Orange tiled roof with small figures along the apex
Architecture,  Asia,  Lens-Artists,  Themed galleries

Gallery: on the edge of the roof

Being on the edge isn`t as safe, but the view is better

Ricky Gervais

I have long been fascinated by the roofs of the far east. The ornate figures that line the top edges if a Chinese roof. The intricately carved end tiles of a Japanese temple roof. The delicately painted beams that hold them up. And the steep temple roofs of Indochina.

For Patti’s Lens Artists challenge theme this week, On the Edge, I considered sharing all kinds of edges. Cliffs, water, buildings. Finally I decided to focus solely on these roofs, selecting some of my favourites from different countries in that region.


We first visited China back in 1994 but it was on our much more recent visit to Beijing, on route to Pyongyang in 2019, that I really noticed the details on these roofs. My selection below comes from the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Lama Temple. My feature photo is also from Beijing and is a detail of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. Click on any image to see the captions and locate each shot (likewise in the galleries below).


In Japan it was more than anything else the round intricate kawara, the clay tiles that adorn the eaves, that caught my eye. Many feature mythical creatures, others stylised leaves or flowers, or Japanese characters. Below I showcase roofs from several Kyoto temples and a couple from elsewhere, Matsumoto and Nikko.

North Korea

There are relatively few historical buildings in North Korea as many were lost during the heavy bombing of the Korean War. A few still stand however, especially in the south, and elsewhere some have been restored. In addition, some new buildings have been built in this traditional style, usually buildings of great importance to the country’s Kim dynasty regime. You can see the Japanese influence in the end tiles and the Chinese in the beautifully painted beams.


Sweeping rooftops and highly decorative trims characterise the roofs of this region. From the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to the temples of Luang Prabang, there are gorgeous roof details wherever you look. The finials at the point of the roofs are known as chofa, meaning ‘sky tassel’. They are thought to represent the mythical creature Garuda, half bird and half man, the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu, and are intended to catch any evil spirits that might fall on the structure from above. The decorative feature at the central point of the roof is known as the dok so fa. They consist of a line of mini pagodas, usually in gold. The number of pagodas and overall level of detail signifies the relative importance of the temple.


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