Tomori Stone Lion – Yaese, Japan - Atlas Obscura

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Tomori Stone Lion

Yaese, Japan

The oldest stone lion in Okinawa survived a major battle during World War II. 


The guardian lion-dog shisa is a traditional Okinawan decoration that can be found all across the island. These statues are often placed on rooftops or gateposts to ward off evil spirits from households.

The legendary creature is a variant of shishi, the Chinese guardian lion, which in turn ultimately derives from similar statues of ancient Persia, introduced via the Silk Road. The first shisa on Okinawa is believed to have been created in the village of Tomori in 1689, miraculously surviving the test of time.

According to Kyūyō, the royal chronicles of the Ryukyu Kingdom written in the 1740s, Tomori was suffering from frequent fires when the villagers were advised by a feng shui diviner to place a stone lion facing Mount Yaese, once known as Fiizan or Fire Mountain. In 1689, the Tomori Stone Lion was made and placed on top of a hill where a castle called Jiri-gusuku once stood.

It is believed that the Tomori Stone Lion was soon imitated in villages all across the island, not only as a fire-repellent but also as an apotropaic sculpture, and later as the symbol of Okinawan culture itself.

During the months-long Battle of Okinawa in World War II, the area became one of the bloodiest combat sites. The Tomori Stone Lion was famously used by American soldiers as a shield from gunfire, as photographed on June 18, 1945, and there remains a number of bullet holes on its surface today.

The Tomori Stone Lion survived the war and continues to stand above the village, and is still well respected by the local community to this day. In addition to being the oldest stone lion in Okinawa, it is also considered the largest village shisa on the island.

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June 24, 2024

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