Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The diverse Komainu of Suwa


Komainu, the pairs of guardian "lion/dogs" that guard the entrance to shrines, come in a variety of styles and forms. All the ones depicted here are found inside the grounds of Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki.


This was the first time I have ever seen one standing on its hind legs...


Though its partner I have seen before on a temple roof.


One of the pair always has its mouth open, the other its mouth closed.


Suwa is an interesting shrine . It was established in the seventeenth Century expressly to combat the influence of Christianity.


The pairs are seen as male/female, and the open and closed mouth represent the "a" and "un" sounds (equivalent to Alpha and Omega).


The most famous pair at Suwa is probably the ones known as "Stop Lions". One wraps a string or thin strip of paper around their legs when praying to stop something, like smoking.


As the komainu age they become weathered, moss covered, and sometimes damaged, all of which contributes to their strange appearance sometimes.


The money washing komainu is another that I had never seen before. Apparently washing your money here will cause it to double.


The Turntable Komainu is one a circular stone base that you spin around as you make your request. It was used by local prostitutes to pray for bad weather that would keep the sailors, their customers, in port longer.


  1. It amazes me in Japan how you can always find these places with such a high density of interesting things to see and learn about. Your an expert at finding them.... but what I want to know is, when is the book coming out?

  2. Great photos and info... I never knew there are Komainu standing on two legs :)

  3. This is a remarkable collection, and I haven't seen such a diversity of them (especially the one on hind legs or the one with strings on its leg). Thanks for sharing.