Fierce Protectors of Temples - Nio Statues 仁王
Strong Benevolent Kings protect the temple gates in Japan
When I come to a temple in Japan, I always stop to take a look at the Nio statues standing guard at the gates. Nio 仁王 means Benevolent Kings.
These are fierce-looking protectors, looking like demons or warrior-gods. Sometimes they are life-size and sometimes they are impossibly tall and strong. They might look angry and furious, but they are good. The angry look is to keep bad things out, not to frighten you.
Temple gates always have a pair of Nio, one standing at each side, often inside the gate. These are really awesome creatures, unique with different poses and expressions. In each pair of protectors one usually has the mouth open and one the mouth closed.
Try an image search for Nio 仁王 or Nio-gate 仁王門 and see who is guarding the temples you visit. These pictures are from Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. When I pass the gate, I like to think that the protectors give me some of their strength.
Read "Nio Protectors of Japan" for more detailed information and examples