Shisa (シーサー・Shiisa in Okinawan) can be found everywhere in Okinawa and they are a mix of dogs and lions. Most people refer to them as lions, and they are stone guardians that offer protection against evil spirits. You can see them in pairs at the stores’ entrances, temples, even houses!


The Legend of the Shisa Guardians

There are many stories and myths in the Japanese folklore, and the shisa are not an exception. They have a lot of stories surrounding them, but the most known legend is the legend of the sea dragon in Madanbashi.

Madanbashi is a village at the port in Naha, and the legends say that everything started with a shisa decorated necklace that was given by a Chinese diplomat to a king.

When that king came to Madanbashi, the sea dragon suddenly became violent and uncontrollable, so the locals were terrified and quickly hid to protect themselves.

A priestess remembered a dream she had about the lions and sent a boy to inform the king of what he needs to do to stop the rampage of the sea dragon.

The boy told the king that he needs to go by the beach, then hold the shisa in front of the sea dragon. The king did so, and then a tremendous roar could be heard throughout Madanbashi.

The roar was so powerful that stones fell from the sky and crushed the tail of the dragon. It eventually died, and plants took over his body. Nowadays, it can be visited in Okinawa and people know it under the name of Gana-Mui Woods.


Can you guess which is the female and which one is the male?

The Shisa couple has one with an open mouth and one with a closed one. There is a meaning behind it, and the lion with an open mouth is said to be the male shisa that scares the spirits, and the female keeps her mouth shut so she can keep the good ones!

Shisa at present

Nowadays, there are a lot of varieties when it comes to Shisa lions, and can they can also be found in places other than Okinawa. There have been many characters such as Seasarmon from the popular series, Digimon had as inspiration the stone guardians.

In modern culture, there are a lot of goods, items, and reproductions of the shisa in many shapes. There is also a lot of variety, and you can find in many stores around Okinawa and the Japanese archipelago. 

By - cinnamonellie.