This lacquered wooden netsuke features a pair of komainu, or lion dogs, that are coiled together, one guarding a sacred jewel between its paws. According to customary depictions of komainu, one of the pair has an open mouth and the other a closed mouth, though both appear to be snarling. There are three holes in the base, likely for a cord to pass through.
The komainu is a creature known as the lion dog in English, and may also be referred to as shishi (or jishi) in Japanese. Because of the belief that lions are able to repel evil, komainu are traditionally guardian figures, often positioned outside the gates of Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The lion dogs are usually depicted in pairs, one with its mouth open and one with its mouth shut. The opened/closed mouth relates to Ah (open mouth) and Un (closed mouth)—"Ah" is the first sound in the Japanese alphabet, while "N" (pronounced "un") is the last. These two sounds symbolize beginning and end, birth and death, alpha and omega.