When I was doing all my research for Tortured Willows I came across shisa and became obsessed. Shisa are Okinawan lion dogs. A variation of the guardian lions from China, shisa come in male and female pairs. The male always has his mouth open to scare away bad luck and drink good luck in. The female always has her mouth closed to seal out bad luck and keep good luck in. Shisa in Okinawan dialect means ‘guardian of the house’, ‘amulet (to fight off bad magic)’, and ‘call to fortune’. (Kenkotree)

There is another reason for the pair to have one mouth closed and one open. Together, they are utter the great “Aun.” (Ah-Uhn), The male sings ‘Ah’ (阿) and the female hums ‘Uhn’ (吽). ‘Aun’ means means ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ in Sanskrit. This follows a Buddhist tradition where man-like statues are placed in front of temples, one with open mouth and the other closed.

These statues are seen as guardian gods protecting all that is good. Shisa are the same, uttering the Aun to maintain balance in the universe and protect their charges. This is why you will find shisa of all styles perched everywhere on Okinawa. You just can’t have too many shisa on guard.

I’d love to give everyone I care about a set of shisa, but I have more loved ones than dollars so I made my own shisa design which I plan to paint. When I’m listening to my classes I’m working on these. Best case scenario, I plan to release an army of guardian lion dogs on the world to ward off bad luck, bring in good and restore balance. Worse case, they just wind up being cute key chains. I’m happy either way.

By Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Shimanchu-American and award-winning poet, author, and publisher with 20+ years of experience as a professional writer in nonfiction. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), producer of the Exercise Your Writes YouTube podcast, two-time Bram Stoker Awards® Winner, and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020, find her at angelaysmith.com.

  1. I really enjoyed reading — and learning about the Shisa. One might think the female’s mouth is closed because women talk too much (or nag, or complain) but this is a MUCH better and logical explanation when you think about it.

    The universal for taking a breath of life in and putting it out again. “out goes the bad air, in comes the new” — in a way, like performing artificial respiration on someone who was drowning. Sort of? In a metaphorical sense — breathing in good luck and holding it. Or am I making sense, here?

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