Shisa, the 'lion-dog' guardians of Japan

Shisa, the ‘lion-dog’ guardians of Japan

What is a shisa?

Sometimes when we watch anime we see them, statues of ‘lion-dogs’, usually in pairs, on a house rooftop or flanking the gates to a house. These statues are not just there for decoration; they are an important part of Japanese spirituality. They are called Shisa. When they are in pairs, the one on the left has a closed mouth and the right one an open mouth. Traditionally it symbolizes that the open-mouthed shisa wards of evil spirits and the closed mouth keeps good spirits in. They come in all sorts of shapes, colours, and sizes. A variation on these lion-like guardians is that sometimes you might see one poised with a sphere under one paw. It symbolizes goodness, wealth, and bountiful crops.

Shisa

Shisa

They are very important in Okinawan mythology and are found at entranceways, on rooftops and anywhere else you might imagine in Okinawa. In a way, they are the symbol of Okinawa. According to history, the shisa was first brought to Okinawa from China in the 14th century. There are many beautiful myths and legends about them. One Okinawan myth tells the story of a nobleman that gave a small boy a shisa as a gift. One day a bad dragon appeared and tried to destroy the village, the inanimate shisa suddenly came to life, fought the dragon and saved the village!

Sphinx

Sphinx

There seem to be something sacred about lion-like figures if we look at places like Egypt that has the sphinx and the Christian symbol of the Lion, found in Old Testament books like Daniel and Judges. Lions are also part of British heraldry and you can see the lion on the coat of arms of families like Simpson, Talbot, and Strange. Lions are a global heritage, and the Shisa of Japan is an important part of that heritage. Some of these artifacts have been guarding shrines, temples and castles for centuries and deserve our respect.

Here is a video with pictures of some Shinto shrines and temples and it features shisa pictures as well, please follow our link: http://bit.ly/Shinto-temples-shrines-and-shisa

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