Kevin Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

The multicultural identity of a community is often reflected in its publicly visible art and architecture, and few objects are more distinctively East Asian than the guardian lions positioned at the entrance to buildings or passages. These imposing beasts usually come in pairs — one on the left and one on the right — and are rich in symbolism and cultural significance. You may have passed by them without giving much thought to the details of their physical structure. But these details contain important “messages” about what these lions represent, beyond their more obvious roles as statues and adornments.

In their 2015 book, “Creatures Real and Imaginary in Chinese and Japanese Art,” authors Walther G. von Krenner and Ken Jeremiah discuss the symbolism of these lions, commonly referred to in China as shi-tse. Calling the lion a “universal symbol of bravery and strength,” the authors trace the stylized Chinese lion (also called fo-dog or foo-lion) symbolism to Buddhist folklore.

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