16 Sep 2016 in Discover Japan
Discover the legend of Shisa, the half-lion, half-dog statue that decorates rooftops in Okinawa, protecting inhabitants from evil spirits...
If you visit the Ryukyu islands, you will certainly run into Shisa. This half-dog, half-lion creature is an integral part of the culture in Okinawa, which is part of the eight Kyushu prefectures, and one of the three largest islands of Japan right after Honshū and Hokkaido, located near Taiwan. This statue most likely originated in the 14th century.
His existence is connected to a legend and here is the most popular one. The villagers of Mandanbashi, situated in the Naha bay, in the south of Okinawa prefecture, were terrified by a frightening dragon.
One day, while the King was visiting the island, the dragon just appeared. The inhabitants were so scared that they left the village and ran away to hide themselves.
Right then, a priestess of a village remembered a dream she has made a few days earlier.
She reported it to a young boy and asked him to visit the King in a timely manner.
The child delivered her message to his Majesty, requesting him to face the dragon, raising high in his hand the necklace adorned with Shisa face, that was previously given to him by one chinese emissary.
Exactly when the King complied, everyone heard a thunderous roar… So strong that the dragon was immediately startled and a rock collapsed on the ground, hardly crushing the dragon’s tail.
Unable to move, the creature died…
Since this day, this little character coming out of mythology is considered as a protector.
On Taketomi island, adjacent to Ishigaki, the Shisa statue now proudly sits on the red tiled rooftops of HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island, ideally-positioned to survey the area and protect the houses. During your walks around the island, you may even spot him in different forms, as some villagers like placing three or four of them atop the low walls of their homes.
The statues often appear in pairs and are considered a couple. In Okinawa people used to consider that the male, who is seated to the left and is recognisable thanks to his open mouth, keeps evil spirits at bay. The female, to his right, has a closed mouth, to keep the surrounding goodness in.