Gana-mui Woods, history and legend

Base Info
The "shisa" dog is usually displayed in Japanese homes and businesses, usually displayed with two shisa dogs; one with its mouth open to scare off the evil spirits, and the other with its mouth closed to keep the good spirits in, according to a traditional Japanese legend. (Courtesy photo)
The "shisa" dog is usually displayed in Japanese homes and businesses, usually displayed with two shisa dogs; one with its mouth open to scare off the evil spirits, and the other with its mouth closed to keep the good spirits in, according to a traditional Japanese legend. (Courtesy photo)

Gana-mui Woods, history and legend

by: Dan Collins, U.S. Army Garrison Okinawa Public Affairs | .
U.S. Army | .
published: September 09, 2014

OKINAWA, Japan -- On Okinawa, the "Gana-mui Woods" near the Naha Ohashi bridge is a popular and famous attraction, which has a history based on a traditional Japanese legend.

The legend begins with a Japanese emissary returning from China bearing a gift for the king at the Shuri Castle. The emissary gave the king a necklace decorated with a small figurine of a "shisa" dog. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothes.

At the Naha Port bay, in the village of Madanbashi, villagers were often terrorized by a sea dragon that would eat the villagers and destroy their property. The local Noro or priestess was told in a dream to instruct the king to stand on the beach and lift up his shisa necklace towards the dragon. The priestess sent a young villager named Chiga to tell the king of her dream.

One day, when the king was visiting the Madanbashi village and the sea dragon attacked and all of the villagers hid in fear. The king, remembering the dream of the Noro, faced the monster with his shisa figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded all through the village from the shisa figurine. The roar was so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon.

A massive boulder then fell from heavens and crushed the dragon's tail making it so the beast could not move, and eventually the dragon died. This boulder and the dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees that can still be seen today. This area became known as the "Gana-mui Woods."

The legend continues by stating that the villagers built a large stone shisa statue to protect them from the dragon's spirit and other threats and the village was never bothered by the dragon again.

When word spread around the island of Okinawa about the shisa dog's bravery and protection of the Madanbashi village, soon, other villages made their own shisa dogs, and the "shisa" became known as the protector of the islands.

To this day, a Japanese home or business will usually display two shisa dogs; one with its mouth open to scare off the evil spirits, and the other with its mouth closed to keep the good spirits in.