My favorite Japanese souvenirs: Shisa, one of my favorite Okinawan purchases

My colorful shisa pair! (Photo: Kim B)
My colorful shisa pair! (Photo: Kim B)

My favorite Japanese souvenirs: Shisa, one of my favorite Okinawan purchases

by Kim
Japan Travel

One of my favorite Okinawan purchases

Okinawa has an atmosphere which is distinctly different from the rest of Japan, and the souvenirs you can find here are quite unique, too! One of my favorite purchases from this region of the country are my set of shisa.

You'll see shisa all around Okinawa, typically by the entrances to people's homes and businesses - sometimes they're even perched up on the roof. They come in pairs and are often described as looking like a cross between a lion and a dog. You'll notice that in each pair, one shisa has an open mouth, and one has a closed mouth. The rationale behind this is that the open-mouth shisa scares away bad spirits, and the closed-mouth shisa keeps good ones in. With that logic it's clear why people like to have them right outside their homes!

Shisa can be found outside homes, businesses, and even many tourist destinations (Photo: Simon Rodriguez / CC By SA 3.0)

The pair of shisa I have were purchased in Naha, and I honestly can't remember the name of the store - but it was somewhere around the Kokusai Dori shopping street area. There's no shortage of stores that sell them, but the designs differ from place to place. I've seen plain, rustic terracotta ones and quite traditional looking red and black ones, but the ones I opted for were the most colorful I've come across. After purchasing them I wondered if I should have chosen a more neutral style, but I've come to really love their quirkiness. They add a dose of brightness and fun to our home, and I have become a firm believer that they do actually work. Sure, that might just be a complete placebo, but I have been blessed with a lot of good luck in recent years so I'm going to pat the shisa on their respective backs.

I highly recommend getting yourself a set when you visit Okinawa, or even gifting them to your loved ones who are difficult to purchase gifts for - they're a special part of the region's culture!

Shisa on vending machines in Okinawa (Photo: Shigeru-a24 / CC By SA 3.0)


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