What Is a “Komainu”? 5 Unique Stone Statues Safeguarding Shinto Shrines
“Komainu” are stone statues in the shape of a dog-like creatures that often found in front of Shinto shrines. There are actually many “koma“ statues of creatures resembling a variety of different animals. This article highlights unusual “koma“ statues that can be found at Shinto shrines around Japan.
What Are "Koma"?
There is actually no definitive understanding today of what “koma” are. One theory postulates that the word represents “divine beasts” or “unknown beasts,” and although the origin is unclear, it is surely something fantastic. In addition, because the “koma” in the name of many “komainu” that stand at numerous shrines are written with the kanji characters also used to refer to the Korean Goryeo dynasty, some believe that komainu were introduced to Japan via the Korean Peninsula.
Although the komainu in front of Shinto shrines appear to be in pairs, only the statue on the left facing the shrine is technically a komainu, and the statue on the right is a “shishi” lion. It is said that together they protect the main shrine from evil.
So what other “koma” animals are there in addition to komainu?
1. Suehiro Okami (Komagaeru/Koma Frog)
Suehiro Okami is a shrine on the grounds of Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine that is famous for its 1,000 torii gates. It is said to have the power to bring in luck and help with the success of businesses as well as prosperity in the household.
There are "komagaeru" (koma frogs) all around Suehiro Okami. In Japan, frogs are considered to be creatures that bring luck. In Japanese, the word for frog, “kaeru,” has the same pronunciation as the word that means “to return,” so frogs are thought to bring about many forms of fortune, such as “returning home safely” and “bringing back luck”.
All around the shrine grounds are adorable komagaeru that are just waiting to be captured in photographs, such as in front of the offertory box (a box in which worshipers place money as a token of appreciation for their wishes coming true) and at the water source in the “temizuya” (place for ritual cleansing of hands and mouth).
When I went to Suehiro Okami, I thought it had the feel of an unknown hidden gem, as it is on the vast grounds of Fushimi Inari Taisha and many just easily pass it by. Be sure to check it out when you visit Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Access: 10-minute walk from JR Inari Station
2. Kameari Katori Jinja (Komagame/Koma Turtle)
Kameari Katori Jinja is a Shinto shrine located in Kameari, Katsushika Ward, Tokyo. There are many Katori Shrines, especially in the Kanto Region, and most of them are branches of Katori Jingu, the head shrine in Chiba Prefecture. Kameari Katori Jinja is one such shrine, and it has a history dating back more than 740 years. Today, it is believed to be a shrine that is particularly beneficial for improving fortune, warding off evil, and for healthy legs and loins. It is a shrine beloved by many locals, as well as by fans of the popular manga series, Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen Mae Hashutsujo, in which it is featured.
The name Kameari literally means “a place where there are turtles,” and due to this, Kameari Katori Jinja is decorated with "komagame" (koma frogs), which are very rare. The shrine also sells cute amulets that feature frogs.
Access: 3-minute walk from the South Exit of JR Kameari Station
3. Hie Jinja (Komazaru/Koma Monkey)
Hie Jinja, a Shinto shrine in a Tokyo business district, is said to help with success in business and attracts many business people. It is a shrine that I regularly visit at the beginning of the year to pay my respects and pray for success in my work that year.
The main shrine of Hie Jinja has a husband-and-wife set of "komazaru" (koma monkeys). In Japan, monkeys have long been revered as beings that connect Shinto deities and people. In addition, because the kanji character for monkey can be read as “en,” which is the same pronunciation for the word that means “the mysterious force that binds two people together,” the shrine is said to be good for human connections and attracts worshipers looking for good romantic matches. When visiting, be sure to note the monkeys featured on the ema (small wooden plaques on which worshipers write their prayers or wishes) and amulets.
Access: 3-minute walk from Akasaka Station
4. Tsuki Jinja (Koma-usagi/Koma Rabbit)
Tsuki Jinja is a Shinto shrine in Saitama Prefecture. The name of the shrine has the same pronunciation as a word in the phrase, “Tsuki wo Yobu,” which means to bring good luck, and as such, it is said to be beneficial for financial fortune and luck with winning. Players on the local soccer team, the Urawa Red Diamonds, even come here before games to pray for a successful win.
Because “tsuki” can also mean “moon” (same pronunciation, different kanji), and rabbits are thought to be messengers of the moon, there are adorable “koma-usagi” (koma rabbits) all over the shrine grounds, such as by the entrance, temizuya, and pond. Rabbits are also featured on the notebook used for collecting seal stamps, making it popular among collectors of seal stamp notebooks.
I visited the shrine to pray for success before taking my school entrance exams and remember it being a relaxing, verdant place to worship.
Access: 10-minute walk from the West Exit of JR Urawa Station
5. Fushimi Inari Taisha (Komagitsune/Koma Fox)
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a popular tourist destination in Kyoto. It is the head shrine of the approximately 30,000 Inari shrines across Japan and is famous for the stunning sight consisting of its 1,000 torii gates. It has a history that goes back more than 1,300 years and has long been considered to be a shrine beneficial for successful business and bountiful harvests.
Fushimi Inari Taisha has many “komagitsune” (koma fox) around its grounds. Foxes are believed to be messengers of Inari Okami, the deity to which the shrine is dedicated. Because the shrine is believed to help with abundant harvests, some of the komagitsune are holding ears of rice in their mouths.
Access: Right by JR Inari Station/5-minute walk from Fushimi Inari Station on the Keihan Main Line
Where there any shrines you’d like to go to? Be sure to check out the koma animals in front of the shrines when visiting.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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