All About Shachihoko – Japanese Castle Roof Adornments | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
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All About Shachihoko – Japanese Castle Roof Adornments

By Yae Jun 5, 2023

This post is also available in: Italian

Do you love castles? When travelling around Japan, you can see Japanese castles everywhere! Visiting them is a great way to connect with ancient Japanese culture. If you’re a castle lover and constantly taking pictures of castles in Japan, you may have noticed the mythical sea creatures on the roof! These are called shachihoko (or sometimes just shachi) – but what are they, and why are they there?

Read more to find out why Japanese people created these mythical sea creatures for castles in Japan.

What Does Shachihoko Mean?

Shachihoko on roof

Image credit: Photo Ac

The unknown creatures standing on the rooftop of castles in Japan are called “shachihoko” in Japanese and depicts mythical fish with lion-like head. If we write shachihoko in Kanji, it’s written as “鯱”; this is the combination of “fish” and “tiger” characters.

It’s said the creatures have the ability to quickly swallow large amounts of water and keep it in their bodies, and even control the rain.

So why did Japanese people make these imaginary creatures?

What’s the Role of Shachihoko at Japanese Castles?

iga castle

Image credits: Guidable editor

Shachihoko are protector spirits, like oni roof tiles you often find on castles. If a fire breaks out in the castle, it’s believed the shachihoko will expel water from its mouth to extinguish it or summon clouds to make it rain.

The one trivia to note is that Nobunaga Oda, the lord of Owari province, was the very first person to use Shachihoko in Japan. He placed them on his castle, Azuchi Castle.

Where to See Shachihoko

shachihoko Image by okazin 86 from Pixabay

Image credits: okazin 86 from Pixabay 

You can find Shachihoko at every castle in Japan, but if you want to see something really exceptional, you should go and see Nagoya Castle.

Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of the Edo Period, build Nagoya castle in the year 1612. It’s a Japanese World Heritage site visited by many tourists annually.

Nagoya Castle’s Gold Shachihoko

nagoya castle

Image credits: Evangelos Bountaniotis from Pixabay

Generally, Shachihoko is made of ceramic materials and coated with gold leaf. However, in Nagoya, the Shachihoko (also known as the kinshachi = gold tiger-fish), are made of wood and covered with real gold plates. Amazingly, the gold used at time of construction was heavier than 215kg. The Kinkaku Temple, another World Heritage site, uses about 20 kilograms. 215kg of gold cost about 5 billion yen, and you can see how extravagant it was to create that Shachihoko at that time.

Why use pure gold at Nagoya Castle? It was all about Ieyasu Tokugawa and how he wanted to show his power by using gold Shachihoko and letting others see he was more prosperous than everyone else.

There were strict castle construction rules at that time, and making gold Shachihoko for the rooftops was not an easy feat that anyone could have accomplished.

More Shachihoko Details

Have you ever wondered how big the size of Shachihoko is? There are always 2 Shachihoko standing on the rooftop, symbolising a couple.

Here are some details about the shachihoko at Nagoya Castle.

The male shachihoko:

  • stands on the North side
  • is 2,621m high
  • weighs 1,272kg
  • 44.69kg
  • has 112 scales

The female shachihoko:

  • stands on the South side
  • is 2,579m high
  • weighs 1,215kg
  • has 126 scales

They are both covered in 18-karat gold.

People say they can see these gorgeous Shachihoko couples from about 4-5km away. If you have a chance and go to see the Nagoya castle, try to observe them from a distance.

Look Out for Shachihoko on Your Next Castle Trip

Do you now see that the mysterious creatures standing on the rooftop of castles are there to protect Japanese castles? It will be more interesting if you know about Shachihoko when you look around the castles in Japan.


A Trip to Komoro City, Nagano for Castle Ruins, Onsen and an Authentic Japanese Culture Experience

Featured article image credits: Photo Ac

This article was originally published Mar 29, 2018 and edited June 5, 2023.