Skip Navigation

home >Q&A >FAQ

FAQ

What are the animal-shaped figures on the roof of a traditional building and what do they stand for?

What are the animal-shaped figures on the roof of a traditional building and what do they stand for?

  • There are various sorts of animal-shaped roof tiles and decorative figures, called Japsang, on the roofs of traditional buildings. The two ends of the main roof ridge of a palace are decorated with Yong-du (dragon’s head), Chwui-du (eagle’s head) and Chi-mi (owl’s tail), while Yong-du and Japsang figures are placed on the hips and vertical ridges of the roof. 
  • According to Sangwa-do (a picture depicting roof tiles and figures), housed in the Academy of Korean Studies, ten decorative guardian figures are placed in order along the vertical ridge from the hip end: 1) Daedangsabu, 2) Sonhaengja, 3) Jeopalgye, 4) Sahwasang, 5) Igwibak, 6) Iguryong, 7) Mahwasang, 8) Samsalbosal, 9) Cheonsangap and 10) Natodu. Three figures are usually set on the roof, and only an odd number of figures can be placed on the roof. 
  • These roof tiles and figures were used not only as decorative symbols to show the dignity and grandeur of a building but also as shamanic symbols to chase away evil spirits and misfortune. 

Japsang Figures on the Roof of Gyeonghoeru Pavilion in Gyeongbokgung Palace