Process for making ridge-end tiles>
1.Take clay that was dug up 1 to 2 years before, adjust water content, knead with a kneading machine, and then by hand.
2.Draw a design for half of the tile.
3.Create a rough version of the tile using the draft design to get a feel for the clay.
4.Refine the design using scrapers of different sizes, then polish the surface.
5.Dry for several days in the shade, and then 2–3 days in the sunlight.
6.Fire at about 1000℃ for 24 hours in a traditional wood-burning daruma-kiln.
7.Finally, the kiln is hermetically sealed for one day to obtain the brilliant silver color characteristic of the ridge-end tile.

映像制作:岡本 憲昭

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