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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lucky Shisa Dog Lions in Okinawa

シーサー 沖縄

Shisa statues in Okinawa, Japan.
A pair of shisa figurines in the countryside near Naha, Okinawa.
The shisa is a cultural artifact that illustrates Okinawa's history as the largely independent Ryukyu Kingdom. Said to have been imported from China in the 14th century, the shisa is derived from the Chinese lion-dog, and serves the same roles: protection from evil, or, to extend the idea: ensuring good luck. However, while the Okinawan shisa comes, like the Chinese "foo dog," in a great many varieties, the shisa is distinctive in being simpler than its Chinese counterpart, without the overwroughtness that can characterize Chinese lion-dogs, which can often end up having a flattened, globular, goggle-eyed almost amphibian look to them compared with shisa.

Shisa costume, Naha Airport in Okinawa.
Shisa costume at Okinawa Airport, Naha.
Shisa are everywhere in Okinawa,  typically appearing as roof decorations on dwellings, or guarding each side of an entranceway; however as the accompanying pictures show, they also crop up as dance costumes, airport decorations, and more.

Shisa character in traditional Okinawan dance, Japan.
Shisa character in traditional Okinawan dance
Like the lions that guard Japanese shrines and temples, the shisa come in pairs, one with its mouth open (known as "ah" in Japanese) and one with its mouth shut ("mm").

However, their brick-red coloration, height relative to width, and the often simpler "rough-cut" details of their features, giving them on occasion something of a comical air, set them apart as something that, like Okinawa, is Japanese but with a difference.

The Okinawa souvenir scene is awash with shisa, from the ceramic authentic to the made-in-China two-a-penny versions, from the genuinely, majestically fearsome to the consciously cutesy.

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