About the animal guardians


The Four Heavenly Kings (Shitennou) of Japanese Buddhism are associated with the Chinese guardians of the four compass directions: the black tortoise, white tiger, red bird and blue dragon. The animal guardians were probably introduced to Japan from China in the 7th century AD, and thereafter these symbols were absorbed into the stories and images of the Shittenou, the Buddhist protectors of the four directions. They ward off evil, guard the nation, and protect the world from malicious spirits.

Each of the animals (and heavenly kings) is associated with a season, color, element and virtue, among other things.


Blue Dragon
east, spring, wood, propriety. Protector of Buddhism, supports and maintains the country.


Red Bird
south, summer, fire, knowledge. Only appears in times of good fortune.


White Tiger
west, fall, wind, metal, righteousness. Guards Buddha's teachings and mankind.


Black Tortoise
north, winter, cold, water, earth, faith. Always listening and completely versed in Buddha's teachings.