Traveling Lion Dogs!
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/125 sec
The incidences of cultural drift have long fascinated me. I think I get to the point of understanding a phenomenon particular to one culture, and then discover the same thing traveling somewhere else! This little statue was no exception.
Years earlier, I was traveling in Okinawa & Japan, and I saw lots and lots of Shishi (also Shisa or “lion dog”), small statues that were placed on either side of building entrances, gates, homes, etc. Traditionally, the left one would have an open mouth, and the right would be closed. There are several theories as to why they are designed that way, the most prevalent being to let good spirits in and keep bad spirits out. They are mainly found in Buddhist or Confucian areas.
The Shishi were introduced to Japan through Korea from China back in the 14th century, and the Chinese likely got it from somewhere else, since lions are not native to that area. Each country has some mythological stories as to how the creatures arrived in their area, and each designs them a little bit differently. For example, in China, they look like lions. In Japan, more like a cross between a lion and a dog. This pair (only one pictured) I found at a retreat center in Thailand, and to me it looks more dog-like.
No matter what the design, they seem to be easily recognizable whenever I travel around Asia. I just don’t think they’re as cute as the Japanese money cat. 🙂
What cultural icon are you familiar with that did not originate in your own country?