Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) has been voted the most popular attraction for foreigners visiting Kyoto, Japan for many years.
Have you ever been curious about what makes Fushimi Inari Taisha so popular? Let's explore the beauty and history of this well-known Inari shrine in Kyoto.
About Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha, located in Mount Inari, Kyoto, is the head shrine of over 30,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan. It is also one of the most popular shrines in Kyoto.
It is dedicated to Inari Ookami-sama (the god of rice and agriculture) who is in charge of the foundations of food, clothing and shelter, and who blesses all people with prosperity and happiness.
The Senbon Torii
Torii is the entrance gate to a shrine. It is usually made of stone or wood. It symbolises the boundary that separates the divine world from the mortal world where humans live. The vermilion red torii gates we often see are inspired by the ancient Japanese belief that the colour red is the passion of life, and is used to protect against evil spirits.
The Senbon Torii is translated to "1,000 torii gates", however, it doesn't mean it only
has 1,000 torii gates. Senbon is just used to describe a large number. It is said that there are about 10,000 toriii gates, which straddles a network of trails from behind the main buildings to the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari.
The torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies. People who make a wish dedicate a torii to the shrine as a token of their respect to Inari Okami. This custom originated in the Edo period and has led to an impressive number of torii gates being put up at Fushimi Inari Taisha today. You will find the donator's name and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each torii gate.
In Japan, foxes have been regarded as messengers of Inari Ookami-sama since the Middle Ages. Therefore, fox statues are often found in the precincts of Inari shrine.
If you look closely, the foxes usually have the key to the barn, the ears of rice, the jewel, or the scroll in their mouths. This has a lot to do with the fact that Inari shrine protects agricultural and commercial interests.
Inari Sushi (deep-fried tofu stuffed with rice)
Do you know that Inari Sushi that is so common in Japan has a connection with the messengers of Inari Okami?
It is said that the favorite food of foxes is aburaage (あぶらあげ, thinly sliced deep-fried tofu). Hence, it's customary for people to make Inari sushi as an offering to the foxes.
In general, Inari sushi in the Kanto region is cylindrical or quadrangular in shape and cooked with dark soy sauce with white rice filling with white sesami seed sprinkled on top, while in the Kansai region it is triangular in shape, like a fox's ear and cooked with white soy sauce with mixture of seasoned vegetable such as carrot, Japanese mushroom and burdock and rice.
Another popular offering is kitsune udon (きつねうどん, udon noodles topped with aburaage).
Make a wish
Since foxes are the messengers of Inari Ookami-sama, the prayer boards here are in the shape of fox. It's fun that the fox's expression is left blank so you can be creative to make your own expression on the prayer board. You will often find some expressions that make you laugh out loud.
There are also cute little torii prayer boards that you can write on and hang up. It is a great option without putting up a real torii.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Website: http://inari.jp/en/
The Brisbane Japanese Language and Culture School