Sales of Sanshu Kawara have significantly increased since March 11. Among the various types, a flood of orders has come in from the Tohoku and Kanto regions for Yakugawara tiles, which are shaped specially to fit irregularities.
When the tiles are piled up, roofs become vulnerable to rolling quakes, and those on houses built before the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake are especially weak, industry officials say. Since the Hanshin quake, the roofing industry has adopted a new method to fix the tiles firmly to the roof.
Before the March disaster, demand for Sanshu Kawara was declining owing to the slowdown in housing starts and fierce competition with lightweight tiles, according to the Aichi Prefecture Clay Roof Tiles Industrial Association, which has 28 member companies. Shipments fell to 353 million units in 2008, down 45 percent from their peak in 1997.
But the shortage of skilled roofers is troubling. Tiling the ridge of a roof requires advanced skills and is a job that can't be done by less-experienced roofers. The shortage in craftsmen is a bottleneck when it comes to meeting the overwhelming flood of repair orders.
The national association of roofing contractors is calling on craftsmen in other parts of Japan to help, but Inoue is worried that delays could discourage people from using classic roof tiles. Tsuruya Co., the largest clay tile manufacturer in Japan, is one of the firms cranking out tiles at full capacity. The company, based in Handa, Aichi Prefecture, has been getting orders not just from the Kanto and Tohoku regions, but also from Nagano and Shizuoka prefectures, which were hit hard by quakes after March 11.
But Tsuruya official Hiroki Nakamura expressed concern. "While we appreciate the increasing demand for roof tiles, we are looking at the situation carefully as housing starts declined after the Great Hanshin Earthquake because of the uncertain economic outlook," Nakamura said.