While researching for this entry I began to get a little confused. There were two terms for these things, komainu and shishi, floating around and I couldn’t figure out what the difference between the two was. I am still not 100% clear on the answer. The name shishi seems to come from Chinese (shi meaning both stone and lion). It seems that when they are referred to in a mythology sense they are usually called shishi. At first I believed that those in front of Shinto shrines were always referred to as komainu. But it seems that one should be called a shishi and the other a komainu. However, even in Japan, most people use komainu to refer to both of them. It really seems as though the terms are more or less interchangeable these days and that while a difference between the terms surely existed, it is starting to be lost, or at least isn’t agreed upon. Shishi and komainu were once two separate Wikipedia pages, but now they have been very awkwardly combined further supporting my theory. And my final weird note is that if I search Google in Japanese I get lots of picture of these things with the term komainu, but almost none with shishi. In this entry I’m going to operate on the assumption that they mean more or less the same thing and go from there. Now that that’s out of the way…
And remember Pokémon? Growlithe and its evolution Arcanine are based on the shishi, as is the legendary Pokémon Entei. Now it kinda makes sense why most of the Officer Jenny characters had a Growlithe. It is a protector after all.
One also appears in Final Fantasy X as a sidekick to Yojimbo.
And if you’ve seen the movie Kill Bill you may remember that the image of a shishi can be seen on the lower half of the blade of The Bride’s sword.
And remember Ojarumaru? Of course you don’t. But I watch it almost every day. It’s been running since 1998 and apparently has over 1000 episodes! It has characters that are komainu and come to life for various misadventures.
If you like this kind of entry let me know. I recently bought two books all about various Japanese demons that I’d love to have an excuse to try and translate. I have TONs of info on Japanese mythology and folklore and would love to share it if people are interested. But I only know what you tell me in the comments below!