The first part of the tour will enrich your understanding of every tiled temple and shrine you see in Japan. Indeed, the craftsmen involved provide tiles for all the famous sites including Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji, and Sanjusangendo. The tour consists of a behind-the-scenes visit to a 100-year-old Onigawara artisan workshop where craftsmen have continued the ancient tradition of hand-carved onigawara roof tile creation. Onigawara is a combination of the Japanese words for demon (oni) and tile (kawara), featuring gargoyle and dragon designs. These elaborate tiles serve a dual role in warding off evil spirits and protecting the roof edges from the wear and tear of the elements.
The next part of the tour brings the guests to the artisans’ workshop where hiwadabuki—roof made of cypress bark—have been created for 200 years. This method is considered one of the most authentic and high-class styles of making plant-based roofs such as those made with rice straw and wooden planks. Guests can observe the actual making of the material at this workshop, which is certainly a rare opportunity. The lightning-fast placement of the wooden nails is particularly a highlight—see if you can beat the speed of your host!
Finally, you will move to the Hiyoshi-taisha shrine. This shrine has 2100 years of history and has its own unique architectural design. The shrine pavilion is a registered National Treasure whose roof was made by the artisans on today’s tour.
Both onigawara and hiwadabuki have been a part of Japanese architecture for some 1400 years. However, recently the number of artisans has drastically decreased and now only a few workshops remain in Japan. Visiting two of them in one day makes this tour such a rare and precious experience for guests.
The artisans at this particular workshop also participate in the restoration of World Heritage sites in Kyoto and Shiga.