Shisa, Okinawa’s Guardians on the Rooftops
Shisa, the “legendary beast” placed on the rooftops and entrances of Okinawan houses, watches over and protects us.
The word “Shisa” is said to have originated from the word “Simha,” which means “lion” in the Sanskrit language.
The scary looking faces of the Shisa may seem ironic as they are placed on the rooftops and entrances as talismans against evil.
It seems to represent the expansive atmosphere of the southern tropical island of Okinawa.
A long time ago, it is said that the Shisa was enshrined at the entrance and hilltops of villages. But since the last century or so, the Shisa began to get placed on top of the roofs of civilian homes.
This became popular when red roof tiles were made open to the public without any restrictions. It is said that these Shisa statues were first made by craftsmen who used the remains of red roof tiles.
You may probably notice that most of the Shisa are in an “a-un” pair, one on the left and the other on the right.
The Shisa with an open mouth is male, and the one whose mouth is closed is female. The term “a-un” also comes from the Sanskrit language.
The term is supposed to represent the first and last letters of the alphabet, meaning the beginning and end of things.
There are a variety of small porcelain Shisas that are sold as souvenirs.
You will definitely find one you will like.
Recommended place(s) where you can experience Shisa-making class.
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