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Shisa Keep Evil Spirits Out and Good Spirits In
Most people have either seen or at least heard of shisa, or lion-dogs, which form an integral part of Okinawan culture. Also known as shi-shi, these small statues can be found standing guard on top of roofs or at the entrances to homes, businesses and shops all over Okinawa. The shisa was first brought to Okinawa from China in the 14th century. These figures are believed to ward off evil spirits and were originally used as guardians to residences and shrines. Shisa come in all shapes, colors and sizes, and most homes will display two shisa -- one with its mouth open to ward off evil spirits, and the other with its mouth closed to keep the good spirits in. One variation you might notice is a shisa poised with a golden sphere under one paw. This symbolizes a concentration of goodness, wealth and bountiful crops.
Many stories exist concerning the origins of the shisa, and how they came to be protectors is a story that has been told and retold down through the generations. According to one legend, a small boy was given a shisa as a gift from an Okinawan nobleman. One day, a dragon appeared to destroy the boy's village, and the inanimate shisa came to life and saved the village. According to another story, the shisa came to Okinawa many years ago as a gift for a Ryukyuan king. It became famous for protecting the villagers of Madanbashi from a terrible dragon who lurked in Naha Bay. When the king had the shisa confront the dragon, the shisa roared like a lion, causing a great rock to fall from the sky onto the dragon and turning it into present-day Ganna-mui Island.

Myth & Folklore (4)
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