If you’ve been on my Instagram lately you may have noticed a craft project taking place over time. It started out as plain little disks of wood and ended up as individually colored shisa guardian keychains with a little book on how to take care of them.

Shisa are a traditional Ryukyuan (Okinawan) guardian pair similar to Chinese guardian lions. Shisa protect everyone around them, creating harmony. With the state of things in the world as they are, I’m slowly creating a shisa army to set loose in the world to work their magic. They’re gifts and they come with a tiny booklet I wrote to explain what they are. If I have your address, you may find one popping up in your mailbox. The first 5 or 6 are finding their new homes this week.

I could explain to you all about shisa, but it will be easier to just share what the booklet says:

What are shisa?

Shisa are a traditional Ryukyuan (Okinawan) guardian pair similar to Chinese guardian lions. Shisa are sometimes classified as gargoyle beasts.

Shisa come in pairs, a male and a female. The male has his mouth open to drink in the good luck and frighten away the negative. The female has her mouth closed to seal out the negative and keep in the good luck.

Together they make a sound—“Aum”(a-hūṃ/a-un). ‘A'(阿) is from the male and “ɦūṃ” (吽) is from the female. The vocalization “Aum” (ॐ) means beginning and end in Sanskrit. It’s similar to the Nio guardian deity statues that guard Buddhist temples. The combination of both sounds is Aum (ॐ), Sanskrit for The Absolute. This song of the shisa helps to bring their surroundings into harmony.

It’s been said that the first shisa came to be in the late 17th century in the village of Kochinda, located in the southern part of the island. The village suffered from fires every year. A shaman advised them to place a shisa at the entrance of the village for protection. The village stopped being destroyed by fire, and that shisa still stands protecting and blessing all those around.

Shisa come in all colors, shapes, sizes, flavors and temperaments… just like people! Shisa are always guarding, protecting and blessing those around them. People who love shisa all seem to agree… you can never have too many shisa.

Shisa thrive on kindness, so feed your shisa regularly by doing nice things for others. You can’t overfeed a shisa and the more good deeds you feed them the stronger they become. If you want to do something extra special, April 3rd is Shisa Day. Make shisa to share, feed them with extra love and celebrate that you have lucky little lion dogs working in your favor.

Disclaimer: I’m no shisa expert and I may have made up the part about shisa feed on kindness… but is their any proof they don’t? You can’t have too much kindness or shisa in the world.

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.


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