Shishi (stone lion)

Shishi (stone lion)

Shishi (Chinese: or ; pinyin: shíshīzi; “stone lion”), also called Lion of Fo, Lion of Buddha, or Dog of Fo, is, in Chinese art, a stylized figure of a snarling lion. Its original significance was as a guardian presence in a Buddhist temple. Shishi are often created in pairs, with the male playing with a ball and the female with a cub. They occur in many types of Chinese pottery and in Western imitations.

Shishi were imported into Japanese mythology; the boddhisatva Monju-bosatsu is commonly depicted riding one. Japanese legend portrays shishi as playful in temperament but protective in nature, and they are invoked as protectors of children. Though they are said to be protective of their cubs, a folktale claims that shishi throw each cub over a cliff to test its strength.

Outside many Shinto shrines can be found the Koma-inu, (こま犬) which despite the "inu" (犬) (dog) in its name looks much like a Chinese lion.

Koma-inu are guardians against evil, showing many influences from both Chinese and Korean ancestry. Author Hiromi Iwai writes in the book "Nihon no Kamigami to Hotoke" ("The Gods and Buddha in Japan") that Koma-inu's lionlike design can be traced to China, while "Koma" may have been derived from "Korai," an ancient Korean dynasty.

In each pairing, one dog's mouth is sculpted in an open manner and the other's jaws are closed. The "A" that appears to be spoken from one Shishi's mouth, and the "M" voiced through the other's tightly closed mouth are said by Iwai to represent the ancient Indian belief that the universe began with the first sound and will conclude with the other.

In Hinduism, this is written fully as "A-U-M," with the three letters representing many different metaphysical concepts. One is the triple powers of earth, heaven and the current realm. Another is the trinity of Hindu gods Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the god of maintenance) and Shiva (the Destroyer). Aum is "the jewel in the lotus", the holy state of being and destruction all at once.

Commonly known in the West as "Om," the term was adopted as a mantra by Buddhists, who in turn transmitted it to Japan via China during the Asuka Period (593-710). After that, it appeared at many Shinto shrines, reminding visitors to holy sites of our humble place within the greater scheme of things.

In Popular Culture

*The green warrior in Gosei Sentai Dairanger is Shishiranger, and his Kidenju (mecha) is a shishi.
*This shishi also appears in the second season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (which was based on Dairanger) as the Black Lion Thunderzord. The toy version had a black head instead of a green one.
*The video game Final Fantasy X features a Samurai character named Yojimbo, who can be hired to attack the player's enemies. One of his attacks is performed by a sidekick (A shishi), which goes by the name "Daigoro".
*The image of a Shishi can be found on the lower part of the blade of The Bride's sword in Kill Bill.
*The Pokemon Growlithe and Arcanine are based on the Shishi.


ee also

*Chinese guardian lions
*Lion dance
*Chinese art


*Ashkenazy, Michael. "Handbook of Japanese Mythology". Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003. 119
*Prideaux, Eric. "Japan's Shinto-Buddhist religious medley". The Japan Times, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007 []

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