[Fighting Shishi] Arita Okimono From Late Edo


This extraordinary piece depicting two shishi guardian lions locked in playful combat, is done in fine white porcelain from the Arita region of Japan.

Guardian lions (alternately known as Shishi, Foo-dogs, or Koma-inu) were introduced to Japan in the 8th century and are often seen outside shrine gates or adorning rooftop shingles. When seen in pairs, one typically has its mouth open (the male) while the other’s is shut (the female). This is no coincidence, but rather Buddhist symbolism. The open mouth is meant to be forming the sound “a” あ, while the closed mouth is forming the sound “un” うん. Combined, they form the word a-un, the Japanese rendition of the Indian word “om.”

Depicted with remarkable detail and artistry, this pair of shishi guardian lions stands 6.7 inches high (17 cm) and is roughly 10.6 inches in length (27 cm). The base is unglazed and overall it is in excellent condition apart from one small chip on the hind leg of one of the shishi (not noticeable unless intensionally looking for it).