Roof tiles that ward off evil called Shōki-san. Tips for finding Shōki-gawara in the Naramachi area!

“Naramachi” is a district that covers one fourth of the south side of the old town of Nara city, and many townhouses from the end of Edo Period to the Meiji stand in narrow streets. When you walk around Nara-machi, you’ll find figures in official uniform of Chinese government with swords on the roof tops of traditional townhouses.
These figures are called Shōki-gawara, or Shōki- roof tiles. They are placed on the roof as a talisman to ward off evil, much like a gargoyle.
I will show you the reason for placing Shōki-gawara on the roof tops of townhouses, and tips for finding them in Nara-machi.

Shōki, the god of Chinese Taoism. What sort of the god is he?

Shōki (鍾馗)

Shōki is the god for Chinese Taoism in Chinese folklore.
He is said to be a character during the Tang dynasty period of China and must have been a real person during the early Edo period.
He is said to have existed in the Tang dynasty period (618-907) of China.
The folktale states:

The sixth Emperor Xuan Zong in the Tang Dynasty had a curious dream when he suffered from malaria. A giant man appeared out of nowhere and wiped out the devil that had been doing bad things in the Imperial Court. He asked who the giant man was, and the giant answered, “I’m Shōki of Mt. Shunan.” “I committed suicide in shame because I failed a government official employment examination.” “However, I was courteously buried by the first Han Emperor, Liu Bang.” “I came here to return the favor for his posterity.”

Xuan Zong woke to find that his malaria had been cured. He was moved by this odd incident and got a painter to draw a picture of Shōki from his dream.
Since then, Shōki had been worshipped as a god protecting the house from evil spirits and epidemics.

Why are Shōki-gawaras placed on the roof of traditional townhouses? Let’s find them in Naramachi!

Shōki’s story was brought to Japan from China. The ‘Boys Festival’ dolls in Japan have been decorated with pictures and the flags modeled from Shōki, since the Edo era (1603-1868), as a talisman to ward off evil.
According to the custom of the Kinki region (the southern-central region of Japan), Shōki-gawara are placed on the roof.
Let’s go for a walk for finding Shōki-gawara in Naramachi!

Go straight down a street in Naramachi against the Sumiyoshi Shrine.

Keep going straight.

Nara-machi T-junction

Kikuoka Chinese herbal medicine store(菊岡漢方薬局)is at the end of the street.

Kikuoka Chinese herbal medicine store(菊岡漢方薬局)

You’ll see a small figure on the roof of Kikuoka Chinese herbal medicine store.

You found a Shōki-gawara.

A Shōki-gawara

Shōki-gawara is placed on the roof of buildings at the far end of T-shaped and L-shaped alleyways. According to Taoism, it is thought that evil entities can only go straight.

A Shōki-gawara

Official “Sightseeing in Nara” Website

5 tips for finding Shōki-gawara.

There are 5 kinds of places which Shōki-gawara are traditionally decorated, as well as at buildings at the far end of T-shaped and L-shaped alleyways.

  1. A place where there is a big Oni-gawara (ridge-end tile with the figure of a devil) on the roof of the building across the street:
    People in this town decorate with Shōki-gawara that are stronger than evil entities. Evil entities and spirits that are flipped by Shōki-gawara won’t enter any house.

  2. Houses and buildings at the far end of T-shaped and L-shaped alleyways:
    According to Taoism, it is believed that evil entities can only go straight.
    Shōki-gawara is placed as a talisman to ward off evil not let them into any house.

  3. Buildings in an oblique horizontal direction from the front of shrines and temples:
    This is because it is too close to Gods and it’ll make the matter worse.

  4. Buildings that are next door to graveyards and sacred places:
    To keep evil spirits away. To reduce the influence on a place with too strong of a spiritual power.

  5. Examples of cases where evil spirits would enter houses from directions other than those from Oni-gawara: Shōki-gawara is placed at any place according to the house owner’s preference.

Shōki-gawara by the entrance of shops

In Naramachi, you’ll see Shōki-gawara on the outside, front area of stores as talisman, as an interior accessory, and on the roof top. Shōki-gawara found at stores is based on description #5 above. You might not pay much attention to roof tiles, but it is fun to stroll around this area, looking for Shōki-gawara.
Please try to find Shōki-gawara in this area using the tips above if you have a chance to walk around Naramachi!

【Articles in relation to Nara-machi】
Play with old world Japanese toys at the “Naramachi Mechanical Toy Museum”!
“Substitute monkey”, the amulet that’s hung in front of houses in Nara.
All creatures take a rest at『 Sarusawa-ike pond 』, near the Kofuku-ji temple.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.