Fushimi Inari Shrine Fox Statues

April 11, 2012 by staff 

Fushimi Inari Shrine Fox Statues, Fushimi, a sake production center just south of Kyoto, hosts the most famous and important of the roughly 40,000 Inari shrines in this country. Inari is the Shinto god of rice and sake, two central and essential commodities both in the culture and history of trade and life in Japan.

As such, with the rise of industry and the diminishing importance of agriculture, the role of Inari shrines has grown to represent success and prosperity in business. Thus, while traditionally, prayers are made at Inari shrines for a good harvest, nowadays, Fushimi Inari Shrine draws thousands of business and tradespeople seeking blessings for their enterprises, especially for Hatsumoude, the first prayers of the New Year.

Established in 711 by the Hata family on Mount Inari, Kukai, a Hieian Buddhist leader, had the shrine moved to its present location further down the mountain in the 9th century to protect the To-ji Temple in Kyoto. Fushimi Inari Shrine actually has five shrines spread across the site. The grounds are also replete with about 10,000 Tori gates, each donated by worshippers or companies whose name and addresses are written on the back. Considering the profile of the shrine, it is not surprising to find that almost every well-known Japanese company has sponsored a Tori gate here.

Characterising the site are numerous statues of foxes, messengers of Inari, and guardians of the shrine. A pair of stone fox statues stand on guard at the entry to each of the site’s shrines and sub-shrines. Inari’s foxes are said to be helpful, but others are said to be dangerous and bewitch people, sometimes even in the guise of beautiful woman. Foxes are also believed to be capable of possessing humans, entering them under their fingernails. A key often seen in the mouth of a fox statue is for the rice granary.

The shrine complex also has four kilometers of paths and trails winding up through woodlands to the top of the mountainside where a good view of Kyoto can be appreciated. Walking through these trails can take between two to three hours.

Keeping in character with the shrine, kitsune udon (‘fox udon’), a noodle soup topped with pieces of aburaage (fried tofu), a favorite food of foxes, is served at small restaurants along the hiking trail as is Inari sushi, fried tofu wrapped around sweetened rice, which also gets its name from this place. A slightly different local delicacy available here is barbequed sparrow.

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