3 Great Stone
Like the komainu ("lion dogs"), the shisa are a variation of the
guardian lions ("fu dogs") from China. From the Edo period, they
started to be called "guardian dogs" in general in mainland Japan.
Gender is variously assigned to the shisa. Some Okinawans believe the
male has his mouth closed to keep bad out of the home, while the
female has her mouth open to share goodness. Others believe the
female has her mouth closed to "keep in the good", while the male has
his mouth open to "scare away the bad". (Compare this to the
distinction between male and female guardian lions in Chinese
When a Chinese emissary returned from a voyage to the court at Shuri
Castle, he brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a
figurine of a shisa. The king found it charming and wore it underneath
his clothes. At the Naha Port bay, the village of Madanbashi was often
terrorized by a sea dragon who ate the villagers and destroyed their
property. One day, the king was visiting the village, and one of these
attacks happened; all the people ran and hid. The local noro had been
told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the
beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent the boy,
Chiga, to tell him the message. He faced the monster with the figurine
held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded all through the
village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A
massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon's tail,
so that he couldn't move, and eventually died. This boulder and the
dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and
can still be seen today as the "Gana-mui Woods" near Naha Ohashi
bridge. The townspeople then built a large stone shisa to protect it
from the dragon's spirit and other threats.
Chizue, Sesoko. Legends of Okinawa. First publication, in Okinawa, 1969.
Stylised image of a shisa.
Varieties of shisa (excluding the dragon) at a shop.
More shop shisa.
Typical (right-side) shisa.
A closed-mouth (left-side) shisa.
Open-mouthed shisa on a traditional tile roof in Okinawa Prefecture.
"Wind lion god" shisa in Kinmen Island, Taiwan.
Amulet Carranca, boat figurehead used in Brazil Chinese art Chinese mythology in popular culture Japanese sculpture King Caesar, a kaiju (giant monster in film) Komainu, lion-like statues used in Shinto shrines Seasarmon Shishi (stone lion) Tutelary
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shisa.
Image of a shisaa Netsuke: masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains many representati