Hirakubo-saki Lighthouse stands at the northern tip of Ishigaki Island, with the East China Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. It also overlooks the uninhabited Daichibanari Island, a breeding ground for seabirds.
Okinawa – Been There

Finding my happy place in Okinawa

Photo by Yusuke Okada

Okinawa – Been There Finding my happy place in Okinawa

Driving across the island of Ishigaki, one of Okinawa's Yaeyama Islands, I spot strange, colorful creatures by the road and stop in at the studio of local artist Hisashi Katsuren. Some of the statues are Kijimuna, a good spirit that local people believed lived in trees on the island.

Graeme Green
Graeme Green Travel Writer

The larger creatures that look like grinning dogs or lions are Katsuren’s modern take on traditional Shisa. “I love the traditional Shisa because they’re very strong and graceful,” he says. “But I’m a bad artist. I couldn’t do them well. So, I started thinking. I wasn’t satisfied with my traditional Shisa, so one day I made them freely with my imagination and I liked it. This was my art. I didn’t mean to make them so happy. It just happened.”

Shisa, Katsuren explains, are placed next to entrances, usually in pairs. “Traditional Shisa are there to protect house and drive bad spirits of bad fortune away. The one with the open mouth is the male and the one with the closed mouth closed is female. The open mouth is to bring in good fortune or happiness from outside. The closed mouth is keeping the good spirits in.”

They appear to be doing their job well here; 69-year-old Katsuren seems content, the opposite of the suffering artist. “The meaning for my search is to make people happy and to make them smile.”

graeme_green_-_ishigaki_9_0

Ishigaki artist Hisashi Katsuren – now into his 70s – stands next to one of his creations based on the island’s spirits known as Kijimuna. These creatures from mythology are said to live in trees and are notorious for playing pranks. Photo by Graeme Green

Graeme Green

Graeme Green

Canon EOS 650D

Aperture
ƒ/56/10
Exposure
1/200
ISO
200
Focal
27/1 mm

Ishigaki artist Hisashi Katsuren – now into his 70s – stands next to one of his creations based on the island’s spirits known as Kijimuna. These creatures from mythology are said to live in trees and are notorious for playing pranks.

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