Two years ago I came across the truly unique Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka which is basically a shrine with a huge lion-dog head containing a stage inside it’s mouth. The creatures eyes light up and there’s a speaker in its nose too! That mythical beast is in the west of Japan but there is another gigantic one to be seen over in the eastern part of the country.
Nearly 600 kilometres east in Ibaraki prefecture is a lovely, vast park that bizarrely features a huge Japanese lion-dog head on its lawn. What’s more, it looks over a children’s recreational area! Maybe that’s to intimidate the kids and scare them in to behaving better!
Such creatures were introduced to Japan from China via Korea in the 7th or 8th century AD which was around about the same time as Buddhism in Japan was starting to be practiced. Known as shishi, the common theory is that these animals combine elements of the Korean Koma-inu dog and the Chinese Kara-shishi lion.
Back in December last year, I was up in Ibaraki prefecture and, with some time to spare, I took a trip on a sunny afternoon to Hitachi Fudoki no Oka (oka translates as hill in English) to explore and enjoy the pleasant and tranquil surroundings of this park whilst taking a break from Tokyo city.
Other than the hordes of kids present on a school trip, I basically had the place to myself and could enjoy the various plants and flowers (lilies, hydrangeas and lotus’) within it’s grounds but I was only really there to see the 10 metre-tall concrete shishi statue which is Japan’s largest lion-dog.
The whole place, located just 16 kilometres east of Mount Tsukuba, is actually an open-air museum with the shishi just being part of it. The lion-dog is all part of the annual Ishioka Festival, held in September each year, which includes lion dances full of vim and vigour.
Across from the red lion-dog are a number of thatched-roofed dwellings which have been reconstructed to recreate many periods of Japanese history including the Jomon, Kamkura and Heian eras among others. It was very similar to Nihon Minka-en Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum or Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Kanagawa and Tokyo respectively. The adjacent museum building displays various ceramics, tools, roof tiles, weapons and goggle-eyed dogu figurines excavated at the site.
Ishioka Station is the “nearest” station and I include the quotation marks as it is still over an hour walk from there to the park. Of course taking a bus is an option but it still requires a fair bit of walking (22 minutes!) and they don’t come so often. Subsequently, I just decided to walk the whole way but I’m always more than happy to do such a thing.
- Hitachi Fudoki no Oka is located at 1646 Someya, Ishioka-shi, Ibaraki-ken.
Click here to read ‘A Day In Osaka’
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki’
Click here to read ‘Back To The Hitachi Stadium After An Absence Of 11 Years!’