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ishi means 'stone'
gan means a challenge or dare to outsiders
tou means 'hit'

Long ago, there was a Chinese man named Ishiganto. He witnessed evil approaching and took a stand to conquer it. It is believed that this victory brought him the power to alter evil and change the bad luck often associated with it. In an effort to protect themselves from future attacks of evil spirits, the Chinese wrote their names in stone near their homes and placed them at intersections to ward off any additional wicked spirits that dared to approach.

....... Named after the heroic Ishiganto, these stone defenders can be found on Okinawa today around homes on the islands. Within Chinese folklore the Ishiganto are always positioned in the corner of a forked road, or at the head of a "T" or a "Y" intersection. This stems from the belief that spirits always travel in a straight line. When a spirit finds itself at a house that is not at an intersection it tends to gravitate towards the direction of the house. At a fork in the road, the stone is meant to alter the course of evil spirits to prevent them from entering the household.

Asian culture, like many other societies, is rich in folklore and superstitions; it is not uncommon to see talismans everywhere that serve as protection from depraved spirits. Originating over five centuries ago in China, the belief of warding off evil spirits with physical objects that signify purity is common on Okinawa as well. In addition to Ishiganto there are Okinawa's more common protector on the islands, Shisa dogs. They are commonly found paired together on rooftops and gates. Another lesser-known evil repellant is Himpun. Himpun is a cement slab that stands between a gate and main building. Also while driving or walking through tiny back streets and neighborhoods, if you look to a corner house you might notice a tablet with three Kanji characters. Those carved and engraved stones are also thought to prevent evil from entering.

Understanding the historical significance of this enduring tradition on Okinawa helps newcomers appreciate the practice of using spiritual objects as a shield against evil.

Allani Alvarado