Tile producers in western Japan's Ehime Prefecture are currently busy making small ornamental dragons, as the dragon is next year's Chinese zodiac sign.
Imabari City's Kikuma-cho is known for the production of sturdy tiles that have a distinct silver color. The tiles are called Kikumagawara. At local tile businesses, this is the peak time to make figurines for the following year's zodiac sign from the clay that is used to produce Kikumagawara.
One workshop owner, Koizumi Junko, skillfully forms each figurine by hand. She first kneads the clay to make the overall shape. Then she gently uses pointed spatulas and bamboo sticks to give the legendary animal eyes and whiskers. A lively-looking dragon appears, once scales and clouds are added.
The figurines are left to dry for up to about a week. They are then baked in an oven for three days. There are ten types of dragons. They range in weight from less than 100 grams to over one kilogram. It is expected that about 300 will be made by the end of the year.
Koizumi said she hopes buyers will be able to find one that they like and have a calm year.