Okinawa Culture in Japan: Shisa Continue to Protect from Evil Spirits

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Okinawa Culture in Japan: Shisa Continue to Protect from Evil Spirits 

Tomoko Hara and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Modern day Okinawa (Ryukyu) still manages to preserve many special cultural traits despite the power of Japanese culture impacting greatly. Indeed, many mainland Japanese nationals who have relocated to this part of Japan have also adopted certain aspects from the rich culture of Okinawa. After all, culture moves in both directions even when one powerful culture appears to hold the power mechanisms.


Therefore, one noticeable aspect of Okinawa is the power of Shisa which can be seen on many rooftops and gates throughout the many islands which comprise of Okinawa. Shisa also are evidence of the power of ancient China within the soul of Okinawa and likewise this culture is preserving an aspect of Chinese culture which may appear distant.


Often you will witness Shisa in pairs because it is said that one Shisa which keeps its mouth open is warding off dangerous and evil spirits. While the other Shisa will be seen with a closed mouth, thereby keeping powerful positive spirits inside, in order to protect the respective householders.


Many traditional homes are noticeable by the roofs in parts of Okinawa and Shisa appear to suit their natural habitat. It is said that they resemble a mixture between the powerful lion figure and a dog. During the Edo period in Japan they became known on the mainland to be “guardian dogs,” yet this does a disservice to the looks of Shisa which are clearly more fascinating.


Legends abound about the magic power of Shisa. For example, near Kochinda Town you have a village called Tomimori. This is located in the far south where many fires were reported in history. A Feng Shui master called Saiouzui told locals that he came to the conclusion that Mt. Yaese was to blame. In order to protect the village Saiouzui told the local people to build a powerful Shisa in the direction of the mountain. Since this time, the powerful Shisa continues to protect their village from the ravages of fire.


Before Ryukyu was colonized and settled by many Japanese people the indigenous people were famous for trading with many different parts of Asia. Also, the power of China impacted greatly and the “guardian lions” from China and other cultural traits impacted on the Okinawan people. However, the fusions of traditional culture also altered the many aspects of Shisa for local people so that in time different realities existed.


Today the power of Japanese culture is pervasive throughout Okinawa and likewise you have serious issues related to the armed forces of America being based throughout a large swathe of Okinawa. It is hoped that local people will cling on to their language just like the Welsh people in order for a revival to take place. After all, the Welsh language was nearly destroyed by the dominant English language but now this language is fighting back. This especially applies to the traditional heartland in the north. It is vital that the people of Okinawa also begin to restore the natural balance in order for this language to survive. However, whatever the future holds for this language it is clear that Shisa and other cultural traits in Okinawa will maintain a part of the “old world” and continue to protect people from complete cultural assimilation.

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