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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Okinawan Mythology and Godzilla

At first glance, the creature in the photo above is a pretty funny-looking kaiju (Japanese movie monster). But like some kaiju, this one has an interesting back story that I have dug up for you.

Known as King Caesar in English, but as Kingu Shisa (キングシーサー - shisa supposedly sounds like caesar when spoken in katakana Japanese) in katakana Japanese, this kaiju first appeared in the 1974 Godzilla movie Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, which is exactly as it sounds…

Isn't "caesar" supposed to be a title in the same way "king" is? It's Julius Caesar... Caesar Augustus, etc... I guess it's like being the Duke of Earl, only not as cool, because there's no harmony... unlike King Caesar, Mechagodzilla and Godzilla taking part in an air band contest.

(From left): King Caesar, Mechagodzilla, Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, 1974. It's actually a pretty decent movie.
The kaiju is based upon a mythological creature known as a shisa, a combination of lion and dog that is part of Okinawa mythology. Okinawa is part of the former Ryukyuan Kingdom long since absorbed into Japan… though anyone from that area would continue to insist that they are Okinawan first, Japanese second.

The shisa are similar to the Japanese komainu (lion dogs) and Chinese Fu dogs (guardian lions) - with slight variations existing between all three.

In Okinawan tradition, the shisa are guardians… wards to fend off or protect people from evil—as such, they are often placed upon gateways to homes or upon house rooftops.

These guardian lion dogs only work in tandem with another… meaning you need to have two for it to work effectively.If you believe in that sort of thing.

I had a 200-year-old ivory netsuke statue of a komainu that I sent back from Japan to my grandfather to act as a protector (I told him). I only sent one... he died a week after receiving it.

I get that he was old, and I don't believe in curses or luck, except for what one manufactures for themselves, but it was an eerie coincidence. 

Just as well, when shisa are manufactured, they are made in two styles: one with an open mouth, and one with a closed mouth.

Open mouthed shisa on a tiled roof in Okinawa.
The open-mouthed shisa is always placed on the right… so when you face the home, it is on the right side. The open-mouthed shisa, with its teeth bared, is meant to scare away evil spirits.

The close-mouthed shisa is on the left. This shisa is meant to keep good spirits in.
Closed mouth shisa keeping all the good mojo inside the building in Okinawa.
Believe it or don’t, gender is also imparted to the shisa, but there is much confusion as to which one is female, and which is male.

There is actually an origin story of how the shisa came to be viewed as a guardian in Okinawan culture.

However, like all old myths, specific names of individuals involved, dates and times are always left out.

First, there is a record of people living on Okinawa (a part of the Ryukyuan Islands) as far back as 32,000 years ago. Are they real Ryukyuans? We do suspect that earliest inhabitants of Okinawa were travelers from China…

While there have been visitors and inhabitants to the island since anywhere from 30,000 BCE, it wasn’t until about 1000 BCE that it seems to have been inhabited by a permanent hunter-gatherer tribe.

Still, as an organized kingdom… there’s guesswork involved. The first history of Ryukyu was written by Shō Shōken (向象賢?, 1617-1675), who also served as sessei… a sort of prime minister between 1666 - 1673AD.

So… a best-guess scenario would be Shō Shōken having written the history known as Haneji Ōji Chōshū (羽地王子朝秀) between 1673-1675 when he died.

I am sure the history is based upon oral tales passed down from generation to generation, as at best, it can be taken with large grains of salt.

There is a story about a Japanese warrior going to Okinawa in and around 1156AD, fighting the locals and setting up shop as a leader, but I think we can say that is Japanese revisionist history meant to make the Ryukyuan's a long time part of Japan.

In the late 1200s AD, Okinawa was trading with Japan, and imported the hiragana alphabet in 1265AD.

By the way… when you see the term Loo Choo (or spelling variations of same, like Lew Chew) Kingdom, it was a Chinese term to mean the Ryukyuan Kingdom.

So… at some point between 1322-1429AD, the Ryukyuans were in official contact with China.
This all makes sense when I get back to the origins of the shisa.


Once upon a time, a Chinese emissary returned from a voyage to the court at Shuri Castle (Shuri, Okinawa) and brought a gift for the king—a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa, though I would say it was a Fu dog, if it was coming from China.

The King was most pleased, and wore it under his robes.

At around the same time, Madanbashi village at the Bay of Naha (the capital of Okinawa), was being attacked by a sea dragon that would attack villagers, eat them and destroy their property, which is no big deal if you are one of the ones it ate.

One day, the King was visiting the village when one of these sea dragon attacks occurred… now hold on a minute.

What the heck was the King doing out in this village? Did everyone at Madanbashi know that the the King was out and about?

“Is that the King?”
“It must be!”
“How do you know?”
“He has got any sh!t on his clothes.”
“Right.”

Apparently the villagers had been previously instructed to run and hide, because a local noro(priestess) - Okinawa had female priests - had a dream whereby the visiting King would stand on the beach and hold up his Fu dog figurine necklace at the sea dragon to help defeat it.

The priestess sent a boy named Chiga to inform the King of the dream, which was why when everyone else ran, the King stood his ground, and held the figurine up at the sea dragon.

The shisa figurine then let out a roar that went all over the village (which I’m betting I could do given the size of a Japanese village in the - let’s say - 1100s).

The roar supposedly shook the dragon physically, but more importantly the roar was so loud that it caused a large boulder to fall from the heavens, landing and crushing the sea dragon’s tail.

Pinned, the sea dragon eventually died… the myth does not state if it died because of the wound, or from starvation… something that given the size of your standard sea dragon, would have taken months… something that would have greatly affected commerce in the area.

After the sea dragon died, it became covered in plants and surrounded by trees.

If you are ever in Okinawa, check out the Gana-mui woods near Naha Ohashi bridge.

The townspeople built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats.

And so… in the Godzilla movies, King Caesar is a guardian of Okinawa, sleeping in a mountain until he is called to action when people sing: "Shisa! Shisa! Shisa! Kill the dragon, Shisa!"

King Caesar is an ally of Godzilla fighting against Mechagodzilla.

Here are some stats I found over at www.kaiju.wikidot.com:

Height: 164 feet (50 meters);
Weight: 30,000 tons
Attributes: Bite, claws, leaper
Powers: Super durability and endurance, energy beam deflection, monster telepathy
Intelligence: Low;
Land Speed: Moderate
Kaiju Level: Three (light heavyweight);
Weakness(es): None revealed
Allies: Godzilla, humanity;
Enemies: Mechagodzilla, Black Hole Aliens

A slightly different version of King Caesar appeared in the 2004 flick Godzilla: Final Wars, with the following stats differing from the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla movie:

Height: 328 feet (100 meters);
Weight: 50,000 tons
Allies: Anguirus, Rodan, Xilian aliens;
Enemies: Godzilla, humanity

King Caesar 2004 - different scales, ears and eyes.

This time he's against Godzilla and the humans... which, considering what King Caesar is based upon is a reason to discount it all.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

3 comments:

  1. All Hail Shisa! Been working on a Jira upgrade the past 2 weeks, so your Easter posts and this one have made me laugh. Belated Happy Easter to you and yours.

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    1. You are most welcome! Belated Happy Easter to you and yours, as well. BTW... I HATE Jira. I use it at work.

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    2. I like the Jira product, but usability depends on the design and implementation. I just roll it out and keep it running ... [insert *Godzilla roar* here]

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