📍 🇯🇵 Shachi (as shibi on the roof)
What is unique about roofs on Shinto and Zen shrines in Japan? Among so many things, the protective talisman-like elements stand apart in the Japanese architectural tradition.
The tail-like roof tiles on Japanese shrines are called Shibi (鴟尾), that resemble a fishtail. These elements create an illusion of a partially submerged fish with its tail in the air. On my visit to Nara in Japan, the locals discussed the importance of Shibi in Japanese architecture.
The mythical animal Shachi, with a tiger’s head and body of a carp, is considered as a sacred zoomorph that can summon rain. The Japanese buildings made of wood were threatened by perils such as catching on fire, and Shachi could then protect these buildings by making it rain.
As a reminder of this Edo-period belief in Shachi, a pair of Shachi (male-female) as their tails or shibi continue to adorn important buildings in Japan. It is also believed that shachi is a quintessential Japanese motif, set within the Japanese cultural milieu. One of the historical accounts states:
“...on the return from Vienna, the French ship supposedly carrying the shachi struck rocks off Shizouka and sank with only 4 of 146 people on board surviving. Those with a dark sense of humor speculated that the shachi had tried to swim back to its mate…” (Benesch and Zwigenberg)
____ Sources ____
>> Benesch, Oleg and Ran Zwigenberg, “Japan’s Castles: Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace”, 2019