Shishi, or Koma-inu
Shishi (or Jishi) is translated as "lion” but it can also refer to a deer or dog with magical properties and the power to repel evil spirits. A pair of shishi traditionally stand guard outside the gates of Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, although temples are more often guarded by two Nio Protectors. The Shishi (like the Nio) are traditionally depicted in pairs, one with mouth open and one with mouth shut. The opened/closed mouth relates to Ah (open mouth) and Un (closed mouth). “Ah" is the first sound in the Japanese alphabet, while "N" (pronounced "un") is the last. These two sounds symbolize beginning and end, birth and death, and all possible outcomes (from alpha to omega) in the cosmic dance of existence. The first letter in Sanskrit is "Ah" as well, but the last is "Ha." Nonetheless, the first and last sounds produced by the mouth are "Ah" and "M." The Sanskrit "m" and the Japanese "n" sound exactly the same when hummed with mouth closed. The spiritual Sanskrit terms AHAM and AUM thus encapsulate the first letter-sound (mouth open) and the final sound (mouth closed). Others say the open mouth is to scare off demons, and the closed mouth to shelter and keep in the good spirits. •The circular object often shown beneath their feet is the Tama , or sacred Buddhist jewel, a symbol of Buddhist wisdom that brings light to darkness and holds the power to grant wishes. •Japanese shishi combines elements of both the Korean "Koma-inu" (Korean dog) and Chinese "Kara-shishi" (Chinese lion). •Koma-inu (Korean dog) is the close-mouthed beast, sometimes with a horn atop its head, is often translated as lion-dog. It is typically placed to the right of the shrine or temple gate. For reasons unknown (to me), the horn disappeared long ago, and rarely appears in artwork of the Edo-period onward. •Today the term koma-inu (komainu) is commonly used to refer to both the closed-mouthed and opened-mouthed statues. •Kara-shishi (Chinese lion) is the open-mouth beast resembling a lion; translated simply as lion. It is typically placed to the left of the shrine or temple gate. Kara is meant to suggest something of Chinese or foreign import.
•Shishi. Another term for Kara-shishi (Chinese lion). Today the term shishi is commonly used to refer to both the closed-mouthed and opened-mouthed statues.
Takayama, Japan, 2012