Originally pairs like these were called "shisa and guardian dogs": the right with its mouth opened is the guardian, the left with its mouth closed is the shisa . Some people believe that one is male and the other is female, and provide various justifications for which is which; for example, "the female has her mouth shut as she should" or "the male has his mouth shut to hold in all the family's good fortune".
The shisa, like the , is a variation of the guardian lions from China . The shisaa, or lion dog, is an Okinawan cultural artifact. In typology, they might be also be classified as gargoyle beasts. They are traditionally used to ward off evil spirits.
When a certain emissary to China returned from one of his voyages to the court at Shuri Castle, he brought with him as a gift for the king a necklace decorated with a small figurine of a ''shisa''-dog. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothes. Now it happened that at the Port bay, the village of Madanbashi was often terrorized by a who ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the King was visiting the village, and one of these attacks happened; all the people ran and hid. The local '''' had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent the boy, Chiga, to tell him the message. He faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded all through the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon's tail. He couldn't move, and eventually died. This boulder and the dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and can still be seen today. It is the "Gana-mui Woods" near Naha Ohashi bridge. The townspeople built a large stone ''shisa'' to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats.
Great Stone Shisa at Tomimori
At Tomimori Village near in the far southern part of Okinawa, there were often many fires. The people of the area sought out Saiouzui, a Feng Shui master, to ask him why there were so many fires. He believed they were because of the power of the nearby Mt. Yaese, and suggested that the townspeople build a stone shisa to face the mountain. They did so, and thus have protected their village from fire ever since.
The 1974 tokusatsu kaiju film ''Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla'' features a giant shisa monster called King Shisa , who was awakened from its ancient slumber in Okinawa to help Godzilla destroy his mechanical doppelg?nger, Mechagodzilla. This monster was later used in as one of the monsters that were controlled by the Xilians.
The Pokémon Growlithe and its evolution Arcanine are based on the shisa.
The Digimon Seasarmon is based on a shisa, along with Chatsuramon.
, a Japanese professional wrestler hailing from Okinawa, uses the and Super Shisa. He also has a young protegé named Shisa Boy and once formed a team with King Shisa .
Megaman ZX Advent have two Shisa based Pseudoroids, Argoyle and Urgoyle, They work as a pair when fighting and become a playable form after being defeated.
In the game The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the talking boat, has a head on the front of the boat resembling a Shisa.
The from Jackie Chan Adventures has a Shisa-like face.
Two variations on the Shisa, in this case referred to as and or Foo Creatures, are featured in the first edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual II.
In the game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES, there is a Shisa Persona, although its name is spelt as "Shiisaa."
In the PlayStation 2 game Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, the aeon Yojimbo had a shisaa, Daigoro, as his companion. Yuna gains a similar shisaa, Kogoro, as her animal partner with the Trainer dressphere.
*Chizue, Sesoko. Legends of Okinawa. First publication, Okinawa, 1969.