A couple of months ago during the three day festival in Shibuya I went to pay my respects at the Konouhachimanu grand shrine, the official protector shrine of Shibuya and Aoyama. The weather had been bad all day and it had just stopped raining so there were very few people at the actual shrine. The most of the festival takes place in the middle of the commercial areas of Shibuya and since the shrine lies almost hidden between tall buildings and offices not many people actually know that it is there. Founded in 1092, it is one of Tokyo’s older and more important shrines. Despite being so old the shrine’s present priest is quite young and modern minded, so during the festival there are rock bands, jazz bands and even karaoke concerts taking place at the shrine’s main stage, I arrived just in time to see one of the classic old kagura plays being performed, one that I have seen many times before.
Inside the grand shrine grounds there is also a smaller Tamatsukuri Inari shrine (玉造稲荷神社), and besides the shrine there is a Toyosaka Inari shrine (豊栄稲荷神社), both devoted to the God of rice and fertility, with a row of ten torii, red shrine gates leading up to the altar.
The best little piece of trivia though, is that this is also the location of what was once one of the biggest castles in what is now Tokyo! Not many people know that Shibuya had a castle roughly between the 12th and the early 16th centuries, and although the now hidden Shibuya river is slightly more famous, even fewer are aware that it once served as a defensive moat to this hilltop castle. The only remaining piece of this castle is a small stone from one of the walls, tucked away in the shrine grounds. I have been to this shrine many times but never actually noticed the stone. Next time I go I will try to get a photo of it!
One of the three shrines in Tokyo’s Haneda district is the Anamori Inari Shrine (穴守稲荷神社), near the station of the same name on the Keikyu Airport Line. Together they make up the Haneda Shrine itself. Being an inari shrine means that it is a shrine devoted to the Inari God, always shown in the form of a fox, responsible for protecting farming, fertility and rice. Usually the foxes comes in pairs, one male and one female. There are quite a few legends attached to the shrine and it is popular with pregnant women and parents. Of over 80 000 shrines in Japan about 32 000 are Inari Shrines. Although not the most powerful, Inari is certainly the most popular with ordinary people! In the old days some of these shrines kept live fox but this is very unusual these days, only once have I seen a real fox underneath a torii gate, in 2009 up in Miyagi prefecture!
The best fox though, is Konchan, the fox just outside the Anamori Inari Jinja Station, dressed up in the festival garb of the Haneda festival and sponsored by the airlines of Japan. Konchan wears different clothes on different days and the people of the city takes turn dressing her up in seasonal clothes. When I visited there was a sign that they were looking for volunteers to make a new set clothes for her. I wonder if I should step up?
Any foreigner who has spent any time in Japan, and almost all of Japanese school children know of the strange foreigner Lafcadio Hearn (his Japanese name was Koizumi Yakumo, or 小泉八雲), an exceptionally cosmopolitan Irish-Greek intellectual who came to Japan in 1890 as a journalist but quickly had to change career to that of an English language teacher, a fate no doubt shared by many eager young westerners in the present times. His first teaching post in Japan was at a school in Shimane, capital of Shimane Prefecture, which later featured in his famous writings about Japan. Also featured in his writings was this little shrine, the Jozaninarijinja (城山稲荷神社), an Inari shinto shrine at the top of the castle mountain in central Shimane. On his way to school he would often stop and look at the large stone statues of foxed outside the shrine. Hence, it is in my opinion that Lafcadio Hearn generally, and this shrine in particular, could be considered the guardian spirits, or saints, of English teachers in Japan, Japanophiles and even foreign manga lovers! If you consider yourself having ever fitted into one of those categories, take a moment the next time you are in Shimane and throw a coin to the spirits of this shrine!
Most tourists visit the beautiful city of Kamakura, south west of Tokyo, alone or as part of a tour group. Kamakura is famous for its dozens of temples but not so famous for its smaller shrines (temples being buddhist, shrines being shinto, a good example of how two very different religions can coexist in one country). One of the least visited but maybe the most interesting shrine in Kamakura is the Sasuke Inari Jinja, and the holy grove behind it, where I took these photos of the many fox statues. The legend behind this shrine is that a man was visited by an Inari God (a God of fertility whose animal is the fox) who told him the solution of one of his problems and saved his life. To thank the Inari spirit the man founded a shrine in a remote part of the mountains in Kamakura, the old capital of Japan. The shrine itself is quite hard to reach and out of the way, but is part of the very rewarding Great Buddha Hiking Trail that goes from just south of Kitakamakura station to Kotokuin, the Daibutsu of Kamakura. On the way you will pass this shrine and the grove of foxes, after quite a lot of climbing and muddy mountain paths. The grove itself is an almost magical moss covered little patch of forest covered in hundreds and hundreds of fox statues and votive shrines, stones, engravings and cups and platters of offerings to the Gods of this place. If you visit off season on a weekday, you might be able to the place for yourself for a little while, and get a chance to really take in the place in peace and silence. This really is one of my favorite spots in Japan, and if I believed in that sort of thing, I would call it a “power spot”. If you want to visit, it might be best to make sure you have a map to the Sasuke Inari Shrine, 佐助稲荷神社, beforehand. The grove of foxes is above the shrine entrance, to the left if you come from Zeniaraibenten, or right on the path to the shrine if you come from the Daibutsu following the hiking trail.