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Although Inari shrines are said to outnumber any other type of shrine in Japan, there is a surprising amount that even Japanese people do not know about them.
Here you can find out everything you need to know about how Shinto is practiced at Inari shrines.

What is the relationship between Inari shrines and foxes?

Foxes are said to be the messengers (kindreds) of Inari Okami. But these are not the foxes you see in the mountains – like Inari Okami, these messengers cannot be seen either. For this reason, these revered kindreds are called byakkosan (“white foxes”).
Of course, this does not mean that Inari Okami is a fox!

Why are Inari shrines painted in vermilion red?

Vermilion red is considered an amulet against evil forces, and is used in many ancient palaces, shrines and temples. At Fushimi Inari Taisha, it is described as a color that expresses bountiful harvests that Inari Okami gives us, but vermilion red is used for many other shrines too.
The pigment used for vermilion red buildings like this is made from mercury and red earth. This mixture has been used to preserve wood since ancient times.

Why are there so many gateways (torii) at Inari shrines?

Torii gateways had become widely used as an offering by the start of the Edo period (1603-1868), to symbolize a wish for or acknowledgement of the “passing” of prayers from people to the deity. Today, there are around 10,000 torii gateways of all sizes along the mountain paths leading to Fushimi Inari Taisha.

How far does the precinct of Fushimi Inari Taisha extend?

The precinct mainly covers Inariyama, the southernmost of Kyoto’s “36 Higashiyama Mountains”. The total area of the precinct, including the area to the west of the foot of the mountain, is around 870,000 square meters. This is around 22 times the area of the famous Koshien baseball stadium, which is reportedly around 39,600 square meters.

How many Inari shrines are there in Japan?

There are said to be around 30,000. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine.

What kinds of blessings does Inari Okami bring?

There are many records of prayers by the imperial court in ancient times. These include prayers for bountiful harvests of grain, prayers for the rain to come or stop so that the crops would have the right conditions for growing, and prayers for peace throughout Japan.
In the Heian period (794-1185), people prayed for things like good matches in marriage. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a prominent daimyo of the 16th century, prayed fervently when his mother fell ill, and she recovered.
Over the years, people also began to pray for business prosperity, prosperity of industries, safety of households, safety in traffic and improvement in the performing arts, a tradition that continues today.

Where did the name Inari come from?

According to the remains of Yamashirokoku Fudoki, an ancient report on provincial culture, geography and oral tradition that was presented to the emperor, the shrine is named after the Japanese ine ga narimashita (“rice has grown”). Various other explanations exist, however.

What is the First Day of the Horse?

It refers to the fact that Inari Okami was enshrined on Inariyama on the first Day of the Horse in February.
This day has been referred to simply as the “First Day of the Horse” for around 1300 years. The First Day of the Horse is set according to a traditional date naming practice that changes every year.

What is a fuku-mairi?

Fuku-mairi is a visit (o-mairi) to Inariyama (to our worshippers, “Inariyama” refers to the whole of the shrine precinct, which is actually a larger area) on the first Day of the Horse in February.
It was believed that the deity enshrined to the southeast of the ancient capital would reward the people with great blessings (fuku), so the name fuku-mairi is believed to originate from this.

What is sho-ichii in the Inari faith?

Sho-ichii is the highest rank of deities. Inari Okami originally received the rank of jugoige (junior fifth rank) from Emperor Junna in 827. Inari Okami’s rank was gradually increased over the years, and the rank of Sho-ichii was granted in 942. Incidentally, numerous deities throughout Japan hold the rank of Sho-ichii in addition to Inari Okami.

What is the sacred tree in the Inari faith?

It is the cedar tree. However, there are no particular sacred trees planted in the precincts of Inari shrines. Inari Okami is thought to reside in all of the cedar trees growing on Inariyama, and these trees are therefore considered to be sacred and symbolic of the Inari faith.

Is it true that there was once a shrine at the top of the mountain?

Yes, there was, but it was burned down during the Onin Rebellion in the 15th century. There were apparently several attempts to rebuild it, but the new buildings were soon destroyed again due to causes such as typhoons. Now only a shinseki (see below) remains.

Is it true that there was once a temple in the precinct of Fushimi Inari Taisha?

Yes, there was. After the shrine on the mountaintop was destroyed in the Onin Rebellion, this prayer area was built to collect donations for its restoration. It was named Aizenji Temple and was used from the Genroku era in the late 17th century to the end of the Edo period in the mid-19th century. Sadly, it was destroyed at the beginning of the next era, the Meiji period.

What is a shinseki?

A shinseki is a site where a shrine used to stand. The shrine has been destroyed, but the deity still remains.

What is an otsuka?

People who worshiped Inari Okami under different names engraved these names onto stones and left them as offerings to the holy mountain. These stones are called otsuka.

What are the three biggest Inari shrines in Japan?

We cannot determine the other two since shrines are described differently in different areas.