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Home » 4. Jinja (Shrines) » Shrine Architecture
Komainu
[Koma inu]
Literally, "Korean lions," paired figures of figurative lion tutelaries found at the entryway to shrine buildings, or alongside their torii or approachways. Most are made of stone, although examples can also be found made of bronze, iron, wood, or ceramics. The paired figures are typically male and female, and some portray one with horns. In generally, the pairs include one with an open mouth and one with mouth closed, the so-called a-un posture symbolizing the "alpha" and "omega" of the Sanskrit alphabet. In some pairs, however, both are depicted with open mouths. The origin of such tutelary beasts is said to go back to Egypt or India, but the ones transmitted to Japan originated in China's Tang dynasty. Another style was introduced to Japan from Song China during the Kamakura period, and this style is frequently referred to as kara jishi (Chinese lions). The word Koma is an ancient term for the Korean peninsula, but since the images were merely transmitted through the Korean peninsula, it may be that the term Koma inu was merely used to indicate the "foreign" nature of the figures. As tutelaries, the animals are believed to symbolize the eradication of evil and the protection of the area around the kami.

-Nakayama Kaoru
Komainu ("Korean lion")

Shinto Museum of Kokugakuin University

Komainu statues at the entrance to the Yasaka (Gion) Shrine

Kyoto, 2006

©Ōsawa Kōji

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