Lion Dogs at Himuro Shrine

The Komainu (Lion Dog) has been a fixture at Shinto shrines for over a thousand years. These mythical creatures were introduced from China, via Korea, at about the same time as Buddhism arrived in Japan (about 1500 years ago). Komainu bear a striking resemblance to artworks from Tang Dynasty China as their introduction to Japan roughly coincides with this artistically intriguing period in Chinese history. You cannot forget Tang Dynasty pottery and statuary once you have seen it. Tang Dynasty pottery is invariably covered with Sancai (green, amber and cream glazes) that seems to drip from the works of art.

The komainu with its mouth open (male) is said to be making the sound “a”.
The komainu with its mouth closed (female) is said to be making the sound “um”.

The combined sounds of the two guardian komainu complete the Buddhist sutra “aum”. This sutra means the beginning and end of all things.

If you have ever been to Singapore, you cannot miss the resemblance between the komainu of Japan and the merlion on Singapore’s waterfront.

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