Foo Dog (Chinese Guardian Lion) Tattoos
FOO DOG TATTOO - The Foo Dog of Asia has also been called the “Lion of Buddha” and
that name is actually much more accurate, since it is a lion and not a dog at all. Known also as Fu Dogs, Fo Dogs,
and karashishi (in Japan), they are used extensively in Asian art, sculpture, and, of course, tattoos. But the Lion
of Buddha may not be Buddhist in origin. The local Shinto religion of Japan, which predates Buddhism, also has a
lion protector, with a red head, who drives away evil spirits and brings health and wealth.
No matter the origin though, be it Chinese or Japanese, Buddhist or Shinto, the definitive
Foo Dog is fundamentally protective, strong, and courageous. It is even said that when they are cubs, their mothers
will throw them from cliffs, so that only the strongest survive. Many times, Foo Dogs occur in pairs, placed at
gated entrances, for example, seated and yet always ready. The Foo Dog to the right is typically thought of as
male, with the mouth open a bit, one front paw resting on a sphere, which is often carved as open latticework and
represents both heaven and the totality of Buddhist law.
On the left is the female, mouth closed, paw resting on a small cub, typically shown
upside down on its back, which represents the earth. Often in tattoo imagery, the Foo Dog crawls menacingly, up or
down an arm or leg. With their pointed ears and their curly but subdued manes of hair, there is certainly a
resemblance to dogs. More than likely, it is that resemblance which has caused the widespread confusion about these
animals, also known as Chinese Lions and even Lion Dogs.
But the resemblance is accidental and due to the fact that virtually all knowledge of
actual lions was second hand to the Asian artists who initially created them. Their knowledge was second hand
because, although dogs abound the world over, lions have never been native to the orient.
Chinese guardian lions, known also as Imperial guardian lion or stone lions (石獅, Pinyin:
Shíshī) in Chinese art and often (incorrectly) called "Foo Dogs" in the West, are a common representation of the
lion in pre-modern China. They are believed to have powerful mythic protective powers that has traditionally stood
in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government
officials and the wealthy from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). foo dog foo dog foo
Pairs of guardian lions are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances
to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China
and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and settled, especially in local
The lions are always created in pairs, with the male playing with a ball and the female
with a cub. They occur in many types of Chinese pottery and in Western imitations.