Shisa are mythological creatures, usually taking the form of a half-dog, half-lion figure, that are believed to ward off evil spirits in the traditional Ryukyuan culture of the Japanese Okinawan islands. Usually appearing in pairs, mouths wide open, Shisa guardian statues adorn the entrances to nearly all homes and businesses in Okinawa.
The ubiquity of the Shisa statues means they are often mass-produced and somewhat generic, which provides ample opportunity for creative expression through designing and coloring these folkloric figures. One of the most striking examples of this can be found on the relatively small, undeveloped, but extremely popular tourist destination of Ishigaki Island.
Just off the 79 highway that skirts the western edge of Ishigaki is a pottery store called Yonekoyaki Craft Center. Peek behind the store and you’ll find a large sculpture garden containing a variety of impressively large and elaborate Shisa uniquely painted in bright, distinctive colors and designs.
The purpose of the park seems to be drawing people into the nearby pottery store, where smaller reproductions of some of the conspicuous Shisa designs can be purchased. The Shisa garden, however, is free and easily accessible.