Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spare Change

Statue of a Shishi (or Jishi), which translates as "lion” but it can also refer to a lion-dog with magical properties and the ability to repel evil spirits. A pair of shishi often stand guard at Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Shishi are usually found in pairs, one with an open mouth (Ah) and one with closed mouth (Un). “Ah" is the first sound in the Japanese alphabet, while "N" (pronounced "un") is the last. These two sounds symbolize beginning and end, birth and death, or all possible outcomes (from alpha to omega). Photograph is from Sumadera Temple where it is apparently common to place an offering inside the mouth of the Shishi.


  1. I was unfamiliar with the Shishi, and I'm very interested in the historical trail of that.
    面白いお話しありがとうございます。≡・Д・≡ ≡・ェ・≡

  2. Thanks for the comment - Love the emoji! It was probably introduced to Japan from China via Korean in the 7th or 8th century AD, during the same period as Buddhism’s transmission to Japan. The Japanese shishi combines elements of both the Korean "Koma-inu" (Korean dog) and Chinese "Kara-shishi" (Chinese lion). What I find interesting is that Lions are not indigenous to Japan, China or Korea, so the lion image must have been from imported art and sculpture.