Frequently encountered on Japanese castles, temples and shrines, karahafu is one of the specific elements of traditional Japanese architecture that makes you say “this building must be from Japan".
Karahafu 「唐破風」 is a gable with an undulated shape, invented by the Japanese carpenters about 1000 years ago, during the Heian period. The first kanji, kara 唐 can be translated as “China” and the next two translates as “gable", however the real meaning of kara is elegant (or noble) so karahafu actually means “elegant gable".
At the beginning, karahafu was used as decoration for palanquins and shrines, then after the arrival of Buddhism was also used at Buddhist temples. In time, it became a popular element used on many daimyo mansions and castles.
You will find it used on the roof of many traditional buildings, like this Japanese castle from Odawara (on the first floor’s roof):
Odawara Castle, Odawara
Yesterday’s Japan Photo: Anpanman Terrace Shiodome