Inari (mythology)

Inari (mythology)

.Smyers 15] The worship of Inari is known to have existed as of 711 A.D., the official founding date of the shrine at Inari Mountain in Fushimi, Kyoto. Scholars such as Kazuo Higo believe worship was conducted for centuries before that date; they suggest that the Hata clan began the formal worship of Inari as an agriculture "kami" in the late fifth century.Higo, Kazuo. "Inari Shinkō no Hajime." "Inari Shinkō" (ed. Hiroji Naoe). Tokyo: Yūzankaku Shuppan, 1983.] The name Inari does not appear in classical Japanese mythology. [Smyers 16]

By the Heian period, Inari worship began to spread. In 823 A.D., after Emperor Saga presented the Tō-ji temple to Kūkai, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, the latter designated Inari as its resident protector "kami". In 827, the court granted Inari the lower fifth rank, which further increased the deity's popularity in the capital. Inari's rank was subsequently increased, and by 942, Emperor Suzaku granted Inari the top rank in thanks for overcoming rebellions. At this time, the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine was among the twenty-two shrines chosen by the court to receive imperial patronage, a high honor. [Smyers 17-18] The second Inari shrine, Takekoma Inari, was established in the late ninth century.

Inari's popularity continued to grow. The Fushimi shrine, already a popular pilgrimage site, gained wide renown when it became an imperial pilgrimage site in 1072. By 1338, the shrine's festival was said to rival the Gion Festival in splendor.Smyers 18]

In 1468, during the Ōnin War, the entire Fushimi shrine complex was burned. Rebuilding took about thirty years; the new building was consecrated in 1499. While the old complex had enshrined three "kami" in separate buildings, the new one enshrined five "kami" in a single building. The new shrine also included a Buddhist temple building for the first time, and the hereditary priesthood was expanded to include the Kada clan. [Smyers 18-19]

During the Edo period, Inari worship spread across Japan; it became especially prominent in Edo.Smyers 20] Smyers attributes this spread to the movement of "daimyo" ("feudal lords"). Inari had by the sixteenth century become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors — for this reason, many castle compounds in Japan contain Inari shrines — and the "daimyo" took their belief in their protector "kami" with them when they relocated to a new domain. Inari's divine role continued to expand; on the coast, he became a protector of fishermen; in Edo, he was invoked to prevent fires. He became the patron of actors and of prostitutes, since his shrines were often found near the pleasure quarters where these individuals lived. He began to be worshipped as the "Desire-Fulfilling Inari", a deity of luck and prosperity; a common saying in Osaka was "Byō Kōbō, yoku Inari" ("For sickness [pray to] Kōbō, for desires [pray to] Inari"). [Smyers 21-22] [Ono, Yasuhiro, ed. "Nihon Shūkyō Jiten". Tokyo: Kobundo, 1985. 79] Ironically, Inari also began to be petitioned for good health; he is credited with curing such diverse afflictions as coughs, toothaches, broken bones, and syphilis. [Smyers 94, 137-138, 160] Women prayed to Inari to grant them children.

After a government decree mandated the separation of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, many Inari shrines underwent changes. At Fushimi Inari, for instance, structures that were obviously Buddhist were torn down. Among the populace, however, the blended form of worship continued. [Smyers 22] Some Buddhist temples maintained Inari worship by arguing that they had always been devoted to a Buddhist deity (often Dakiniten), which had been perceived by the common folk to be Inari. [Smyers 25]

In the Tokugawa period, when money replaced rice as the measure of wealth in Japan, Inari's role as a "kami" of worldly prosperity was expanded to include all aspects of finance, business, and industry. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, followers of Inari at the Ginza mint struck coins meant for offerings to Inari, which featured pictures of two foxes and a jewel or the characters for "long life" and "good luck". [Smyers 133]

hrines and offerings

Inari is a popular deity with shrines and temples located throughout most of Japan. According to a 1985 survey by the National Association of Shinto Shrines, 32,000 shrines — more than one-third of Shinto shrines in Japan — are dedicated to Inari. [Okada, Shōji. "Reii-jin to Sūkei-kō." "Nihon Shūkyō Jiten" (1985). 73-80.] This number includes only Shinto shrines with full-time resident priests; if small roadside or field shrines, shrines kept in a home or corporate office, smaller shrines without full-time resident priests, and Buddhist temples were included, the number would increase by at least an order of magnitude. [Gorai, Shigeru. "Inari Shinkō no Kenkyū." Okayama: Sanyō Shimbunsha, 1985. 3]

The entrance to an Inari shrine is usually marked by one or more vermilion torii and some statues of "kitsune", which are often adorned with red "yodarekake" ("votive bibs") by worshippers out of respect. This red color has come to be identified with Inari, because of the prevalence of its use among Inari shrines and their torii. [Smyers 60, 177] The main shrine is the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Fushimi, Kyoto, Japan, where the paths up the shrine hill are marked in this fashion. The "kitsune" statues are at times taken for a form of Inari, and they typically come in pairs, representing a male and a female.Smyers 93] These fox statues hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath a front paw — most often a jewel and a key, but a sheaf of rice, a scroll, or a fox cub are all common. Almost all Inari shrines, no matter how small, will feature at least a pair of these statues, usually flanking or on the altar or in front of the main sanctuary. The statues are rarely realistic; they are typically stylized, portraying a seated animal with its tail in the air looking forward. Despite these common characteristics, the statues are highly individual in nature; no two are quite the same. [Smyers 93, 164] [Hearn, Lafcadio. "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan". [ Project Gutenberg e-text edition] , 2005. 152-153. Retrieved on February 19, 2007.]

Offerings of rice, sake, and other food are given at the shrine to appease and please these "kitsune" messengers, who are then expected to plead with Inari on the worshipper's behalf.. [Hearn 154] Inari-zushi, a Japanese sushi roll of packaged fried tofu, is another popular offering. Fried tofu is believed to be a favorite food of Japanese foxes, and an Inari-zushi roll has pointed corners that resemble fox ears, thus reinforcing the association. [Smyers 96] Priests do not normally offer these foods to the deity, but it is common for shops that line the approach to an Inari shrine to sell fried tofu for devotees to offer. [Smyers 95] Fox statues are often offered to Inari shrines by worshippers, and on occasion a stuffed and mounted fox is presented to a temple. At one time, some temples were home to live foxes that were venerated, but this is not current practice. [Smyers 88-89]


Inari's traditional festival day was the first horse day (the sixth day) of the second month ("nigatsu no hatsuuma") of the lunisolar calendar.

In some parts of Kyūshū, a festival or praying period begins five days before the full moon in November; occasionally it is extended to a full week. This is accompanied by bringing offerings of rice products to a shrine to Inari each day and receiving "o-mamori" ("protection charms"). The festival is particularly popular in the countryside near Nagasaki.


* Ashkenazy, Michael. "Handbook of Japanese Mythology". Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003. ISBN 1-57607-467-6
* Smyers, Karen Ann. "The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship." Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8248-2102-5

External links

* [ Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine]

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