Lion and Lion-dog; Lion-dog

Unknown12th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

Images like these of the lion and lion-dog are often simply called protective shrine dogs (komainu), but they are actually distinguished by the fact that the animal bearing a horn on the head is the lion-dog (komainu), while the one without a horn is a lion (shishi). They are typically arranged (if facing the images) with the lion on the right with the mouth open, and the lion-dog on the left with the mouth closed, as if speaking the Sanskrit syllables A and Un respectively. There are Chinese and Korean precedents for the protective animal with a horn on its head, but the pairing with the lion is a distinctively Japanese phenomenon that likely began in the ninth century during the early Heian period.
During the Kamakura period, Kei school Buddhist sculptors such as Unkei (?–1223) and Kaikei departed from the calm, delicate styles of the late Heian period and created naturalistic images based upon the older styles of Tenpyō sculptures. The lion and lion-dog also show this trend, and revive the strong forms of Nara sculptures.
These sculptures were formerly housed in Bujōji Temple in Hanase, Kyoto. There are remnants of late Heian period sculptural elements seen, for example, in the gently flowing mane, but the pose with reared head and the sharp expression already show the signs of life and naturalism characteristic of Kamakura-period images. These characteristics indicate a twelfth-century production date,
sometime during the transition between the Heian and Kamakura periods.


  • Title: Lion and Lion-dog; Lion-dog
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: 12th Century
  • Type: wood with pigment

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