Monday, October 25, 2010

Shisa Dogs

Shisa Dog with Closed Mouth
by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Okinawans protect their homes and businesses from evil spirits through the use of ornate half dogs-half lions, commonly referred to as Shisa dogs.  The Shisa were adopted from China centuries ago and have gone on to become a uniquely Okinawan cultural artifact.

The Shisa dogs are usually present in pairs and sit atop entrances to buildings or along the front gates.   One version of the guardian tradition is that the dog on the right, the male, will have an open mouth to scare away bad spirits, and the dog on the left, the female, will have a closed mouth to keep in good spirits.  Another version of the tradition has the genders reversed with the male dog being the closed-mouth one on the left keeping bad out of the home, and the open-mouthed female on the right sharing goodness.  Either way, the male comes off as more of the protector, and the female is more associated with goodness.

Another tradition that I have heard from American friends is that the Shisa dogs are only effective in protecting the homes if they are given to the home's occupants as gifts.  Say, that sounds like another Christmas idea!

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