“Chinese Lion”
Shinshu HORIEI
信州 彫英 “唐獅子牡丹”



This back piece depicts a Chinese lion, one of the auspicious beasts that is considered the king of the hundred animals. In Japan, this divine beast is associated with Monju Bodhisattva. It differs from a real lion in that its entire body is covered with hair that spirals in a flame-like pattern. Originally, it was a divine being responsible for the protection of sanctuaries, and because of its significance, it was favored by the samurai class. It was most popularly depicted in paintings and sculptures, during the Momoyama period.


It is said that although the Chinese lion is brave, its weakness comes from the insects that grow in its fur.  Mythology suggests that these insects are life threatening and only the morning dew that drips from the peony flower is effective in killing them. As a result, the Chinese lion always sleeps under the peony at night. It is standard practice to depict Chinese lions in combination with peonies as a design to represent this myth. The masks seen beside the lions are called “Shishiguchi” mask, and are used in Noh dramas when the performance calls for a lion to appear.


The large mask seen on the front panel is called a “Hannya” mask. All the masks in this full body composition are strategically placed and represent the idea that a women enraged with anger, jealousy, and resentment, is transformed from “Namanari” to “Hannya” and then to the most sinister “Shinja” meaning a serpent.

※信州 彫英氏のインタビュー記事はこちら
※See Shinshu Horiei’s interview here

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