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Japanese Roof Tiles (Kawara)

Last Updated: 2/3/2002

The ceramic roofing tile, or kawara, is an important part of the texture of the Japanese landscape. While, until recently, many Japanese could not afford ceramic tile, it is almost universal today and has been in use by the aristocracy since at least the Heian period. Kawara are made by small and medium-sized companies located throughout Japan. The kiln is called a kawara-gama and the person who lays the tile is called a kawara-ya.

I was recently asked where to buy Japanese roofing tiles. Ironically, when I lived in Japan, I lived in an apartment right next door to a roofing tile factory for a year, but I was at a bit of a loss about where to get these tiles outside Japan.

But over the holidays I ran across a note from Mike Yamakami on GardenWeb responding to the same question. Here's what Mike suggests:

Contact JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization. JETRO is the overseas trade promotion agency for the Japanese government. JETRO has several regional branches in North America including: New York, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

You might also consider trying to contact the Kyoto Kawara Koji Kyodo Kumiai (Kyoto Prefectural Kawara Installers Union) and/or the Zen-nihon Kawara Kojigyo Renmei (National Kawara Construction Union) through JETRO.

Mike had some other suggestions:
  • Kawara are extremely heavy. A conventional 2x4 framed roof may not be sufficient if it spans much surface area.
  • You will want to consider hiring a professional kawara installer. Don't hire a conventional roofer. Even in Japan, skilled carpenters will not touch a roofing job.
  • Look into your local building code for standards. The building code may prohibit certain materials or have other limitations vis a vis roof design.
  • There are many types of kawara including some of the following types:
    • hira-kawara - flat tile
    • maru-kawara - rounded tile
    • san-kawara
    • noki-kawara
    • sode-kawara
    • kado-kawara
    • rumi-kawara
    • muna-kawara - ridge tile
    • muna-dome-kawara
    • oni-gawara - a decorative corner tile with a picture of a demon carved in it




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