The other day, on the way to Gifu, while we were lost and tried to find our way in the backstreets, my eye caught a glimpse of elegance in red. It was a sunny day today in Kanto and I had some free time to walk around, so I decided to head to Keihin Fushimi Inari shrine. At the entrace, a pair of foxes with matching red aprons are waiting to greet you. A large stone sign mentions the name of the shrine 京濱伏見稲荷神社, which hints that it is a child shrine of the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, specifically for the 京浜 (keihin) area, a name that jointly describes Tokyo (東京) and Yokohama(横浜).
The main building of the Keihin shrine is unusual, in the sense that it consists of 9 sub-buildings and has 3 levels. Similarly to other Inari shrines, all the structures are painted with vivid red lacquer and small statues of foxes are decorating the landscape. The main characteristic of the Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto is the endless pathway covered by red torii gates. The Keihin shrine tries to preserve the original feeling with an alignment of approximately 20 torii gates. Although torii gates can be of any color or material, the ones at Inari shrines are always vermilion and made of wood and are the ones that are most commonly associated to the concept of torii, as the red gate emoji ⛩️ hints. That short covered pathway leads to a pond made with volcanic rocks, occupied by fox statues in different colors and moods. The pond, called Kami-ike, tries to imitate Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture.
Apparently, there are 108 fox statues in the shrine garden. Foxes are always present in Inari shrines, as the god Inari oftentimes takes the form of a fox. Foxes are considered to be messengers of the gods, so sometimes the statues hold scrolls at their mouths. A fox older than 500 years old is said to turn white and become a divine messenger (shinshi 神使). Foxes older than 1000 years old become heaven foxes (tenko 天狐) with four tails, while those exceeding 3000 years old become sky foxes (kuuko 空狐) without a tail. There are some black foxes also, which are considered manifestations of the constellation of Ursa Major. Inari is also associated with prosperity and agriculture, specifically with rice, which remains a staple of Japanese people since antiquity. Foxes are called kitsune (狐) in Japanese, and they are attributed with teaching people how to create items of clothing, food and houses.
Usually, fox statues come in pairs, one male and one female, so if you look closely at the statues, you will be able to match them up. They have different colors; mostly white, but other times yellow, brown or even black. However, all the statues are different, none of them is the same. The number of fox statues in the garden, 108, is significant, because it represents the 108 human temptations that need to be conquered in order to reach nirvana according to Buddhist teachings.
If you look closely, you will notice that foxes are resting on volcanic stones. Lava rocks were transported from Mt. Fuji in order to make the garden of this shrine, in true Edo-period style. This does not commonly happen, and is a characteristic that enhances the importance of the Keihin shrine. There is also a small shrine that revers Mt. Fuji and the Sengen shrine (富士浅間神社), with a small copy of Mt. Fuji itself made of original lava rocks. Immediately next to that, there is a smaller shrine for Mt. Hakusan, in Toyama prefecture.
Keihin Fushimi Inari shrine was founded soon after WWII, in 1951, in order to protect and help local residents to restore their lives. Luckily, there were handwritten signs in English (although with the always present grammatical mistakes) describing facts about the shrine’s foundation and deities. I learned that five different deities are enshrined, who protect industry, health, traveling, arts and daily life, respectively.
If you like Japanese cuisine, you may have come across the term ‘Inari sushi’. Legend has it, that Inari and the foxes love fried tofu, so they really like offerings made of rice balls wrapped in fried tofu and shaped with triangular corners that resemble fox ears. At the same time as me, there was a curious lady praying at the foxes; she had a ton of small omamori charms on her bag and clothes and also a large Gothic style cross hanging at her chest. She was also singing a prayer, hoping for blessings to the entire world.
As I visited the shrine late in the afternoon, there were strong reflections from the white fox statues and my photos appear blurry. I didn’t manage to get a goshuin stamps this time, so I’ll probaby go again in the coming days. Out of curiosity, did anyone catch the title pun with ‘Blackpink in your area?’
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