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.