Saturday, June 12, 2021

Kumamoto Komainu


Day 48 of my Kyushu Pilgrimage found me walking down the Kikuchi River in Kumamoto from Yamaga to Tamana. As normal I stopped in at every shrine I passed on the way, on the look out for art, stories etc. Usually I would post about each shrine, with details of the kami there enshrined, history, features, etc but these posts do not seem to interest many people, so instead I will just post some photos of the komainu I encountered.

Komainu literally means "Korean Dogs", but they are usually translated as "Lion Dogs. They are a variation on the guardian lions found in China that were transmitted to Japan via Korea. Some of the earliest ones found in Japan are in Yaegali Shrine in Izumo, which attests to Izumo's close connection to Korea.

Most komainu are now found at the entrance to shrines and lining the walkway to the main shrine buildings. However thyese date to the Edo Period at the earliest, and the original versions were places inside thye shrines, or inside the gates where they are often paired with Zuijin.

Komainu are in essence guardians, and can also be found outside temples as well as secular properties. Usually, but not always, one of the pair will have an open mouth, one closed. Like with the Buddhist Nio guardian statues, this represennts the "ah" and "un", the alpha and omega of sanskrit.

Sometimes the pair are male and female, and sometimes the female may be shown with a pup or two. Mostly they are shown in a sitting position, but sometimes, especially in Izumo, one will have its haunches raised like the photo above.

There is more and more standardization of Komainu designs, so I delight in seeking out unusual, local variations like those I discovered further south in Kumamoto.

Quite rarely I have actually found standard lion statues at a few shrines.


  1. Thanks for the great pics and info, Jake. All your posts are interesting, at least to me!

    1. Thanks David. Nice to hear from you again. I hope all is well with you and yours

  2. I enjoy all of your posts as well. Thank you for sharing your travels with us!

  3. I'm not most people. Please keep posting about shrines and their kami, history, features and so on.

  4. I really enjoy your Shinto posts. Great information.