Okinawa’s Protector of Evil Spirits

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By SHANNON MURPHY

When you are in an overseas country, you are guaranteed to see many interesting places and things.  One frequently seen in Okinawa is shisa.  Shisa are a traditional Okinawan decoration that resembles a cross between a dog and a lion.

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Don’t worry about good spirits leaving your home. I’ll make sure they stay put!

These statues are usually found in pairs.  One usually has a closed mouth, while the other has an open mouth.  My oldest son and I play a game when we are out driving to see who can first spot a shisa.  They can usually be found on the rooftops of homes, entrances to public places, shops, or flanking the gates of homes.  Many Okinawans believe shisa ward off evil spirits.  It is traditionally believed that the shisa with the open mouth wards off the evil spirits, and the one with the closed mouth keep good spirits inside the home.  They can be found in all sizes and colors.

History Behind Shisa

Shisa were first brought to Okinawa from China in the 14th century.  There are many legends told of shisa.  One legend is of a boy who was given a shisa as a gift from an Okinawan nobleman.  One day a dragon came to attack the boy’s village, and the shisa came to life and saved the village.  Another legend tells of shisa that were given to the Ryukyuan king.  There was a sea dragon that terrorized Naha Bay, so the king had his shisa confront the sea dragon.  The shisa came to life and roared like a lion, causing a great rock to fall from the sky and land on top of the dragon.  The dragon died, and the rock and dragon were covered with plants and trees.  The spot where the dragon perished is now believed to be present day Ganna-mui Island.

If you are ever lucky enough to visit Okinawa, be sure to look for shisa.  You can rest assured they will protect you from any evil sea dragons lurking about the island.

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