Shisa Dogs & Lucky Cats

One of the first things I noticed while driving around the island was the omnipresence of the rather creepy looking “lion-dog”, or Shisa. Nearly every business, household, and restaurant has two of each – one on either side of its entrance or rooftop. One, with its mouth open in a vicious snarl, is the male shisa (despite the obnoxious assumptions made by certain males in my company), and the other is the female shisa (with its mouth firmly shut, thank you.) As it turns out, these shisas are protectors based in Okinawan and Chinese mythology, intended to shun evil spirits. The open-mouthed shisa wards off the evil, while the close-mouthed shisa keeps good spirits in (although, according to Wikipedia, these gender roles can be “variously assigned.) I am not superstitious, but in the spirit of cultural immersion, I will definitely have to get a petite pair of these guys for my new home! Besides, who doesn’t want good spirits?

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The other item I’m seeing everywhere I go – though less frequently than the shisa dogs – is the Maneki-neko, or “the beckoning cat.” Usually made of ceramic, these cats are meant to bring luck to the owner. White cats bring general good luck all ’round, black cats bring good health, and gold cats bring financial fortune. There are a series of beautiful (sometimes heartbreaking) Japanese folktales tying the cat to good luck, which – as a crazy cat lady myself – pleases me to no end. In addition to my shisa dogs, I plan on getting a few of these feline talismans in smaller form, since I find the large ones a bit tacky and overwhelming for my taste. Maybe one in each color!

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Tonight, Chuck and his Marine buddies are over celebrating one of their favorite former Major’s return to town. It’s me and about 8-10 Marines. Chuck also brought home the lovely painting of the sassy Seniorita above, regaling me with tales about how she dates back to World War II in his Battalion’s history – snagged from the Philippines by some long gone war hero – returned to the Battalion after said war hero’s death, by his grieving widow – on display in the Battalion offices ever since.

Turns out, that story is pure folklore, and the returning Major actually stole it from a Mexican restaurant out in California during training (he did try to buy it from the restaurant, but they refused to sell, so he ran off with it after leaving $50 on the table.) She’s been on deployment to Afghanistan with the Battalion since – stolen by other Battalions, and put up for ransom before finally being recovered. She goes solely by “Seniorita.”

It’s still a pretty cool story, but I’m a bit hostile to this mysterious, exotic babe hanging out in my living room, who has such a special place in these guys’ hearts…

…she’s pretty hot.