The komainu on the left at Hiratsuka shrine

Japanese Shrine|Beautiful Japanese culture!| Komainu (guardian dogs) at Hiratsuka Shrine


Do you know about Japanese shrines? The komainu of Hiratsuka shrine are unique and komainu have an interesting origin. At 4T-AMKY, Teachers and Students write about Japanese culture, food, history, many spots to visit, and other stuff. Enjoy reading and knowing about deeper Japanese culture!

Komainu (guardian dogs) at Hiratsuka Shrine


Hiratsuka Shrine is located in Kaminakazato, Kita Ward, Tokyo.

It has rare komainu. This lava mountain is Shishi (Lion) Mountain, which represents “the dropped shishi cub”. The mother shishi standing on top of the mountain on the left is watching over her cub that is crawling up. On the mountain on the right is a male komainu. Some say the one on the left is the father shishi and his cub. The date and origin of these komainu are unknown.

From the expression on thier faces, I felt more tenderness like watching over its own child than the roughness of dropping a child. There seemed to be some kind of story behind the komainu, but I had never seen such dynamic komainu before.

The komainu on the right at Hiratsuka Shrine

The photo shows the komainu on the right at Hiratsuka Shrine.

I researched komainu online. Komainu are imaginary guardian beast statues dedicated to shrines. They purify evil spirits and protect the shrine. Originally, they were called “shishi and komainu”. On the right side is a shishi with its mouth open and no horns, it’s called “A” shape. On the left side is a komainu with horns and a closed mouth, it’s called “Un” shape.

The “A-Un” shape is said to be unique to Japan, but the distinction between the two is ambiguous and there are many exceptions. The left and right sides of the komainu at Hiratsuka Shrine are also reversed. Both the shishi and komainu are imaginary beasts and are different creatures, but nowadays, the shishi is used as the form and the komainu as the name in many places.

Toyouke Shrine (the outer shrine of Ise Shrine) in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture

The photo shows Toyouke Shrine (the outer shrine of Ise Shrine) in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture. There are common Komainu.

At Ueno Toshogu Shrine, where I visited before, there was an explanatory board about komainu (guardian dogs). Here is a part of the explanation as it is easy to understand.

“Komainu is a mythical doglike beast, statues of which are customarily placed in pairs to rebel evil. It is believed that it originated in ancient India, where lion statues were placed as guardian animals for Buddha statues. It is said that it took the form of a shishi in China, and when it was introduced to Japan along with Buddhism via the Korean Peninsula, it came to be represented as a dog.”

Explanatory board about komainu at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

Komainu are not only dog-shaped, but can also be other animals such as foxes, cows, and deer. These animals are generally referred to as “shinshi” (messengers of the deities), and some shrines use specific animals. For example, foxes from the Inari Shrine lineage and cows from the Tenmangu Shrine lineage.

The main shrine of Oji Inari Shrine in Kita Ward, Tokyo

The photo shows the main shrine of Oji Inari Shrine in Kita Ward, Tokyo. In keeping with the times, foxes also wore masks.

In addition, before the Meiji era (1868-1912), there was an idea of Shinbutsu Shygo (syncretism of Shintoism and Buddhism), and furthermore, since komainu were introduced with the arrival of Buddhism, they are often found in temples.

The explanatory board at Ueno Toshogu Shrine contains even more interesting descriptions, so I will introduce excerpts of both Japanese and English texts.

“Here, the right -hand Komainu is open-mouthed, which is referred to as “a”, while the left-hand one has a closed mouth, referred to as “un”. As “a” is the first sound in the Japanese syllabary and is pronounced with an open mouth, and “un” is the last one, pronounced with a closed-mouth, “a-un” is said to signify the beginning and end of the universe. This mouth shape is often found in religious statues including komainu, nio and shishi (lion), which are usually placed in pairs.”

The komainu on the left at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The photo shows the komainu on the left at Ueno Toshogu Shrine.

I will pay more attention to komainu when I visit shrines and temples in the future. I’m looking forward to making many new discoveries.