Roof demon

Roof demonsThis onigawara, or demon roof tile, is a specialized example of a Japanese ceramic roof tile. Onigawara were placed at the ends of a tiled roof ridge as a kind of charm to scare away bad luck or evil spirits.

The Japanese have used ceramic roof tiles since the late 6th. century; they are said to have been imported from Korea and China with Buddhism.

Roof demons2In addition to being both waterproof and wind resistant, clay roof tiles are durable. They can last for hundreds of years. Tiles manufactured today often help conserve energy because they are reflective, and some are designed to resist earthquake damage. As much as fifty percent of Japanese houses still have ceramic tiles.

The tile above depicts some sort of a gable ornament used at the top of a Roof demons3roof, and the hashioki to the right portrays the end or bottom tilesof a roof hip, which are the diagonal ridges that gently slope from the top ridge to the bottom.

I live in a house with flat fiberglass roof tiles, which seems pretty boring when I compare it with Japanese tile roofs. I especially like the idea of imbedding a good luck charm on our roof, maybe one that could protect us from tornadoes in Indiana.


Seven lucky gods

Shichifukujin, literally meaning “seven lucky people,” are Japan’s version of the seven dwarfs. They are even short in stature, not only in hashioki, but in other formats, too. All Japanese instantly recognize shichifukujin, and everyone knows their names…. well, everyone can probably remember most if not all of their names, just like the seven dwarfs in the Snow White fairy tale. They are the most popular deities in Japan, and so beloved that many consider them to be both Buddhist and Shinto.

Seven lucky godsIt’s hard to find a complete set of shichifukujin hashioki. But Daikokuten (red hat) and Ebisu (blue hat) are pretty easy to find; they’re the most popular, and they often appear as a pair.



I found these wonderful 3D versions of Daikokuten, Ebisu and Benzaiten inSeven lucky gods3 a shop in San Francisco’s Japantown. I know they are part of a complete set of seven were originally produced by Toshikane Art Porcelain, and I still hold out hope that I’ll find the four other pieces from that set some day.

I did find a complete 7-piece shichifukujin set on eBay in 2014. It’s not a great set, but it is complete.

From left to right, these hashioki show Daikokuten, with his signature red hat. Daikokuten is one of the ring leaders of the shichifukujin. He is a god of wealth and of the harvest; in this hashioki you can see the big bag of rice slung over his shoulder. Daikokuten often carries an uchide no kozuchi, or lucky mallet, which has the power to make wishes come true.

In the center above is Ebisu, who is Daikokuten’s frequent companion. He is the god associated with laborers and fishermen; he has a fishing pole slung over one shoulder and clutches a large tai or sea bream under his other arm. Ebisu is said to be the happiest of the shichifukujin, and the only one of seven to have a Japanese origin; the others are versions of Indian or Chinese deities. If you’ve traveled to Tokyo, Ebisu’s name probably sounds familiar. A Japan beer company borrowed his name and image for their product, and did so well that they built a train station to facilitate shipping. This station is today the Ebisu stop on the Yamanote commuter rail line that circles Tokyo.

Benzaiten, above on the right, is the only female member of the shichifukujin. She is the goddesss of everything that flows: music, as suggested by the biwa or lute she holds here, and dance, suggested by the ribbon behind her, and poetry and words. She is also the goddess of water, and shrines dedicated to Benzaiten are usually located near ponds or other bodies of water.

Seven lucky gods8Fukurokuju is literally the god for happiness (fuku), wealth (roku) and longevity (ju). Some say he has the ability to revive the dead. He has a very high forehead and a long beard, and usually carries a staff and a copy of the Lotus Sutra, one of the most revered Buddhist scriptures.

Hotei is the god of happiness and contentment. He laughs so hard that he Seven lucky gods5doesn’t care if his huge belly bulges out of his robe. Hotei is bald and has big ear lobes, and often carries an uchiwa or fan which has wish-granting powers.


Seven lucky gods6Bishamonten (spelled here as Bisyamonten), is a warrior god who chases away foreign invaders and safeguards worshippers. He is often shown carrying a spear; sometimes he carries a pogoda which represents the treasures he distributes.

Jurojin (or Jyuroujin), on the left, is probably the god people tend to forget, Seven lucky gods7because he is the least distinctive. He is also the one who isn’t on everyone’s list; sometimes he is replaced in the shichifukujin lineup by Kichijōten, a female god of fertility. Maybe this is because Jurojin is almost identical to Fukurokuju — he has the same high forehead, carries a staff and a scroll, and is considered to be a god of longevity (1)

Japan’s shichifukujin travel together on a takarabune, or treasure ship. The image of the shichifukujin crammed onto the prow of a takarabune, printed on a piece of paper, is what Japanese children slip under their pillow when they go to bed on on the night of December 31 to ensure that the first dream of the new year will be lucky (2). Another example of a takarabune is included in a future posts about Boats (September 2017).


(1) Calli, Joseph and John Dougill.  Shinto Shrines:  A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion.  Honolulu:  University of Hawai’i Press, 2013, pp. 16-17.

(2) Kodansha International.  Japan:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 2.  New York:  Kodansha International, 1993, p. 1354.

Satsuma ware

At first glance these hashioki don’t seem to reflect the Japanese style aesthetic. But I have to admit I was drawn to these pieces by the portrait of the full-bodied rather earthy woman that is Kannon, just as I am drawn by Okame and Otafuku (“Okame” January 2016 and “What is it about this woman? August 2016 posts), Ono no Komachi (“Rokkasen” post in September 2016), and Benzaiten (“Seven lucky gods” post this month).

I will say that the shape of these pieces is a little unusual for hashioki; they are a little big to simply use to rest the tips of your chopsticks. They may be a combination hashioki and tiny sauce bowl, good for serving a small serving of soy sauce or perhaps a tiny pickle. The green indentations on each side almost make me think they could be miniature ashtrays, except I can’t imagine putting out a cigarette on the body of a Buddhist deity. The grooves must be the for chopstick tips, right?

So we’ll agree to call them chopstick rests.


During the late 16th century the sixth son of a minor Japanese prince was adopted as an heir by that country’s ruling warlord. When the warlord’s wife gave birth to a natural son the warlord reversed the adoption, but he also presented his ousted adoptee with a generous cash settlement.

This young man had grown up reading The Tale of Genji, and he was enchanted by the world of the so-called Shining Prince. So it’s hardly surprising he decided to use his windfall to purchase property in Katsura, a neighborhood in Kyoto where many scenes from The Tale of Genji take place, to build a home like the ones described in the novel. The house and garden complex he and his heirs created is known as Katsura Rikyu, or the Katsura Detached Palace.

Katsura is a masterpiece of traditional Japanese design. The three main buildings and four surrounding tea houses are rustic and yet austerely elegant, featuring clean lines and stark rectangular spaces enlivened by natural wood surfaces and tatami mats. Even more renown than the buildings are the Katsura gardens, which feature a large man-made pond and many uneven stone stepping paths, including one where visitors must step from stone to stone to cross a section of the pond.

KatsuraDecoration at Katsura is minimal, and the decoration that is there often has an irregular or natural shape to play against the rectangular lines of the buildings. This hashioki is in the shape of a hikite, or hand pull for a fusuma or sliding door. It is probably the most famous decorative shape associated with Katsura. It is meant to suggest the shape of a rising moon (tsuki) or the kanji character that represents a moon. When The Tale of Genji was written many aristocrats owned villa’s in the area where the palace was built so they could view the reflection of the moon in the Katsura River that borders the neighborhood.

At some point a special set of five hashioki was created as homage to Katsura Rikyu. I happened to see one of these sets for sale on eBay several years ago, but someone else snapped it up while I was hesitating over the price. When I saw another set for sale on Etsy last year I didn’t hesitate to buy it.



The shapes in this Katsura set are (left to right): moon, matsuba pine needles, marsh grass, and an oar (used for boats in Katsura’s pond). The fifth piece on the bottom is an ichimegasa, or traditional hat with a wide brim and high crown that Japanese women have worn to market since Heian times


All six of these hashioki are glazed ceramics. The original hikite were enameled metal. During my last visit to Katsura in October 2016 I spotted on the original oar-shaped hikite in a fusama in one of the buildings.


Visiting Katsura isn’t easy. You have to apply to Japan’s Imperial Household Agency far in advance in order to secure one of the very limited visitor slots. I’ve been twice, and I can’t wait to have another opportunity to visit again. It’s well worth it.