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Friday, February 5, 2010

Shisa Spotting

Wall of shisa plaques near Toya Port

SHISA: 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. [1] The open mouth to ward off evil spirits, and the closed mouth to keep good spirits in. ***from Wikipedia***

Courtesy of Scott Light

I had never ever heard of a shisa before I moved to Okinawa. But you pretty much step off the plane and there they are. EVERYWHERE. Rooftops. Doorways. T-shirts. Key chains. Okinawa and shisas go hand in hand. At first, I was indifferent to them, these strange lion-dog creatures. They were kind of scary and mean looking. After all, they are supposed to scare off evil. But something happened--I don't know why exactly, but they came to fascinate me and I started looking for them everywhere. My game was to see how many I could spot on a drive to the store, or on a walk through my neighborhood? No matter how many times I took the same route, it seemed I could find a new set that I'd never noticed before. How cool is that?

Making shisas with roof tiles at Sachi's Japanese Antiques in Motobu

I love shisas for different reasons. For their artistry. For their expression or size or color. They have so much personality. Especially though for their clever positioning. (Sometimes on a piece of scaffolding. Sometimes in a tree.) And gosh darn it if I don't have seven pairs in my house now.

Anyway, thought I'd post this video of the shisa in its element. It's taken in my neighborhood in Yomitan. Pardon the video quality--very homemade. Just wanted to offer peek into Okinawa! Or the chance to be Okinawa nostalgic.

One more for the road....

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