The shīsā are here, the shīsā are here!

June 13, 2012

University of the Ryukyus President Teruo Iwamasa and Professor Emeritus Sadao Nishimura with shisa for UHM at unveiling at University of the Ryukyus. Photo courtesy of University of the Ryukyus.

A pair of bronze shīsā (lion dogs) has traveled from Okinawa to Hawai‘i and will now make the walkway between Paradise Palms and Hamilton Library its permanent home. The formidable, ferocious-looking pair is a gift from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa to commemorate the establishment of UH’s Center for Okinawan Studies. The Center opened on July 1, 2008. The shīsā are custom designed by Professor Emeritus Sadao Nishimura at the University of the Ryukyus.

A dedication ceremony will be held on Friday, June 29, 2012, at the statues at 4pm. UHM Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw will officially receive the statues from University of the Ryukyus’ President Teruo Iwamasa.

Shīsā are often placed at entranceways to ward off evil spirits to protect people and structures from misfortune or harm. Historically, they were placed at entranceways to the villages, gateways to places of worship, and as guards to the tombs of the nobility. They may also be found on rooftops, but this practice is believed to have developed after commoners were allowed to have tiled roofs on their homes during the Meiji Era.

There are various theories as to where the shīsā originated. There are some claims that it is related to the Egyptian Sphinx and was gradually transformed as it made its way across the Silk Road. Whatever its original form may have been, the shīsā made its way through Okinawa via China. It is similar to the Chinese guardian lions and the Japanese komainu.

If in pairs, when facing the front of the shīsā, the one on the right has its mouth open and the one on the left has its mouth closed. While some claim that gender is traditionally determined by whether it has its mouth closed (female) or open (male), others have discounted these claims and have said that these are relatively recent developments.

Shīsā were traditionally made of stone, clay, or plaster, but are now also commonly made of cement or bronze.

Please help us welcome our new bronze guardian symbols to the UH ohana.

“Shīsā”( Wikipedia (Japanese). Accessed June 8, 2012.

“Shīsā shokunin kōbō” ( Accessed June 8, 2012.

Also, see the UHM Library’s guide page for more resources on shīsā:
Okinawan Studies: Shisa (Lion-Dogs)


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