Mystery Tourist Spot: Merlions in Japan?



Unique bridge fountains that you won’t find anywhere else in Japan.

In the same way everything looks like food when you’re hungry, our desire to travel the world right now leads us to draw comparisons between local attractions and those we’ve seen overseas.

So when we heard that there was merlions in Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, in southern Japan, we immediately thought it would be like taking a trip to Singapore’s famous Merlion Park. In Singapore, the merlion, a mythical creature with the body of a fish and the head of a lion, is a national icon who has been graced with an impressive 8.6-meter (28.2-foot) tall statue in the park, which projects a huge stream of water from its mouth in Marina Bay.

Picture: Wikipedia / Marcin Konsek

Not many people know of a similar spectacle that exists in Japan, as it is located quite far from the beaten track, in a sleepy town called Tagawa. Best known for its history as a former coal mining town, there is still plenty to see and do in the area today, and the station we arrived at for our Merlion adventure is home to an inn, which makes it a great place for a weekend getaway.

â–¼ JR Tagawaita Station was elegantly renovated in 2019.

Our destination was Shimbashi Bridge, which spans the Hikosan River a few minutes walk from the station. As soon as we caught sight of the scene before us when we arrived, we blinked and beamed with joy as it was something we had never seen in Japan before.

As we got closer to the bridge, we could see that what looked like merlions from a distance were in fact komainu, guardians of stones, just like those we often see at Shinto shrines. These mythical creatures are similar to merlions, given that they both have the head of a lion, but unlike the merlion, komainu has the body of a dog instead of a fish.

?? Komainu are often called “Lion dogs” in English.

We’ve seen our fair share of Lion Dogs at shrines across Japan over the years, but we’ve never seen them before. to squirt water out of their mouths. According to municipal authorities, these statues do not release water on weekdays, although. It’s only on weekends and public holidays when the Lion Dogs are raining on the river below.

â–¼ Unusual fountains look even more fantastic when lit up at night.

Known as the Hikosan River Fountain Monument, these Bridge Side Lion Dogs were first unveiled in 2016, decades after the Singapore Merlion made its debut in 1972. While there is no official relationship between the two fountains, one cannot deny the similarities, and although the city had previously appealed to the public for nicknames for the pair, it was undecided, so for now they are often called “Heels“, a merger of”Tagawa” and “merlion“.

They are like the merlions of the city of Tagawa.

The locals, who have become attached to this unusual monument, also call it the “Lions of Koma” Where “Komainu showerAnd just as the komainu who stand guard in shrines always appear in pairs, so do these two, giving locals the impression that the Lion Dogs are watching the bridge and the Hikosan River flowing below.

â–¼ It’s nicknamed a “mysterious place” because this scene baffles visitors, but the city says it installed the fountain to create a new site to attract tourists.

The Hikosan River is in fact an important site for the Fuji Hachimangu Shrine River Crossing Festival, which takes place every year on the third Saturday and Sunday in May. Famous for being one of the top five festivals in Fukuoka Prefecture, this spring festival is a lively event that draws crowds of visitors, who come to admire the colorful mikoshi (portable shrines) that are washed down the river to lift their spirits. from the city. .

Although the festival is well known, the guard dogs that spring from the water are not. The festivities might be in the spotlight right now, but hopefully soon the Lion Dog Bridge fountain will finally have its day in the sun.

Close-up shot (in a no-go area) courtesy of Tagawa City

Who knows – with a little more publicity, and maybe a few mentions in travel guides, this pair of fountains may soon become a must-see as famous as the Singapore Merlion. For now, however, it remains a mysterious off-the-beaten-path place that makes a nice detour to another unusual site in Fukuoka – the giant Buddhist pagoda and Kannon.

Site Information
Hikosan River Fountain Monument / 彦 山川 の 噴水 モ ニ ュ メ ン ト
Address: Fukuoka-ken, Tagawa-shi, Ita 3501-3

Photos © SoraNews24
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