Okinawan Shisa Photo Collection

January 2010.
My wife and I took our 1 year wedding anniversary trip to Naha Okinawa. Thanks to the nikkei scholar’s wedding present (travel tickets) and the piled up miles that we had, this trip was almost payed for.

As we traveled from south to north of the island, I was able to see many of these beautiful sculptures so that I decided I would take a picture of every Shisa that I saw on our trip.

Shisa(シーサー, pronounced as Shiisaa) is a traditional Ryukyuan decoration, often found in pairs, resembling a cross between a lion and a dog, from Okinawa mythology. Many people put a pair of shisa on their rooftops or flanking the gates to their houses. Shisa are wards, believed to protect from various evils. When found in pairs, the shisa on the left traditionally has a closed mouth, and the one on the right an open mouth. The open mouth to ward off evil spirits, and the closed mouth to keep good spirits in.

Originally pairs like these were called “shisa and guardian dogs”: the right with its mouth opened is the guardian, the left with its mouth closed is the shisa. Gender is assigned in various manners 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”

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