Kyoto Ceramic Tiles

A traditional craft that withstands wind and rain, while preserving the city landscape

The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

Japanese tiled roof, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Kyoto Ceramic Tiles

Kyoto ceramic tiles can be seen in almost every photo of Kyoto. The craft has continued since the 16th century, when outstanding tile makers from all over Japan were gathered in Higashiyama for the construction of the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) inside Hōkōji temple. Kyoto ceramic tiles are produced in Kyoto and have a profound shine which is made possible through migaki (polishing) and ibushi (smoking).

Round roof tile with tachibana design, Kyoto ceramic tiles (1603/1868) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

It is believed that the oldest tiles found in Japan are from the 6th to the 7th century.

These tiles were placed over the roofs to protect buildings from wind and rain, before developing into its current form and usage.

Onigawara, Kyoto ceramic tiles (1603/1868)The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

At the time, ceramic tiles were extremely valuable. Whenever the capital was relocated these tiles would be removed, transported to the new location, where they would be selected and placed over the new buildings. It is said that these tiles can last about 1,000 years, but due to the deterioration in appearance they are generally replaced every 150 years.

Japanese tiled roof, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Photo: A tile piece from a private house in Kyoto.

It was not until about 300 years ago, during the late Edo period, that ceramic tiles were used to cover private houses. Under the recommendation of the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, ceramic tiles became widely used on private wooden houses that used to have thatched roofs as a measure for preventing fires from spreading to neighbouring houses.

Guardian deities, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Guardian

If you have a chance to visit Kyoto, be sure to look closely at the roofs of private houses, temples and shrines.

Shōki, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

On many roofs you will see the Chinese guardian deity Shōki (Zhong Kui in Chinese) placed there to ward off evil spirits. Shōki is a small guardian deity familiar to the people of Kyoto, and of course, these pieces are also made using the same material and techniques as Kyoto ceramic tiles.

On many roofs you will see the Chinese guardian deity Shōki (Zhong Kui in Chinese) placed there to ward off evil spirits. Shōki is a small guardian deity familiar to the people of Kyoto, and of course, these pieces are also made using the same material and techniques as Kyoto ceramic tiles.

Shōki, Kyoto ceramic tilesThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

On many roofs you will see the Chinese guardian deity Shōki (Zhong Kui in Chinese) placed there to ward off evil spirits. Shōki is a small guardian deity familiar to the people of Kyoto, and of course, these pieces are also made using the same material and techniques as Kyoto ceramic tiles.

Raw clay material storage and guardian deities, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

The making of Kyoto ceramic tiles

Clay, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Making the clay

Clay raw materials from various production sites are blended first.

Plaster molds, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Plaster moulds are used for making decorative tile pieces.

Wooden molds for Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Next, the wooden mould for the necessary tile size and shape is selected.

Beating process, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

The clay is placed over the wooden mould and pounded down to the desired curvature.

Cutting excess clay, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Excess clay is cut off.

Smoothing process, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

The surface is evened out using a metal spatula.

Drying process, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Once shaped, the tile pieces are left to dry.

Polishing process, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016-12-13) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Bringing out the shine

Polishing is a unique process in the making of Kyoto ceramic tiles. Craftsmen use different types of spatulas to relentlessly polish the surface of the clay. As they work, the only sounds audible in the workshop are the frictions made by the spatulas on the clay. This process helps to create a profound shine on the surface after the tile has been fired.

Google Arts & Culture 「Made in Japan:日本の匠」Ceramic tilesThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Smoked silver, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Smoking silver

After firing, carbon particles attach to the tile surface due to incomplete combustion inside the kiln. This helps to create the elegant “smoking silver” unique to Kyoto ceramic tiles that is neither black nor grey.

Onigawara, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Wooden molds for roof tiles, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Tailor-made tiles

The size of tiles used depends on the size of the building, such as a temple or a shrine. As the tiles are handmade, they can be shaped to fill any subtle gaps and fully cover the roof of any building to protect it from rain and deterioration for a long time.

Front tiles with design of Fujiwara-kyo, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Tile designs

Various designs from traditional motifs and modern pattern are used. The design shown in the photo is the same as that used in tiles made for buildings in the Fujiwara capital.

Wooden molds for roof tiles, Kyoto ceramic tiles by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

As shown in this photos, there exist moulds of many types of designs.

As shown in this photos, there exist moulds of many types of designs.

Silkscreen tile with dragon design, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2015) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Traditional techniques and new ideas are used to create tiles that can blend into the modern living environment.

In this photo the polishing technique is used to apply silkscreen printing over the tile. This technique allows for the application of characters, patterns and even photographic images on tiles.

Chinese zodiac sign tiles, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2015) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

Decorative tiles depicting the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac.

Decorative tiles depicting the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac.

Workshop, Kyoto ceramic tiles (2016) by Asada Kawara FactoryThe Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN

“Ceramic tiles can last 1,000 years. While I cannot be certain that the tiles I create will still exist 1,000 years from now, I will keep on making them with dedication to ensure they will last a long time to come.” – Such is the age-old spirit of ceramic tile craftsmen that still holds true today.

Credits: Story

Exhibition provided by:
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

Supported by:
Asada kawara factory

Text written by:
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
Ikeda Yuuka( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Okano Arisa( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Nakatani Nagisa( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University

English Translation by:
Eddy Y. L. Chang

Photo by:
Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Okano Arisa, Kyoto Women's University

Movie by:
Takayama Kengo(A-PROJECTS

This exhibition is created by:
Ikeda Yuuka( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Okano Arisa( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Nakatani Nagisa( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Kasai Takae( Department of Contemporary Social,Kyoto Women's University

This project is directed by:
Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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