Shisa (シーサ) is a traditional Ryukyuan mythical creature that is believed to protect against evil spirits. They are commonly found in Okinawan architecture and culture, and they are known for their unique and fearsome appearance. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the history, significance, and features of Shisa.


History of Shisa

Shisa originated from the Chinese guardian lions that were brought to Okinawa during the 14th century. The name "Shisa" comes from the Okinawan word "sai sha," which means "lion." Over time, Shisa evolved into a unique and distinctive creature that is different from its Chinese origins.


The Legend of Shisa

According to Okinawan folklore, Shisa was created to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to households. It is believed that when a pair of Shisa is placed at the entrance of a home, the male Shisa (with its open mouth) would keep the evil spirits out, while the female Shisa (with its closed mouth) would keep the good spirits in.


Features of Shisa

Shisa has a unique and striking appearance that makes them stand out from other mythical creatures. Here are some of their key features:

  1. Lion-like body: Shisa has the body of a lion with a mane and a tail.
  2. Ferocious expression: Shisa has a fierce expression, with its mouth open and fangs exposed.
  3. Pointed ears: Shisa has pointed ears that resemble those of a dragon.
  4. Decorative ornaments: Shisa is often decorated with intricate designs and colorful patterns.

The shisa is a mythical creature from Okinawan folklore, which is similar in appearance to a lion or a dog. It is often depicted as having one paw raised and resting on a small ball or a stone. This ball is known as a "chimui," and it is believed to have a symbolic meaning.

According to Okinawan folklore, the shisa's raised paw and the ball underneath represent different aspects of protection. The raised paw is meant to ward off evil spirits, while the ball represents wisdom and knowledge. Together, they are believed to offer protection and guidance to those who seek it.

In addition to its symbolic meaning, the shisa's pose with the ball under its foot is also believed to have a practical purpose. It is said that the shisa would use its paw to play with the ball, keeping itself entertained and alert while on guard duty.

The shisa is often depicted in pairs, with one male and one female, and they are commonly found guarding the entrances of homes, businesses, and other buildings. It is believed that having a pair of shisa guarding a location provides even greater protection and good fortune.

Overall, the ball underneath the shisa's paw is a significant aspect of its symbolism and is believed to represent protection, wisdom, and playfulness. The shisa continues to be an important symbol in Okinawan culture, representing strength, courage, and good fortune.

While it is often depicted with a ball or stone under its foot, it is not commonly depicted with a smaller self under its feet.

However, there is a similar creature in Japanese mythology called the Inugami, which is sometimes depicted as a smaller dog or puppy beneath a larger dog or wolf. Inugami are thought to be powerful and vengeful spirits that can be summoned and controlled by a human through a dark ritual.

According to legend, the Inugami was created by burying a live dog up to its neck and leaving it to die. The spirit of the dog was said to be trapped in the body, and the person who performed the ritual could use the Inugami to curse or harm others.

It is important to note that the practice of creating and using Inugami is not a part of mainstream Japanese mythology or culture. In fact, it is considered to be a form of black magic and is widely condemned.

In summary, while the shisa does not typically have a smaller self under its feet, there is a similar creature in Japanese mythology called the Inugami that is sometimes depicted in this way. However, the creation and use of Inugami is not a part of mainstream Japanese culture or mythology and is considered to be a form of black magic.


Significance of Shisa

Shisa plays an essential role in Okinawan culture and is considered a symbol of protection and good fortune. They can be found in various forms, including statues, pottery, and textiles. Here are some of the significant ways that Shisa is used in Okinawan culture:

  1. Building decoration: Shisa is often placed on the roofs or entrances of buildings, especially homes and shrines.
  2. Souvenirs: Shisa souvenirs, such as keychains and figurines, are popular among tourists.
  3. Festivals: Shisa is a prominent feature in Okinawan festivals, such as the Shuri Castle Festival and the Naha Hari Festival.
  4. Traditional dances: The Shishimai dance is a traditional Okinawan dance that depicts the Shisa in action.



    Shisa is a fascinating and significant creature in Okinawan culture. With its unique appearance and legendary status, it is no wonder that it has become an important symbol of protection and good fortune. If you ever visit Okinawa, make sure to look out for the iconic Shisa statues and other decorations that are found throughout the region.

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