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A White Fox Leading the Way to Happiness

Satisfying Japan

Japan In-depth

A White Fox Leading the Way to HappinessFushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto is the headquarters of some 60,000 shrines all over Japan

Fushimi Inari Taisha is located in the southern part of Kyoto. In ancient times, it was linked with the Hata family, who are said to have brought the technique of silk production to Japan from the Korean peninsula. It is the head shrine of the over 60,000 Inari shrines around the country. When you consider the fact that there are about 40,000 gas stands in Japan, you realize just how common these shrines really are. Inari was originally a god of rice and agriculture, but over time gradually evolved to become revered as the god of industry as well, which probably played a large part in the spread of this popular cult all over the country. Japan is called the land of eight million gods, but in this pantheistic proliferation Inari is one of the most famous.

One thing not to miss at Fushimi Inari Taisha is the famous thousand torii gates. A torii is the gateway to a sacred ground, and all these gates have been presented as offerings to the shrine by fervent believers over the ages. As you pass through the endless tunnels of vermilion torii on the way uphill to the main shrine, the light of the sun, the red gates and the marvelous gradations of the surrounding verdure create an experience that you will never forget.

When the Japanese hear the word “Inari,” the first thing that comes to their mind is foxes. A white fox is the messenger of Inari. Whereas the entrance to ordinary shrines is flanked by a pair of komainu dogs, at an Inari shrine you’ll find a pair of foxes instead. Foxes have been familiar animals in Japan since the remote past. The reason is the staple food of the Japanese: rice. When rice plants grow, they are easily devoured and destroyed by rats. Foxes are natural enemies of rats and were of such great help to the farmers of old that they were elevated to the status of divine messengers.

Mischievous foxes are also beloved in folklore and pop up in many tales, where they frequently transform themselves into humans, usually beautiful women. For example, the traditional joruri recitative “The Fox of Shinoda” tells the story of a fox who takes the form of a beautiful woman, marries a man and gives birth to the famous diviner Abe no Seimei (an actual historical figure). Foxes have a profound relationship with everyday life in Japan as well. Rain falling from a clear sky is called kitsune no yomeiri – fox wedding – in Japanese, and a popular comfort food made with deep fried tofu is known as o-inari-san, because foxes like it too! Why not try the fox favorite inari-zushi at one of the shops in front of the shrine gate? Anyway, the red torii gates and the white foxes at Fushimi Inari Taisha are sure to leave a lasting impression.



JR Nara Line: 5 minutes from Kyoto Station to Inari Station.
Keihan Railway Line: 10 minutes from Sanjo Keihan Station to Fushimi-Inari Station.