Shisa is a traditional statue of the Ryukyuan culture which resembles a lion and a dog.
These statues came from the Okinawan mythology, and they are also known as gargoyles. The Shisa statues are used as protection from evil spirits. Also known as shi-shi, these statues can be seen on top of roofs and in front of houses. It is impossible for tourists to miss them when they are visiting the Okinawa islands. There are always two Shisa statues, a male, and a female. The female, which has a closed mouth, is keeping the good spirits, while the male, which has an open mouth, is chasing away the evil spirits.
According to the Ryukyuan beliefs, the female spirit is the spirit of the inside, and that’s the reason why the Shisa statue has its mouth closed in silence, while the male spirit is the spirit of the outside, so the statue’s mouth is wide open as a symbol of protection of the evil forces. Some shisas have a golden sphere beneath one of their paws which symbolizes wealth and goodness. The statues are variations of the “fu dogs” from China which are guardian lions. In Japan, in the Edo Period, they started to call them “guardian dogs.”
There are many stories about them and how they came to be guardians. One of them is the story about a Chinese emissary who returned to the court at Shuri Castle after a voyage. He brought a necklace with a Shisa figurine as a gift to the king. The king accepted the necklace and wore it underneath his clothes. At that time, there was a sea dragon which terrorized the village of Madanbashi. One day, when the king was visiting the village, the sea dragon attacked again. The noro from the village had a dream that when the king will visit, he should instruct him to stand on the beach and face the dragon by lifting the shisha towards him. He sent a little boy named Chiga to deliver the message. When the king lifted the shisa in front of the sea dragon, a deep and mighty roar was heard around the entire village.
At that moment, a massive boulder fell from the sky and crushed the tail of the dragon. He couldn’t move and died on the site. The boulder and the dragon were covered with plants, and they still can be seen today as the Gana-miu Woods.
There is a stone shisa at the Tomori village in Okinawa which stands there, facing the mountain as a protection from fire. Nowadays, the Shisa can be seen in many different shapes and many stores in China and Japan. Also, they can be found in various forms of media, from television to video games.