Yutoku Inari Shrine
Fact of the week!
Credits to Research Team: Sya Sya
Hello everyone. Today, we will be sharing with you about Inari shrines in Japan, specifically Yutoku Inari Shrine, located in Kashima City, Southern Saga prefecture. It is considered one of Japan’s top three shrines dedicated to Inari alongside Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto and Toyokawa Inari Shrine in Aichi Prefecture.
Overview of Inari shrines :
Inari is a popular deity(god or goddess) with shrines and Buddhist temples located throughout most of Japan. The entrance to an Inari shrine is usually marked by one or more vermilion torii and some statues of kitsune, which are often adorned with red yodarekake (votive bibs) by worshippers out of respect. This red color has come to be identified with Inari, because of the prevalence of its use among Inari shrines and their torii(gateway). The main shrine is the Fushimi Inari-taisha in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, where the paths up the shrine hill are marked in this fashion.
The kitsune statues are at times taken for a form of Inari, and they typically come in pairs, representing a male and a female. These fox statues hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath a front paw — most often a jewel and a key, but a sheaf of rice, a scroll, or a fox cub are all common. Almost all Inari shrines, no matter how small, will feature at least a pair of these statues, usually flanking or on the altar or in front of the main sanctuary. The statues are rarely realistic; they are typically stylized, portraying a seated animal with its tail in the air looking forward. Despite these common characteristics, the statues are highly individual in nature; no two are quite the same.
Offerings of rice, sake, and other food are given at the shrine to appease and please these kitsunemessengers, who are then expected to plead with Inari on the worshipper’s behalf.
Inari-zushi, a Japanese sushi roll of rice-packed fried tofu, is another popular offering. Fried tofu is believed to be a favorite food of Japanese foxes, and an Inari-zushi roll has pointed corners that resemble fox ears, thus reinforcing the association.
Priests do not normally offer these foods to the deity, but it is common for shops that line the approach to an Inari shrine to sell fried tofu for devotees to offer.
Fox statues are often offered to Inari shrines by worshippers, and on occasion a stuffed and mounted fox is presented to a temple.
At one time, some temples were home to live foxes that were venerated, but this is not current practice. The Toyokawa Inari temple has a sign noting that live foxes were kept on site in the 1920s.
Back to the topic at hand, A small traditional Japanese Garden with ponds and walking trails is found at the base of the hill. The garden is famous for its peonies and winter peonies which are usually in bloom around April and January respectively. Furthermore, the hillside opposite from the shrine is a public park featuring many azalea bushes that provide a beautiful seasonal sight typically around April (as well as good views of the shrine buildings on the other side of the valley).
A small, aging shrine museum next to the main parking lot showcasing armor worn by the different generations of feudal lords as well as ceremonial swords, artwork and local ceramics. The traditional approach to the shrine is lined by several shops that offer local snacks and souvenirs.