Unveiling of New ‘Shachihoko’ for Kumamoto Castle TowersFirst two to be installed in March 2018 (Response to the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake)

The new shachihoko
The Nippon Foundation has been supporting the rebuilding of Kumamoto Castle, which is one of Japan’s most famous castles but suffered extensive damage from the series of earthquakes that struck Kumamoto Prefecture in April 2016. The damage extended to the four shachihoko, ornamental objects attached to the top roofs of the two main towers, which fell off and broke apart. With support from The Nippon Foundation, the new shachihoko have been completed and were unveiled on August 30 at the Josaien tourist facility in Sakuranobaba, at the foot of Kumamoto Castle. The unveiling was conducted by Kazufumi Onishi, mayor of Kumamoto City, Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, and Kousuke Fujimoto of Fujimoto Onigawara, who made the new shachihoko. The new shachihoko are made of the same material as regular roof tiles, and the two for the large tower are 119 centimeters tall, 47 centimeters wide, 73 centimeters deep, and weigh 100 kilograms each, while the two for the small tower are 86 centimeters tall, 38 centimeters wide, 60 centimeters deep, and weigh 70 kilograms. All four are on display for the general public at the Wakuwakuza historical gallery at Josaien. The two shachihoko for the large tower are scheduled to be attached to the roof in March 2018, and the two for the small tower will be attached at a later date as the reconstruction progresses.

Symbols of Kumamoto Castle and Kumamoto’s reconstruction

At the unveiling, Mayor Onishi said, “When I looked at the castle after the earthquakes struck in April, the first thing I noticed was that the shachihoko were missing. This was a shock, because the shachihoko are the symbols of Kumamoto Castle, and are a source of local pride. Now Mr. Fujimoto and his son have made replacements. I hope that visitors from Japan and overseas will come and see them as symbols of reconstruction.” Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, added, “When we announced immediately after the earthquakes that Kumamoto Castle, which holds a special place in the hearts of Kumamoto Prefecture’s residents, needed to be rebuilt and that we would contribute three billion yen for the castle’s reconstruction, there was a positive effect of increased interest in the earthquake. I hope that replacing the shachihoko will encourage more people to assist with the rebuilding.”
Yohei Sasakawa, Kazufumi Onishi, Kousuke Fujimoto (left to right)
Next, Mr. Fujimoto discussed the new shachihoko that he had made. Mr. Fujimoto is an onishi, an artisan who specializes in crafting ornamental roof tiles. There are only approximately 150 persons engaged in this craft in all of Japan, and he and his son, who is still learning the craft, are the only ones in Kumamoto Prefecture. After graduating from high school, Mr. Fujimoto began working with his father (who died in 2010) and eventually took over the business. His eldest son, Syuugo, gave up his job as a chef five years ago and is now studying to succeed his father. The two men are the company’s only craftsmen.

Challenging but rewarding project for local craftsmen

Mr. Fujimoto began discussing this project four months after the earthquakes. He recalled that he was happy to receive the order and was eager to build them, but was also concerned because the area was still experiencing aftershocks. He discussed this with other onishi around Japan and they encouraged him and told him not to give up, and that encouragement convinced him to take on the project. He began making the shachihoko in March of this year, on a cart with wheels to absorb shocks so they would not be damaged in the event of another earthquake. Nevertheless, during that time he could not stop worrying about what would happen if another earthquake were to strike. The shachihoko began drying in July, and were completed in mid-August. Mr. Fujimoto smiled as he recalled the sense of relief he felt. He also noted that people tend to think of the eyes of shachihoko as frightening, but said they are actually comical. When asked about his thoughts on the project, Mr. Fujimoto said, “I have been doing this for close to 40 years, but I have never felt this much pressure. I persevered right up to the deadline, and I believe we did a good job.” He expressed satisfaction as he added, “Recently, more and more houses are being built without roof tiles, and we are receiving less work. I hope this will show the appeal of our craft.”
Kousuke (left) and Syuugo Fujimoto (right)

Castle reconstruction part of Response to the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake project

Immediately after the earthquakes, The Nippon Foundation announced that it would provide assistance totaling 9.3 billion yen for the reconstruction of Kumamoto Castle, support for activities being carried out by NGOs, and condolence and consolation money to families whose homes were destroyed or lost family members. After heavy rains subsequently caused additional damage, the amount was increased to 12.8 billion yen, and of this amount, more than three billion yen was earmarked for Kumamoto Castle’s reconstruction. The order for the restoration and production of the shachihoko, which are the symbols of this project, was placed this spring at a cost of roughly 25 million yen.


Communications Department The Nippon Foundation