From sprites to guardians, Okinawa has mythical creatures that it cherishes and respect. The two most popular mythical creatures known to Okinawa are the Kijimuna and the Shiisaa, both with their own unique stories and features. From protecting homes to childish antics, these lovable creatures make Okinawa a one-of-a-kind.
So, let’s start with the Kijimuna.
What is the Kijimuna? Also known as bungaya, the Kijimuna are small wood sprites that appear to have child-like bodies and personalities with flaming red hair… And black testicles. (Seriously, Okinawa?) They live in the trees and are known to be pranksters.
However, Kijimuna can be friendly as well– they are known to befriend humans and even help them… But there are some folk stories that contradict this, describing the Kijimuna attacking humans, but it is believed that they are mostly amicable. Below are some folk stories depicting the Kijimuna that I got from Chicago Okinawa’s site, and I’m putting it here because the background makes it extremely hard to read it on their site. However, you should check them out?:
KIJIMUNA AND THE POOR BOY
Once upon a time, there were two boys in Shimbura. One was of a rich family and the other was of a poor family. They were good friends. But the poor boy envied the rich boy and sometimes had humiliating experiences. The poor boy became annoyed by his friend visiting, so he ran away and hid in the mountains. Then one day in midsummer, when the boy was sleeping under a tree in the mountains, someone woke him up. He knew at a glance it was a Kijimuna. His parents had often talked to him about Kijimuna but still he could not believe his own eyes. He never dreamed he would ever see a Kijimuna. Then just to be sure he pinched himself on the arm. It was true it really was a Kijimuna. The boy was not afraid, as he knew Kijimuna did not normally bully humans.
The boy greeted Kijimuna by saying,’Haisai’. Kijimuna also said ‘Haisai’ and asked. “Why are you here?” The boy replied, “Because we are very poor and there is nothing to eat. And what’s more, a boy of a very rich family lives next door. He and I used to be very good friends. But I won’t play with him any more, because our circumstances are different. So I came here.” answered the boy. “I see.” said Kijimuna. “Won’t you be my friend then? I’ll make you very rich.” “Really? thank you! thank you very much!” The boy then jumped with joy. “But you must be my friend forever if we are to become friends. If you dissapoint me, you’ll be poor again, do you understand?” “Oh yes, of course, I won’t ever dissapoint you.” the boy said. With that the Kijimuna said “Well then, I’ll see you tomorrow evening.” Then he left.
The next evening Kijimuna came to meet the boy as promised. They greeted each other, and grabbed their fishing tackle to go to Usukumi beach. When they reached the beach, Kijimuna said to the boy, “You wait here, I’ll catch some fish for you.” Kijimuna caught lots of fish. He took the out the eyes of the fish, and gave what was left to his new friend. Kijimuna said, “Here you go all these fish are yours. You’d better go and sell them if you want to be rich. then with a swift Good-bye. Kijimuna was gone.
As the boy had lots of fish, he decided to go around to every house and sell them. He walked aroundand called out “Yu-kon-sori.”
The next day Kijimuna came back to meet the boy and once again they went fishing. The boy wound up with lots of fish again and once again sold them to the people of the village. The boy was able to save a lot of money and he soon became richer than the rich boy who lived next door.
Then one day the boy said to himself, “I won’t go with Kijimuna tonight. I already have a lot of money and I’m tired of going to the sea so much. Kijimuna surely will be okay by himself.” He decided to visited his old friend the boy next door. That evening Kijimuna came to meet the boy as usual but the boy was not there. Kijimuna called and called for the boy. But the boy didn’t appear Kijimuna knew what happened because he had been deceived many times by humans. Kijimuna said, “I know the boy has broken his promise.”
The boy was having great fun and played with his next door neighbor for a very long time. Then afterwards he thought to himself “I had a great time even though I’ve done Kijimuna wrong.” Everything will be okay Though.” But when the boy awoke, all of his money was gone as well as everything he had bought with the money. And the boy never saw Kijimuna again.
KIJIMUNA AND CHILDREN’S BLOTCHY FACES
In old times, when children in Okinawa had blotchy faces, their grandmothers would tell them “Oh! Kijimuna gave them to you.” On that evening, the grandmother would prepare delicious food and make a pair of straw slippers. They would put the food and slippers on the gate of the house and pray “Please cure our children.” Then they wash the slippers and rub the children’s blotchy faces with them and the children were cured. —– Story by Haru Shimabukuro
KIJIMUNA AND THE BOAT OF KYODA
Once upon a time, a Kijumuna made his house in the leaves of a giant Adan tree. Every night at the same time he would visit his friend the fisherman in Kyoda, and they would go fishing. When they caught fish the Kijimuna liked to eat the eyes. Of course, He would then give the rest of the fish to his friend. But one day the fisherman became bored and didn’t want to fish with Kijimuna any more. The fisherman decided he would go to the beach and burn the tree of Adan where Kijimuna lived. When the Kijimuna relized that his friend had burned his home he ran away to the Onna mountains. Ever since then when the Kijimuna see a boat from Kyoda they turn it over in the sea. ——By Kana Kishimoto
KIJIMUNA AND A DAUGHTER’S SPIRIT
Okinawan people say that Kijimuna don’t like octopus and that when Kijimuna catches a fish, he will only eat the eyes before giving the rest of the fish to his friend. One day, Kijimuna said to his friend. “Let’s go fishing.” and they went to the sea and caught many fish. On the way home, the man was tired so they stopped to rest in front of a rich man’s house. The Kijimuna said, “You rest and I will visit this rich man” and he went inside. When he came out the man asked “What did you do in there?” Kijimuna replied, “The rich man’s daughter is very sick. So sick she is going to die in fact. I took her spirit and put it in this bag so she will die the day after tomorrow.”
When they walked away though the Kijimuna forgot to take the bag with him. The next day his friend found it and took it back to the house of the rich man. He said to the rich man, “I can make our daughter well again.” The rich man said, “If you can make her well, I will let you marry her. If she gets well, I won’t be able to thank you enough.” He replied, “OK then, I will try my best.” He gave the spirit back to the rich man’s daughter. The next day, she became very well. They got married and lived happily ever after.—–By Chozen Miyagi
Aside from all these stories, Kijimuna are also known to be adept fishermen but also very aloof to their surroundings. If you ever see a fish with only one eye or a missing fin, you can be sure that it was a Kijimuna’s doing.
What are Shiisaas? Also spelled shisa, these mythical creatures are lion dogs that the Okinawan definitely cherish and love. Known for keeping evil out and letting good in, the pair of lion dogs are faithfully standing by the human’s side to make sure the humans are safe and sound.
Shiisaas are known to be carnivorous, and dwell inside temples, shrines, castles, but mostly found on top of rooftops. With a small stature and a more dog-like appearance than its Japanese counterparts, the Shiisaa are known to be more guardians of a village or a house than shrine protectors (unlike their Japanese cousins), though they are depicted guarding shrines, with a female and a male guarding the entrance. They also do not guard only important figures, but any pedestrian or anyone who calls upon them for help.
The creation of the Shiisaa is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, but Wikipedia states that the mystical lion dog was introduced to the Ryukyu islands from a Chinese emissary, who presented an amulet with the Shiisaa’s face to the King. With interest piqued, the King wore the amulet and later traveled to a village that was known to be attacked by a sea-monster. The local noro (priestess) had a dream that instructed the King to face the terrible monster and use the power of the amulet. Doing so, the King lifted the Shiisaa high into the air for all to see, including the monster, and from the amulet came a mighty roar that shook the ground. Suddenly, a huge boulder appeared from the heavens and came crashing down onto the monster’s tail. Unable to move, the monster eventually died, and the Shiisaa was then regarded as a guardian of the people.
Although Shiisaa are known to be in pairs, they also appear as solitary protectors. When in pairs, it is commonly believed that the closed mouth Shiisaa is the male, banishing the evil spirits, while the open-mouthed Shiisaa is the female, bringing in good spirits and energy. Usually placed in front of entrances or on top of rooftops, the pair makes for a intriguing and spiritual decoration.
Because these lion dogs are so beloved, Okinawans celebrate them by dressing up as these mythical creatures and performing dances to the sounds of traditional music. In shaggy yellow or brown fur, two people navigate and control the Shiisaa, clacking the teeth together and dancing. The most celebrated time for the Shiisaa is during the Lion Dance (Shisa-mai) festival.