Discover and learn in detail about the beautiful Japanese roof architecture of temples and shrines. This is a unique opportunity to visit workshops and experience this form of craftsmanship.
In this tour, we offer you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit some of the last craftsmen who dedicate their lifework to the preservation of renowned temples and shrines in Japan. Since ancient times, Japanese people have believed that the beauty of Japanese architecture starts from the roof. This tour is an amazing chance to deeply learn and understand about Japanese roof tiles, which are recognized internationally for their beauty and artistic details.
In the intimate venue of their workshops and homes, the roof craftsmen will explain to you how roof materials such as tiles, cypress bark and rice straw are used for roofs and share in detail the differences between temple and shrine roofs.
Sakamoto town, which guests will visit on the tour, is the residence of the few families who have sustained and supported Enryakuji Temple, the legendary guardian of ancient Kyoto city for over 1,200 years. Still now, many retired Buddhist monks as well as working craftsmen, who are in charge of handing down their skills, live in the area while sustaining the World Heritage sites.
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—roofs 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 wooden nails is a particularly highlight—see if you can beat the speed of your host!
Finally, we will move to Hiyoshi-taisha shrine. This shrine has 2,100 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 1,400 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.
Meeting Point: JR Hieizan-Sakamoto (Kosei-Line), 15 minutes (4th stop) from JR Kyoto Station by a local train.
First, we will take a taxi to the onigawara roof tile workshop.
We will visit a very famous group of decorative tile artisans who are well known for exclusively producing roof tiles and gargoyles for historical sites in both Kyoto and Shiga.
The group has been dedicated to temple construction for several generations and has been creating onigawara decorative tiles for over 100 years. They are one of the few decorative tile artisans’ workshops still existing in this region.
Next, we will visit an artisanal workshop for hiwadabuki, cypress bark roofing, run by the seventh-generation successor. This ancient technique of roof-making has been used predominantly for high-class shrines and temples and is original to Japan. Records show that neighborhood temples had this style of roof as early as 1,350 years ago.
The artisans at this workshop are busily contributing their sophisticated skills and craftsmanship to prestigious buildings in Kyoto and other areas. At the workshop, we will learn about hiwadabuki, cypress bark roofing, and kokerabuki, roofing made with thin wooden boards.
Also, we can see the female workers and artisan’s wives preparing cypress bark materials for roofing by hand as it has been done since olden times. It is a truly rare chance to see and experience the daily life of the workshop in action.
We will take a short break at a 300-year-old Soba buckwheat noodle restaurant. The buckwheat noodles are freshly made by hand everyday. The chef must adjust the ratio of the ingredients precisely according to that day's temperature and humidity.
Different types of fish flakes are blended together to produce a flavorful soup seasoned with local soy sauce brewed in the neighborhood. The restaurant is always packed with the locals savoring that day's fare.
Next, we will visit Hiyoshi Shrine, enshrined at the foothill of Mt. Hiei, the head temple of the 3,800 Hiyoshi shrines throughout Japan that originates from an amazing 2,100 years ago. When Japan’s capital was moved to Kyoto 1,200 years ago, this shrine was enshrined to protect Kimon or the ‘Demon’s Gate’, an unlucky quarter of the city. Thus, the shrine was worshiped as a guardian that kept away the curse of the evil spirit as well as disaster. It has been also considered a protector of Enryakuji Temple, a World Heritage site situated on Mt. Hiei.
All the shrine buildings have hiwadabuki or cypress bark roofs, with the eastern main hall designated as a National Treasure. Here guests can admire the work of the artisans you met earlier on the tour, made following the same ancient techniques described in documents as long as 1,350 years ago.
Hiwadabuki roofs have to be repaired every 30 years depending on the wear and tear which varies depending on the environment and the roof’s shape. This roof- repairing process has been handed down for over 1,350 years.
The monkey welcomes you from beneath the roof!
The monkey is guardian of this temple. Monkey-shaped amulets are a popular item for visitors!
－Returning to Kyoto with fond memories.
We will get a taxt to JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station. The tour conductor will accompany you to JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station for your return journey to Kyoto.