Sunday, June 12, 2005

Inari's Fox - The Divine Messenger

The Inari-shrine, one of the most popular and prosperous shrines in Japan, is closely related to the kitsune (fox) tradition. According to the japanese folklore, these white foxes, the divine messenger and in service of the Inari god, are different from the bewitchery or mischief of other foxes which are commonly called nogitsune or wild foxes.
According to the legend, Huli Jing, the Chinese foxes are earnest scholars, dedicated rakes, devoted lovers, seductresses par excellence, tricksters, poltergeists, drinking companions and karmic avengers. Fox spirits arrived in Japan in the late 7th century. In the voyage across the ocean, some lost a few of the mentioned functions and the Japanese foxes did what their Chinese sisters failed to do. They were accepted as part of the official religion.
The Inari-shrine became first associated with kitsune, when a fox couple sought shelter in the shrine. They and their five children, were given sanctuary and protection by Inari god, in exchange for their servitude.
Each swore ten oaths to Inari, and were given positions in the shrine. Since then, descendants have served the god faithfully. The kitsune protects those who work and live near the shrine, and aid those who come to them for help - protect them against the malevolent foxes and their bad omens. For example, trickster nogitsune(s) employ their magical powers to play tricks on people; targeting overly-proud samurai, greedy merchants, and boastful commoners, while the more cruel foxes tend to abuse poor tradesmen and farmers or even Buddhist monks. Sometimes the nogitsune is assigned the role of seductress - these love stories usually involve a young human male and a kitsune who takes the form of a woman.
Generally, according to the book 'Kitsune', there are listed thirteen different types of Japanese foxes. The named clans, Celestial and Wild, are mostly associated with the kitsune that follow Inari, and those that don't (the bad ones).
According to mythological beliefs, each year of spring, the god descends from the mountain to the rice fields and resides there during the subsequent agricultural season. Following the fall harvest, the deity would return once again to its winter home in the mountains. And all this took place at the same time that foxes appeared each season. As such, the fox naturally became known as the messenger of Inari.
Rice and rice cultivation are an important part of Japanese culture. In early June, when rice farmers start planting, in order to pray for a good harvest, a 'rice-planting' ceremony (ta-ue matsuri) is usually conducted in the shrine. Various offerings were made to the Inari god. Chantings were performed by the head priest.
Selected women dressed in ancient costumes to perform a Shinto ritual dance accompanied by an orchestra of flute. To keep the god happy, only virgin girls can dance (as I have heard).
Prior to sowing, the field workers and female planters are first purified by the priest.
As seen in the pictures, men and women plant rice seedlings the old fashioned way in the sacred field (inside the shrine compound).
Farmers are afraid of epidemics and famine caused by insects that do harm to the rice plant. The ta-ue matsuri has become the most important ceremony among the many rituals for agriculture.
According to several polls, it was reported that there are more than 30000 shrines in Japan dedicated to the Inari god.
And the legend says, 'It is difficult to have Inari without the fox and the fox without the Inari'.


Lee Ai Ling said...

I have not been to the famous Fushimi Inari shrine yet....too lazy to drag my butt there.....but good post!

ODD said...

Once again a brilliant peice. One day I will make it to Japan.
Untill that time, I will look at both of your blogs.

Acrix said...

All the photoz are so nice! So is the story! Oh ya, how does the Inari god looks like? And one more question, are the mini torii for sale? If so, how much does one cost?

Primrose said...

Of orange and red hues
with foxes and Inari cues...

The word "seductress" gave me visuals as much as reading that only virgins perform the Shinto rituals...

Wow, nice. Would you be my tour guide? :P

zbjernak said...

ah...i learnt something today...
the rice planting is merely a ceremonial gesture in the temple?
funny to have a full functioninc paddy field in the temple...

the powdered-face girl are cute...
and the shinto priest seems to be very concentrated...

funny as in normally foxes are deemed as cunning and "mischief" in our culture...but for japanese they are the god messenger and are highly respected...

i had always love to learn abt foreign and new culture...

Patrick Leong said...

ailing : thanks. this is my third or fourth time to the shrine. but i have never actually climbed to the top of the mountain. we should try one day. i wonder what is there on top ..

ODD : and i will be your tour guide if you come to the kansai area. please come. it is a beautiful country to visit.

acrix : some said the inari god is both man and woman. some said the inari god is the white fox (kitsune). i am not sure actually. while writing this blog i asked quite a number of japanese regarding the history of inari. not many able to answer my questions. i will check with my friend regarding the little toriis. not sure myself.

primrose : as for virgin performing the shinto dance, i am not sure if they still hold such practice now or not. i mean i dont know if the few dance girls in the picture are virgin or not. in the past, YES, only virgins. because i asked my japanese dorm mates, they said, they doubt. japanese virgins are rare jewel. no offence. be your tour guide ? of course, when are you coming ?

zbjernak : i think you are right. it is now merely a symbolic ceremony passed on for many generations. in the past, these ceremonies were probably attended by local farmers. but now most of them are local visitors or foreign tourists. i asked my chinese dorm mate about the mythology of huli jing yesterday. according to her, in the chinese myth, there were also good foxes. but they were outnumbered and abused by the bad ones. yes it is interesting to know about foreign cultures. i am enjoying doing this blog so much. sort of addicted to it. i have one or two more postings about festival and will write later this month.

mmulibra said...

Wow what a nice "fox" tale :-)

mrkiasu said...

I thought inari is one kind of sushi, didn't know that they even name the shrine with the same name.

emotionalistic said...

Sometimes i really admire the Japanese culture....and you really know a lot!!! Nice pictures :).

Patrick Leong said...

mmulibra : thanks for compliment. i still have not find time to visit the aichi expo.

mrkiasu : i am surprised that many of you knew about the inari zushi. i only knew about it recently when i wrote this post. reason being i don't remember i actually ate inari zushi in the past three years (although i live in japan). my favorite : tuna and salmon.

emotionalistic : japanese culture - yes it is interesting. i thought it is better to know more since i am living here. at least if friends come for visit, i can be a good tourist guide.

emotionalistic said...

I think you are already a good one :).