Why Are Those Fish Up There?

posted Jun 27, 2020, 9:03 PM by Lorna Shapiro

In Japan, I visited Nara, the old capital of Japan and home to many amazing wooden temples. The roofs of these temples are made of clay tiles, and sitting atop them along the crest of the roofs were clay tiles cast like this:

There was a very nice Japanese man who was a volunteer providing English language tours of one of the temples, and he explained that many old wooden buildings in Japan have fish-shaped tiles at their pinnacle. It turns out that the Japanese believed that, since fish live in water, putting some fish up there would be like symbolically protecting the building below the fish in a sea of water, hence protecting the wooden structure from fire. Here’s a link to a photo of the famous Himeji Castle, another wooden structure. Check out its roofline.