A king or a lion


What is the difference between a lion and a king? We will see that there isn’t much between the two. As Godzilla fans we know that the Godzilla’s Japanese name along with the many other Japanese kaiju (monster) names have deeper meanings and references that often go unknown to non-Japanese speakers. Gojira (ゴジラ) is the combination of kujira (くじら) for whale and gorira (ゴリラ) for gorilla. Often kaiju names are derived from the animals, insects, creatures beings and origins that inspired them. For example, the name Hedorah (ヘドラ), also known as the Smog Monster, is from hedoro (へどろ) which means slug. Kumonga (クモンガ) is derived from くも(蜘蛛) for spider. Kamacuras, the name of the giant praying mantis in Son of Godzilla (1967), is from the Japanese word kamakiri (カマキリ) for mantis. Ebirah (エビラ) is derived from ebi (エビ) for shrimp. “Mecha” (メカ) from MechaGodzilla (メカゴジラ) is short for mechanical, mini (ミニ) from Minilla/Minya (ミニラ) for miniature, and mosu (モス) from Mothra (モスラ) for moth. Kaiju names are rich and subtle in meaning. Kaiju books provide details and data about each monster such as weight, height and weapons. But they ofter little on the meaning of the name because it is obvious to native Japanese speakers.

This morning as I awoke, I was thinking about the name King Caesar. Growing up, I knew the name of this Okinawa kaiju as “Seesaw” based on the English spelling in Famous Monsters of Filmland Issue #135. The name and term “Caesar” never crossed my mind until I was older. Caesar made sense as a complement to “King.” That would make his name the combination of two titles. So together they emphasize his royal identity, authority and power as king.

Famous Monsters of Filmland #135

But looking more closely several years ago, I realized his Japanese name, “Shisa” (シーサー), is an explicit reference to his identity and appearance of the Okinawa guardian lions called “shisa.” A shisha is a cross between a long and dog. Like gargoyles, a shisa wards off evil and danger. They can be found on rooftops and in front of gates and houses as decoration. Often shisha occur in pairs. They are similar to the the guardian lions in China. They are legendary figures as this Chinese legend details:

When a Chinese emissary returned from a voyage to the court at Shuri Castle, he brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothes. At the Naha Port bay, the village of Madanbashi was often terrorized by a sea dragon who ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the king was visiting the village, and one of these attacks happened; all the people ran and hid. The local noro had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent the boy, Chiga, to tell him the message. He faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded all through the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon’s tail, so that he couldn’t move, and eventually died. This boulder and the dragon’s body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and can still be seen today as the “Gana-mui Woods” near Naha Ohashi bridge. The townspeople then built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon’s spirit and other threats.1

Shisa statue (Photo credit: ことくらべ)

To state the obvious, King Caesar is King Shisa. He looks just like a shisa and he is everything that a shisa is. In Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1974), King Caesar, the guardian kaiju of Asuma royal family, is venerated and represented by large and small shisa statues that sit atop gates and in a shrine, respectively. Like the shisa, there is a legend of King Caesar, whose appearance is anticipated in a prophecy: 「大空に黒い山が現れる時、大いなる怪獣が現れ、この世を滅ぼさんとする。しかし赤い月が沈み、西から日が昇る時、2頭の怪獣が現れ人々を救う。」 “When a black mountain appears in the sky, a great monster will appear to destroy the world. But the red moon sets, when the sun will rise in the west, two monsters will appear to save the people” (Kaneshiro Saeko). 金城冴子. Princess Nami of the Azumi royal family has a terrifying vision of this great monster. When the great Godzilla imposter MechaGodzilla appears, Nami tells her father, the high priest, who cries, 「ゴジラを倒せるものはキングシーサーだけじゃ。だがその謎は誰に解けるものか。ゴジラよ。安豆味王族を滅ぼそうとしたヤマトンチューをわしに代わってやっつけろ。ゴーゴジラよ!」”King Caesar is the only one who can defeat Godzilla! But who can solve the mystery? Godzilla. Defeat “Yamatonchu” (In Okinawan dialect, it means “mainlander”2), who tried to destroy the Azudmi royal family, on my behalf. Godzilla!” King Shisa will rise up to fight Godzilla like he did against the people from the mainland.

Scene from Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1874)

King Caesar is a royal monster. So the use of “caesar” makes sense. Caesar is derived from the general Julius Caesar (12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC), who became dictator of Rome. “Caesar” became the title used by Roman Emperors from that time forward. Variant forms are the German “kaiser” (meaning emperor) and the Russian “tsar” (“czar”). There is no mistaking that King Caesar is the official Toho English name. However, in the recent publication of volume 44 Toho SFX Movies Authentic Visual Book (東宝特撮 公式ヴィジュアル・ブック vol.44) on King Caesar, “KING CAESAR (Shisa)” is how his name appears on the inside front cover. I cannot recall the use of “Shisa” beside his name in any older book.

Toho SFX Movies Authentic Visual Book (volume 44)

His name brings together the idea and imagery of the lion and a king. Since ancient times, lions have served as representatives of kings and their power and authority. The lion was the symbol of ancient Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar II (605 to 562 BC) built the famous Lion of Babylon statue. The ancient Israelite tribe of Judah was symbolized by the lion. There was an prophecy that a future king will arise from that tribe (Genesis 49:8-10; Revelation 5:5). The lion is as one of the strongest animals and hence is a fitting symbol for a king. King Caesar is obviously a lion and therefore is representative of and symbol of the royal Azumi family as well as their protector.

But is the use of “Caesar” in the English name misleading? Yes and no. It is obvious that this name is a play on the idea of a Roman caesar. Yet, this name conceals his true identity from non-Japanese. Upon close inspection, his Japanese name reveals he is not “Caesar” but rather “Shisa.” There is a small but big and significant difference between the Japanese word for “caesar” and “shisa.” In Japanese, the change in the pronunciation of a syllable is made by the use of two small marks, the dakuten (濁点) and the handakuten (半濁点).3 The dakuten resembles a single quotation mark (eg, ゴジラ, go-ji-ra rather than ko-shi-ra). The handakuten is a small circle, similar to a degree sign, set to the top and right of a kana character (eg, ポピー, Popy, the name Japanese toy company). The Japanese spelling for King Caesar is キングシーサー. But the Japanese spelling for “caesar” is シーザー (shiza) and “shisa” is spelled シーサー (shisa). In “caesar,” ザ (za) is used rather サ (sa). The dakuten is absent in shisa. Hence King Caesar’s Japanese name emphases his guardian lion identity. In Japanese, the dakuten is the only thing separating a lion from a king. The name is pun (a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings) and a double entendre (a word or phrase open to two interpretation).

Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla (1974) trailer

As an English speaker, hearing the pronunciation of “caesar” in his name makes sense. Growing up, I was unaware of the guardian lion shisa. So I would never make that connection. In my previous blog post, The Mystery of King Caesar, I missed the absence of the dakuten. Now, that I see the difference between the two Japanese words, I will now say King “Shisa” to put emphasis his guardian lion identity rather than on a roman emperor. “King Caesar” is easy to remember and makes sense in Western contexts but “King Shisa” is his name.

1 Wikipedia: Adapted from the Legends of Okinawa by Chizue Sesoko
2 ゴジラ対メカゴジラ: 沖縄方言で「本土人」の意
3 Dakuten and handakuten
4 Check out to learn more about kana and dakuten.