Giant “Shisa” Made with Fire-Hit Okinawa Castle Tiles in Works

Courtesy of the Okinawa General Bureau
Shuri Castle before it was destroyed by fire

Naha, Okinawa Pref., May 2 (Jiji Press) — The construction of a giant “shisa” lion-shaped traditional ornament is being planned in the southernmost Japan prefecture of Okinawa, using damaged roof tiles from Shuri Castle, which was devastated by a fire in 2019.

Mitsuo Miyagi, a 47-year-old shisa artist and organizer of the project, said that the ornament is a symbol of Okinawa and that he hopes the giant shisa will remind people of the castle in Naha, Okinawa’s capital.

Eight structures in the castle, including its main hall and gate, were lost in the fire in late October 2019.

“I was shocked,” Miyagi said. “But when I thought about reconstruction, I immediately thought of using damaged roof tiles.”

In Okinawa, shisas are placed in pairs on roofs or at the entrances of buildings as guardians to ward off evils. Plaster shisas put on roofs are sometimes made with broken roof tiles.

“Shisas are something that is always with us,” Miyagi said. “I hope Shuri Castle will be like that again.”

The planned giant shisa is 10 meters tall. “Akagawara” red roof tiles that survived the Shuri Castle fire will be pasted onto the surface of its body, to be made with plaster and mortar.

The project is expected to involve citizens. Talks with the city of Tomigusuku, neighboring Naha, are underway to build the shisa there so that it can be seen from airplanes taking off and landing at Naha Airport. The initiative is set to be financed mainly through a crowdfunding scheme.

Miyagi has made shisa paintings by mixing powdered damaged roof tiles from Shuri Castle in paint.

“I hope the giant shisa made of damaged tiles will help revitalize the area,” he said.