Okinawa Feature


Legend of the Shisa

Shisa, the lionlike talismans protecting doorways and adorning rooftops throughout the islands, have quite a history. It's said that during the reign of one of the ancient Ryukyu kings a terrible dragon was terrorizing Naha, destroying settlements and devouring townsfolk. When the king encountered the dragon, a local shaman and his boy gave the king some advice they had received in dreams. The boy took hold of a pendant the king wore around his neck, a lion-like figurine that had been a gift from a Chinese emissary. Held aloft toward the dragon, the figure produced such a ferocious roar, so powerful it toppled boulders from the heavens to pin the dragon to the shallow seabed, where it died and became part of the islands, now a park near Naha.

These days shisa are Okinawa's most iconic image. Homes and businesses display them in pairs, one on either side of their entranceways, the open-mouthed one scaring off evil spirits, the closed-mouth partner keeping in good spirits. These good-luck totems are popular souvenirs and come in many shapes, materials, and colors; which style you display will depend on the character of your home.

Updated: 2014-02-05

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