I love foxes, so I’m lucky to live in a country where foxes are important in mythology and folk culture, such as these hayashi dancers you sometimes see at local festivals. Accompanied by drummers, a flutist and often one or two other dancers, the fox is a popular role to portray especially for younger boys! This young fox was already quite skilled, and together with a lion he performed a quite fearsome dance by the side of the road in Hachiouji, Western Tokyo earlier this summer. These days the fox mane of white hair is synthetic, but in the old days poorer groups would use dried grass, and I am sure the richer ones used real hair!
Another of the many great dashi (mobile ritual stages) of the Hachioji Matsuri, the city festival earlier this month. Yagicho is a small area between Hachioji and Nishihachioji but their dashi had four different dancers at once during the peak hours of the festival. Two white foxes and two red foxes. Foxes hold a special place in Japanese mythology and religion and if you’ve followed this blog for a while you will have seen a lot of fox related posts!
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.