KOMAINU: THE HISTORY OF JAPAN’S MYTHICAL LION DOGS

If you’ve ever been to a shrine in Japan, odds are you’ve seen a pair of dog-like lions flanking the doorway. If you’ve been to Okinawa you’ve visible them just about everywhere. In reality you could see some variant on these creatures in China, Korea, Myanmar, Tibet, and other East Asian nations, or maybe at Chinese restaurants inside the West. They are variously known in English as lions, dogs, lion puppies, Fu puppies or Foo puppies. In Japan they are called komainu 狛犬こまいぬ, and in Okinawa they’re shīsā. All those one of a kind names beg the query, “What exactly are they?”

I’ll chorus from thrashing approximately the shrubbery and say proper away that those animals are in truth lions. How then, did they emerge as referred to as puppies by way of some? We’ll come to that momentarily, but first we need to look to India. There also are ancient lion statues in Middle Eastern countries, but India is the most efficient vicinity to begin the lion statues’ direction to Japan, for it seems to have moved at the side of the Buddhist religion.

Lions seemed in Indian temple art and, as early because the third century, showed up in Chinese Buddhist artwork. In those times, the lion turned into a symbolic protector of the dharma (the teachings of Buddha). “If it’s right sufficient for Buddha, it’s accurate sufficient for the emperor,” may also were the road of thought, for, over the years, they also have become protectors of imperial gates.

Here the records appears to turn out to be a piece unclear. The Chinese word for lion (statues protected) is shi 獅 or shishi 獅子, but there was every other creature that seemed in China at across the equal time referred to as the xiezhi 獬豸. At a few point among the 1/3 and seventh centuries, paired stone xiezhi also made their manner to Korea, wherein the call become pronounced haetae or haechi. The haechi appears very lion-like, but frequently has a scaly body, a small horn on its head, and now and again small wings.

By the Nara duration (710-794), lion guardians had come to Japan as well. I located not anything to signify whether or not the authentic supply of their advent was China or Korea. Early on, they had been commonly manufactured from wooden and only used interior. In the 9th century, a exchange passed off, and the pair got here to encompass one open-mouthed lion (shishi 獅子) and one near-mouthed, horn-bearing, canine-like komainu. The name komainu itself manner “Korean dog.” Given the name and its horn, it’d appear that the komainu, as a minimum, came from the Korean haechi. By the fourteenth century the horn disappeared, and each animals of the pair got here to be called komainu. At the equal time, people started out making them in stone and using them outside.

Again, the history appears to be vague, and I determined no sources to solidly verify how komainu got here to be ubiquitous at shrine entrances. This is simplest me theorizing, but I think it likely that lion guardians may also have initially been related to Buddhist temples. I say this due to the lions’ Buddhist institutions in China, and the early Korean affects on Japanese lions (Buddhism having been added to Japan from Korea in 552 CE). If this became the case, the shift from temples to shrines will be defined by means of the reality that they frequently shared grounds and, in seeking to spread the faith, Buddhists regularly drew parallels between characters and emblems of their faith and those determined in Japan’s local beliefs.

You may be wondering if every body in pre-modern-day Japan had ever visible a real lion. It’s an extended manner from the savannah, but there are Asiatic lions as nicely. Although their range is pretty small today, prior to the 19th century they will be found at some point of Persia, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and lots of India. Captive lions had been also acknowledged in China. I was unable to find any assets confirming or denying the presence of captive lions in Japan. However, throughout the Tokugawa intervals, special animals were from time to time featured as a part of fairs, so there may be a possibility. Still, I assume it’s secure to say that the extensive, vast majority of Japanese people had in no way visible a actual lion prior to the modern-day age.
When visible in pairs, each in Japan and Okinawa, one lion normally has its mouth open even as the alternative’s is shut. It’s no accident, but alternatively Buddhist symbolism. The open mouth is meant to be forming the sound “a” あ, even as the closed mouth is forming the sound “un” うん. Combined, they form the word a-un, the Japanese rendition of the Indian word om ॐ. Originating in Hinduism and adopted through Buddhism, om’s meaning seems relatively indistinct at times, however is once in a while described as the call of God or the sound of the vibration of the universe. At least in Japan, “a” and “un” are also symbolic of beginnings and endings, within the identical way that Western countries use alpha and omega. It’s also sometimes said that the open-mouthed animal is male, whilst the opposite is lady.Four

KOMAINU: POPULAR PROTECTOR
In Japan lion statues are a fixture on shrine grounds, but seldom visible someplace else. On the other hand, all of us who has been to Okinawa will realize you could’t swing a cat with out hitting a lion, though you likely wouldn’t need to do this. I’m positive the cat wouldn’t admire it, and the lion may take offense at your mistreatment of his cousin. That said, lion statues are omnipresent in Okinawa.

In Okinawa lion statues are called shīsā, that means lion. They are manufactured from a ramification of materials, although the signature regional preference is purple clay. They may be discovered now not simplest at areas of special religious importance, however at the roofs or at the entrances of houses and groups. It’s also smooth to collect your own shīsā, as statues of all sizes are almost ubiquitous amongst memento stores.
LIVING LEGEND
Is it a chicken? A aircraft? No . . . It’s Shisa-man! They may not be faster than a dashing bullet, in fact they’re usually pretty stationary, however a shīsā’s powers are not anything to be trifled with. Here are two legends of shīsā heroism:

KOMAINU: KING OF THE BEASTS
Though quite a few their beyond stays doubtful, mum or dad lions are charming. Although there are tons of komainu to be visible at shrines across Japan I’m sad to mention that I haven’t seen them utilized plenty in contemporary pop culture. Maybe a number of you available recognise of a few examples of which I’m unaware. On the alternative hand, the Okinawan shīsā may be very tons a residing image, so at the least this not noted legend has a glad domestic in Ryukyu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *