Jump to: navigation, search


Revision as of 11:05, 26 March 2017 by Tzippurah (talk | contribs) (Article Notes)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Motif Information
Motif shishi 01.jpg
Stone shishi.
Copyright Cameraman
Rōmaji Shishi
English Lion
Kanji 獅子
Kana しし
Season Spring
Seasonal Exceptions n/a
Auspicious Yes
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:

Botan Association

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

The Bodhisattva Monju seated upon a shishi. Copyright Mistvan

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:

Auspicious Nature

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.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Shishi with cub and botan (circa 1830-48) by Utagawa Kunimasu

The kabuki-like dance, Renjishi, references the legend that shishi push their cubs over cliffs to test their determination and stamina.[1]

In Poetry

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Article on Renjishi. Accessed February 8, 2017.

Image Credits

  • Kokoro

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Naomi Graham Hormozi (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))