|Motif Type||Mythological / Beast|
Shishi (also: Lion of Fo / Foo / Fu, Lion of Buddha) made their way to Japan from India, passing through China and Korea along the Silk Road. Originally known as Kara-shishi (Chinese Lion), they are considered the messenger of the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Monju and are considered a Buddhist symbol of power and protection.
During Nara era, Kara-shishi were depicted as a pair of lions, however, during Heian era, it turned into a pair of Kara-shishi and the lion-dog, known as Koma-inu (Korean Dog). The lion was with the mouth open and considered the male, while the lion-dog with it's mouth closed and considered female. The lion-dog was also with a singular horn in the middle of it's head. During Kamakura era, the Koma-inu started to be depicted hornless, which has continued through to today.
Modern day sees the word shishi being used interchangeably for both the open and closed mouth versions.
Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings
Due to the common pairing of botan (peony) with shishi, the initial seasonal thought would be spring. However, due to their auspicious nature, shishi may be worn any season. Fabric weight, weave and other motif pairings should be taken into consideration.
Common Motif Pairings
Shishi is nearly always paired with at least one of the following:
The pairing of shishi and botan has it's origins dating as far back to Ancient China. There are two different stories to how the association came to be:
Queen of Flowers
In Ancient China, botan (English: peony; Chinese: both mǔdān (牡丹) and fùguìhuā (富贵花) was considered the "Queen of Flowers", meaning wealth and prosperity. As the shishi was considered the "King of Animals", shishi and botan together were considered fitting companions.
The Legend of Shakkyo and Monju Bosatsu
There are a number of different variations of this legend, some slightly more elaborate than others. This retelling is a generalized version:
A Japanese monk, having crossed through India and China in search of knowledge, decided to set out to Wutaishan (Mt. Wutai), the home of the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Monju (Manjusri or Wenshu in Chinese). Along his way as he was about to cross a very narrow stone bridge, the monk was approached by a youth carrying fire-wood. The youth cautioned the monk not to proceed over the bridge as the country beyond, while paradise was infested with lions which would devour him if he was not protected by spiritual power. The monk paused for a while to ponder upon what the youth said. Then suddenly the area became fragrant and the air rang with beautiful music. As the youth revealed himself to the monk as the Bodhisattva Monju, a shishi emerged from the forest and danced around a growing peony.
Less common pairings:
- Chō (butterfly). (Shishi in kabuki are sometimes dramatized chasing away chō from the botan)
- With posible relation to the Shakkyo legend:
Shishi serve as gardians to both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, traditionally as a pair. Generally, one shishi will be with it's mouth open (relating to "Ah") and may be depicted with a mari or tama and the other with it's mouth closed (relating to "N" prounced "un"). "Ah" is the first letter of the Japanese alphabet and "N" is the last -- together they symbolize beginning and end, birth and death, and all possible outcomes in existence. It is also said the open mouth is to scare off deamons while the closed is to shelter and keep in the good spirits.
Embroidered shishi on Nagoya obi from the collection of Kokoro.
Woven shishi on fukuro obi from the collection of Kokoro.
Motif in Literature & Other Usage
Where possible - try to find examples of motif in literature, art and real life. If you are unable to find an example - remove this section.
Relevant Threads / Discussions
Authors & Contributors
Author/s: Naomi Graham Hormozi (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))