Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
The Mount Inari (229m), covered with the tunnels of more than 10 000 red torii gates, is in Fushimi area, the south-east part of Kyoto. With its history of more than 1300 years long, the Fushimi Inari-taisha is situated there and the elaborated paths of this “Fox Shrine” thread through the whole mountain, offering more than 4km long hike. There are so many places, hidden corners, statues of foxes, sacred stones etc., that you can spend the whole day there and will never find them all anyway.
Inari (Inara) - God (Goddess) of Rice and Prosperity
The ancient Japanese god called Inari or Inara (the female version of Inari) is the patron of rice and prosperity. He often appears in the shape of a fox and foxes are also considered to be his messengers. He helps people at difficult times and protects lovers too. His patronage now embraces all tradespeople.
God Inari is regularly visiting the rice fields bellow to bless them with fertility. He also checks on people, punishing those neglecting their duties as well as those who do not live a decent life in friendly coexistence with others, guiding them to a better nature.
One story goes like this:
There used to be a very wealthy and tight-fisted man who treated everyone in the village in the most hideous manner. Once, when he was as always tormenting his servants, they all prayed to god Inari He heard their piteous voices decided to take the necessary steps to punish this awfully mean man. On the next day, the wealthy man collapsed with fever and slept through many days. When he woke up, the priest was sitting next to him, telling him that he had been coming to his bed every day, draining his blood to make him suffer. He also said that the only way to get better is giving half of his money to the poor. The deranged wealthy man tried to stab the priest but he disappeared. Only some kind of claw stayed on the bed next to him and a huge spider was crawling on the wall. The spider revealed his true identity saying that he was the god Inari who came here to teach him a lesson how to treat people properly. The wealthy man finally realized his wrongdoing and devoted his life to the path of righteousness.
God Inari was always replenishing the land with rice, the sea with fish and mountains with game all streaming from his mouth. Unfortunately once another god being entertained by Inari´s actions felt offended and killed him. His dead body gave birth to numerous plants, cattle and silkworms that flooded in an endless stream from it.
Except the shape of fox, the god Inari is also usually depicted as an old man or woman with a long hair, riding on a fox and carrying a bag of rice. The female version Inara is being celebrated during the every year´s spring festival, the beginning of rice cultivation.
The importance of god Inari and his connection with rice, the most sacred Japanese food, is clearly expressed by the number of shrines designated to this god all around the country.
Foxes (Kitsune, 狐)
The foxes or kitsune in Japanese play an important role in many Japanese legends. They are able to take a shape of humans and when they do so they usually appear as a very beautiful woman, so beautiful that no man can resist them. The men are lead to the sinful life by them, ending up harmed and desperate.
In Japanese folktales and legends the foxes are in general evil spirits. They can enter a person’s body through the fingernails or breast. This evil part is almost hundred percent true in case of almost all foxes except of those connected to god Inari. The shaggy tales of foxes at Inati shrines are supposed to stand for fertile rice harvest. There are basically two types of them. One type is holding something rounded in its mouth, representing supposedly the spirit of the deity. The second type is having in its mouth some elongated stuff, supposedly representing the key to rice granaries.
Torii Gates (鳥居)
An inseparable symbol of shrines is the torii gate, standing at the entrance of every Shinto shrine (神道神社). They can be found not only at the entrances of shrines but also at all places, where the deity is present and places associated with the mystical powers of nature. It includes even mountains, lakes as well as trees and stones, believed to be home to kami. This sacred gates mark the place that separates the human world from the spiritual one. The Japanese word “torii” can be translated as “the place where the birds dwell”. The shape of the gate also resembles of the bird wings. The birds can be also perceived as messengers of gods and the gates lead worshippers to the Shinto deity called kami in Japanese. The way of approach is called sando, winding path through the grounds.
The gates originally consisted of two pillars, made of wood, accompanied by two crossbeams. Under the many influences the style and even material changed (metal, concrete). The wooden pillars started to be made smooth and painted red as it is in case of Fushimi Inari-taisha, where you can find many variations of toriis. The majority of all toriis are gifts and the names of the donors are written on them. They are supposed to protect the donor and to bring him prosperity.
Fushimi Area (伏見区)
Apart from Fushimi Inari-taisha, there is much more to see in Fushimi area. The area is well-known for its high quality sake. The purity of local water sources was a cornerstone to its fame for production of high-grade rice and Japanese rice wine called sake. One of the famous water springs can be found in another Shrine nearby called Goko-no-miya Shrine (御香宮神社). The sake brewery and its museum that offers a tour would be another recommendation. The tasting of Japanese sake is included and you can have a very relaxing time. There is also Terada-ya Inn (寺田屋) where the young revolutionists, including the hero Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬), planned their revolt against the Meiji government. The walk around Fushimi Canal and paying visit to some other places around could offer you a very satisfying completion of your trip to this part of Kyoto.