If you've ever visited a shrine in Japan, there's a good chance you'll come across one, if not many, stone fox statues. Known as Inari Foxes or Kitsune, these iconic statues can be found in over 30,000 shrines across the country. Sure, they're cute, but have you ever wondered what the meaning is behind these statues? Keep reading to learn more about Inari Fox's place in modern Japanese history and culture!
What is an Inari fox?
In Japanese Shinto belief, there are many different gods in the natural world. As in other polytheistic religions, there is one god who represents most things, like a sea god, a sun god, etc. The god Inari is said to be associated with rice, tea and sake. Given the importance of these three things to Japanese culture, it's not surprising that over a third of all Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari.
According to legends, the gods often choose animals to act as their avatars or messengers. In the case of Inari, this animal is represented as a white fox. Because of this, many Inari shrines feature several small fox statues that serve as shrine guardians.
What do foxes represent in Japanese culture?
In Japanese folklore, foxes are often portrayed as people of greater intelligence and longevity. These desirable qualities made the fox a staple of the traditional style of art known as "ukiyo-e" spirits (woodblock prints from the Edo period). Going a step further, stone statues of Inari foxes found at shrines are often seen wearing red bibs. In Shinto belief, red is the color of the gods and is believed to ward off disease and malevolent energies.
While foxes are highly respected for their benevolence, they also have a reputation for being deceitful. In many Japanese folklore stories, foxes are seen wreaking havoc to punish the greedy or the proud. A common theme in all these stories is that of the fox transforming into a beautiful woman, lost and in need of help. After inviting this mysterious woman to stay for the night, the homeowner wakes up the next morning to find the woman missing along with her food and valuables. Particularly mischievous foxes must shave the head of the household even while he is sleeping.
The fox Inari in modern Japanese culture
Although far fewer people practice the Shinto faith today, many of its traditions and customs are still incorporated into everyday life in Japan. The image of the fox Inari is one such enduring reminder of these traditional roots.
While nigiri sushi (thinly sliced fish on a pillow of sushi rice) is a familiar sight to most people, inari sushi (called inarizushi in Japanese) is much lesser known outside of Japan. Found in sushi and noodle restaurants, this staple side dish features a lightly sweetened tofu skin called "aburaage" that is deep-fried, shaped into a pocket, and stuffed with sticky sushi rice.
According to folklore, foxes' favorite food is aburaage. Combine that with rice (which you'll remember Inari is the god of) and it's easy to see why the name Inari sushi was chosen. Depending on where you are in Japan, you may find that inari sushi tastes different or is served in different ways. In the East it is often rectangular in shape, representing the large sacks in which rice is packed and filled with nothing more than vinegared rice. In western Japan, inari sushi has a richer flavor, and rice is often mixed with vegetables and other ingredients. Also, the shape is usually triangular, which represents the shape of a fox's ear.
If you visit a festival in Japan, you will often find a stall selling various colored masks, including perhaps a white kitsune mask. These kitsune masks were originally used in Shinto ritual dances and Japanese theatrical productions, but today they are more commonly found as decorations intended to invite prosperity. However, kitsune masks are still used in some rituals, the most famous of which take place on New Year's Eve each year. According to legend, foxes used to take the form of humans and visit them.Oji Inari Shrinethat day in Tokyo. To commemorate the event, hundreds of participants don kitsune masks or paint their faces like foxes during the annual Oji Kitsune-no-Gyoretsu fox parade.
Inari foxes in the anime
As ubiquitous as anime has become in Japanese culture, it's not surprising that the fox Inari has been featured in many different television shows and manga, including popular works like Pokémon and Naruto. Mostly manga and anime.Inari, Konkon, Koi Irohafeatures a girl named Inari Fushimi who rescues a fox cub from drowning in a river. The goddess at a nearby shrine notices the kind act and rewards Inari Fushimi with the power to transform into other people, as foxes say in Japanese folklore. Set in Kyoto, the lighthearted series features real-life locals like the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha (mentioned below), making it a fun read for fans of the city.
6 Unmissable Inari Shrines in Japan
Would you like to see some Inari fox statues in person? There's no better place for that than a shrine dedicated to Inari. Often marked with bright orange torii gates, these holy places are often home to several fox statues. With over 30,000 Inari shrines across Japan, finding some of our favorites shouldn't be a problem.
Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto is considered the most important Inari shrine in Japan and is arguably the most famous. With its seemingly endless tunnel of 10,000 bright orange torii gates, it's understandable why it's become one of Japan's must-see tourist attractions. If you follow the winding path all the way, you'll be at the top of Mount Inari in about an hour and a half.
While the area is often crowded with tourists, those wanting to snap a photo of the famous torii gates without others in the area are out of luck. The shrine is open 24 hours a day, so early risers have a much better chance of snapping a photo like the one above.
Along with Inari Shrine
Over 13 centuries old, the Kasama Inari Shrine in Ibaraki is considered one of the three largest Inari Shrines in Japan. While it doesn't have as many torii gates as Fushimi Inari Taisha, its impressive architecture attracts over 3.5 million visitors from around the world each year. The New Year holidays in particular attract over 800,000 people in just three days. One of the shrine's most striking features, a pair of 400-year-old wisteria trees each form a dazzling canopy of delicate purple flowers. The Kasama area is also famous across Japan for its ceramics, so find a handcrafted Inari fox souvenir to take home!
Let's listen to Inari-Schrein
Entering the grounds of Toyokawa Shrine, you'll pass through a traditional torii gate and the ever-watchful eye of two Nio Buddhist guardians. The Toyokawa Inari Shrine in Aichi Prefecture is an unusual, but not entirely unheard of occurrence, serving as both a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple. This sacred site has beautifully preserved buildings that are almost 600 years old, but is best known for housing thousands of Inari fox statues spread across its 13 square kilometer property. In what is by far the largest concentration of Inari fox statues of any shrine, these red-fronted guardians cover the mountainous terrain in an unforgettable, otherworldly display of respect for Inari.
Motonosumi Shrine is off the beaten path on the northern coast of Japan in Yamaguchi Prefecture near Kyushu. Said to have been built at the behest of an Inari white fox in 1955, the shrine features an iconic series of 123 torii gates that meander from the waves lapping against the rocky cliff to the main shrine. At the top of the hill at the last gate, there is a unique sacrifice box that sits on top of the gate and requires people to throw their coins in the air to make an offering. If you succeed, your wish will supposedly come true. Undoubtedly one of the most unique and picturesque shrines in Japan, Motonosumi Shrine is well worth a visit.
Located in Kashima City, Saga Prefecture, Yutoku Inari Shrine is revered for its impressive overall aesthetic. Although relatively new compared to other shrines on this list (built in 1687), it quickly gained a reputation as one of the top three Inari shrines in Japan. After crossing the picturesque Vermilion Bridge, visitors ascend a hillside path dotted with torii gates before arriving at the 18-metre-high main hall overlooking the shrine grounds. Also worth seeing on the property is the traditional Japanese garden, which highlights seasonal peonies, as well as a museum housing historic armor used by feudal lords.
Keihin Fushimi Inari-Schrein
Built in Kawasaki shortly after the end of World War II, Keihin Fushimi Inari Shrine is the newest shrine on this list, but also the closest to central Tokyo. While small compared to other entries on this list, Keihin Fushimi is incredibly unique when it comes to its Inari fox statues. There are a total of 108 statues of many different colors, representing the 108 earthly temptations of the Buddhist teachings. Foxes also have many individualized facial expressions; a level of diversity rarely seen in statues at other shrines.
There is also a small statue of Mount Fuji on the property. While not particularly noticeable at first glance, a closer look is certainly warranted. Instead of traditional materials, the statue is made from lava rock collected from Mount Fuji.
Are there real Inari foxes?
While the Inari foxes of legend who wear red bibs and guard the shrine only exist as stone representations, they were based on real foxes from Japan. In an era when people lived much closer to nature, the naturally curious fox was a common sight for Japanese villagers, so much so that it inspired many of the legends of the Inari fox. Although this coexistence largely ended with the formation of modern cities, it has not completely disappeared.
Zao Fox Village in the mountains of Miyagi Prefecture is an open-air park where more than 100 foxes live. Accustomed to the sight of humans, these friendly foxes are not afraid to approach visitors. For those who want to relive the days of living with foxes in Japan, this experience is as close as possible to stepping back in time.
The next time you visit a shrine in Japan, keep an eye out for the Inari fox. He also brings out inari sushi to share. After all, it never hurts to have friends in important positions.
Cover photo: Pumidol / Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is correct at the time of publication.
What does the Inari fox symbolize? ›
The fox, symbolizing both benevolence and malevolence, is sometimes identified with the messenger of Inari, and statues of foxes are found in great numbers both inside and outside shrines dedicated to the rice god.Is Inari fox a real animal? ›
Are There Any Real-Life Inari Foxes? While the red-bib-wearing, shrine-guarding Inari foxes of legend exist only as stone representations, they were based on the very real foxes of Japan.What do Inari foxes eat? ›
A pair of stone kitsune usually appear at Inari shrine gates or in the form of sculptures within shrine complexes. They are there to protect both the spirit world and the worshippers within. As such, visitors will leave votive offerings to the foxes, often in the form of tofu (supposedly their favorite food).What powers does Inari have? ›
Shapeshifting: Inari may have the ability to change his form and appearance to that of any creature, humanoid and inanimate object that he wants. Though he has not yet shown this power, he has been in the past depicted in other forms. Including a woman, a fox and sometimes even as a dragon.How was Inari born? ›
According to myth, Inari, as a goddess, was said to have come to Japan at the time of its creation amidst a harsh famine that struck the land. "She [Inari] descended from Heaven riding on a white fox, and in her hand she carried sheaves of cereal or grain. Ine, the word now used for rice, is the name for this cereal.Are kitsune male or female? ›
Kitsune can be either male or female. Usually, a mythical Japanese fox takes the form of young Japanese girls, beautiful women, and older men. In fact, there are many tales of Japanese kitsune transforming into beautiful women to trap powerful men.Is there a kitsune god? ›
Kitsune are associated with Inari, the Shinto deity of rice. This association has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. Originally, kitsune were Inari's messengers, but the line between the two is now blurred so that Inari Ōkami may be depicted as a fox.What does fox symbolize in Japan? ›
On the other hand, there is the popular and beloved kami Inari, who is traditionally associated with rice, agricolture and therefore wealth and fortune: foxes are considered to be its messangers and are therefore considered sacred animals that convey the fortune of the kami. DISCOVER MORE ABOUT JAPANESE TRADITIONS HERE.Can kitsune hide their tails? ›
In some stories, kitsune have difficulty hiding their tails when they take human form; looking for the tail, perhaps when the fox gets drunk or careless, is a common method of discerning the creature's true nature.Can a kitsune have 10 tails? ›
Very young kitsune have one tail; the most powerful mortal kitsune have nine tails (Japanese: 九尾, kyūbi). In lore, the Goddess of Kitsune, Inari, is usually depicted as being the only ten-tailed kitsune.
What are the 13 kinds of kitsune? ›
- Tengoku (Heaven) 天国
- Kukan (Dark) 区間
- Kaze (Wind) 言う
- Seishin (Spirit) 精神
- Kasai (Fire) 火災
- Chikyu (Earth) 血キュ
- Kawa (River) コーヒー
- Umi (Ocean) 海
They can be bought at any Asian market and are found in the fridge section — they are kept cold and served cold. The inari pockets have a light sweet taste to them. Inari sushi only requires the pockets and sushi rice, but other ingredients can be added if you'd like!What does the name Inari mean? ›
(mythology, Shinto) The god of harvests, fertility, rice, agriculture, foxes, industry, and worldly success.Who is the Japanese god of death? ›
Shinigami (死神, literally 'death god') are gods or supernatural spirits that invite humans toward death in certain aspects of Japanese religion and culture. Shinigami have been described as monsters, helpers, and creatures of darkness. Shinigami are used for tales and religions in Japanese culture.How old is Inari? ›
In chapter 11, Tazuna says that Inari is his ten-year-old grandson, while the first databook states that he is only eight years old.Who is the god of foxes? ›
Húxiān (胡仙; 狐仙 "Fox Immortal"), also called Húshén (胡神; 狐神 "Fox God") or Húwáng (胡王; 狐王 "Fox Ruler") is a deity in Chinese religion whose cult is present in provinces of north China (from Henan and Shandong upwards), but especially in northeast China where it can be said to be the most popular deity.Does Inari have fish? ›
Most simple inari sushi do not contain any meat or fish, only “aburaage” and “sumeshi (vinegar flavoured rice)”. The aburaage “envelope” can be closed or open at the top. I decorate it with thinly sliced egg (=錦糸卵:kinshi tamago) and green beans. You can create your own Inari sushi with your favourite topping.How is Inari eaten? ›
How Do You Eat Inari Sushi? Since this sushi is already nicely packed in little pouches, it is exceedingly easy to eat on the go without having to fear making a mess! You can eat it either with your hands or chopsticks, adding soy sauce only if you'd like – the aburaage already carries a lot of flavor.What kills a Kitsune? ›
Heart destruction - A Kitsune can only be killed by being stabbed in the heart with a knife or dagger. Decapitation - The act of removing the Kitsune's head will result in death.Do Kitsune live forever? ›
Kitsune have great longevity, they can live for hundreds of years. They are even capable of transcending their humanity, and become totally immortal. There are 13 types of Kitsune: Celestial, Spirit, Wild, River, Wind, Time, Sound, Forest, Mountain, Fire, Thunder, Ocean and Void.
What are Kitsune afraid of? ›
Canidae: Kitsunes are known to have a great fear and hatred of dogs and wolves. Some become so rattled by the presence of that they will revert to the shape of a fox and flee.Are foxes evil? ›
The fact is that foxes, like other animals, are neither a threat to humans nor a cosy companion. They are opportunists who will take food where they find it; they are in towns because humans, far filthier than any so-called vermin, like to leave their uneaten food on the street.Do Kitsunes have 9 tails? ›
This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has – they may have as many as nine – the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make sacrifices to them as to a deity.What do kitsune wear? ›
Kitsune mask is also referred to as fox mask, and it is a special mask wore by Japanese on special festivals for fun. In short, a kitsune mask is any mask that has physical characteristics of a fox. Mostly these masks are worn to pay tribute to the gods. On top of that, the masks can be used for ritual practices.What is a fox girl called in Japan? ›
The word 'Kitsune' means fox in Japanese, and refers to the use of foxes in Japanese folklore rather than the animal in general. Stories show the Kitsune to be intelligent beings, who possess magical abilities that increase with their age.Are foxes holy in Japan? ›
The fox is a sacred animal in Japan, because in Shinto belief it is the messenger of Inari (worshipped at the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto), the god of fertility and rice cultivation. True to this belief, Zao Kitsune Mura also has a small Shinto shrine.What is a fox with wings called? ›
flying fox, (genus Pteropus), also called fox bat, any of about 65 bat species found on tropical islands from Madagascar to Australia and Indonesia and in mainland Asia. Most species are primarily nocturnal.What food do Kitsune eat? ›
In Japanese mythology abura-age is the favorite food of kitsune and Inari.What color eyes do Kitsunes have? ›
Characteristics. Upon woge, Kitsune gain long, white fur, glowing, bright blue eyes, two elongated and pointed ears, and a fox-like nose and snout. Their hands, however, are unaffected by their transformation.What are the 7 types of Kitsune? ›
- Tengoku (Heaven, Celestial, Light, Prime)
- Kukan (Void or Dark)
- Kaze (Wind)
- Seishin (Spirit)
- Kasai (Fire)
- Chikyu (Earth)
- Kawa (River)
- Umi (Ocean, Sea)
How many babies can a kitsune have? ›
They bear two children. For all intents and purposes they are human children and have no yokai nor yuki-onna traits.What is the weakest kitsune? ›
The lowest rank is the Kiko, being the weakest Kitsune. These include Kitsune descended of weak families, or once-mundane foxes who have lived long enough in magically-rich enough areas to have just achieved full awareness and some magical capability.Can a kitsune have 3 tails? ›
A Kitsune's power level is determined by their age and how many tails the Kitsune has. Additionally, the older the tail is, the more magical power it contains. Kitsune can grow up to nine tails.What Zodiac is a kitsune? ›
astrologicalaestheticss: “ The Signs As Mythical Creatures: Sagittarius - Kitsune ““Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.
Symbolism of Kitsune
The kitsune symbolize intelligence, cunning and trickery, however, in general, they're viewed as mischievous supernatural spirits.
Safe Sushi in Pregnancy List: The Kinds You Can Eat.
|Anago||Eel (always cooked)|
|Inari||Fried Tofu – eat in small amounts as soy should be eaten in moderation|
|Kamaboko||Imitation Crab (surimi) which is always cooked|
Inari sushi is best when eaten fresh but you can keep them refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Do not microwave, eat them cold.Can inari be frozen? ›
If you're not using the inari age right away, you can keep them in an airtight container and store in the fridge/freezer.Is Kitsune a girl's name? ›
Kitsune is a unisex name of Japanese origin, but is not given in Japan.Is Fei a girl or Boy name? ›
The name Fei is both a boy's name and a girl's name meaning "to dance in the air". A unisex name in China, but better suited for girls in the US due to the similarities to sound-alike Faye.
Is Yuka a girl name? ›
Yuka (ゆか, ユカ) and Yūka (ゆうか, ユウカ) are feminine Japanese given names.Who is Japan's main god? ›
The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is considered Shinto's most important kami. Some prominent rocks are worshiped as kami. In contrast to many monotheistic religions, Shinto does not have absolutes.Who is the first god in Japan? ›
Izanami (イザナミ), formally known as Izanami-no-Mikoto (伊弉冉尊/伊邪那美命, meaning "She-who-invites" or the "Female-who-invites"), is the creator deity of both creation and death in Japanese mythology, as well as the Shinto mother goddess.Is there a Japanese Blood god? ›
After Izanami died from burns during the childbirth of the fire deity Kagu-tsuchi, Izanagi was enraged and killed his son. Kagutsuchi's blood or body, according to differing versions of the legend, created several other deities, including Kuraokami.Where does Inari live? ›
The people of Inari live in small villages on the edges of the wilderness and along the highways leading from the south to Norway.Why is Inari so sweet? ›
Inari tofu pockets or inariage are made by seasoning deep-fried tofu called aburaage. Aburaage is then marinated in mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. This creates a sweet and savory flavor that is irresistible.What is Inari made of? ›
Inari sushi (稲荷寿司, いなり寿司), or Inarizushi as we call it in Japan, are made of sushi rice that is stuffed inside seasoned deep-fried tofu pockets/pouches called Inari age. The tofu pockets are cooked in a dashi-based broth.What do foxes symbolize in Korean culture? ›
In Korea, the fox is a master swindler capable of seducing and then stealing women. The Japanese, though, saw the fox as a symbol of longevity and a spirit of the rain, as well as the messenger of Inari, a god of rice.What does the fox symbolize in indigenous culture? ›
In Native American folklore, foxes appear in a variety of capacities, but often Fox is a trickster companion to Coyote, a male anthropomorphized Coyote spirit. In some myths, foxes are wise and benevolent. In others, they are connected to fire and the sun.What does a fox symbolize in a tattoo? ›
Foxes are known for being quick and swift, meaning that fox tattoos represent one's ability to make good decisions on the spot. Foxes are also known for their cunning nature, craftiness, and wit. A fox tattoo means that you are intelligent and are a master of deception.
What does a fox represent in Japan? ›
Popular characters in Japanese myths and folklore, foxes, or kitsune, are considered intelligent, magical and associated with the Shinto spirit Inari. Zenko are the foxes specifically associated with Inari, while yako, or field foxes, are known as mischief-makers.Is fox a good luck? ›
Seeing a single fox is regarded by some as good luck, while seeing a family of foxes (the actual number varies, but generally more than six animals) brings bad luck.Why are fox sacred in Japan? ›
The fox is a sacred animal in Japan, because in Shinto belief it is the messenger of Inari (worshipped at the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto), the god of fertility and rice cultivation. True to this belief, Zao Kitsune Mura also has a small Shinto shrine.Are foxes nice or mean? ›
Foxes are not dangerous and do not attack humans, except when they are rabid, which is very rare, or when they are captured and handled. Even then, a fox's natural tendency is to flee rather than fight.What happens when you see a fox spiritually? ›
Fox Spiritual Meaning – People have been fascinated by the fox since ancient times, and in many cultures, it is considered a symbol of mystery, transformation, and intelligence. Seeing a fox in your dreams or waking life has often been seen as a sign of good luck, prosperity, and tactical thinking.Why do kitsune have 9 tails? ›
Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serves as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is.What is the meaning of a fox? ›
: any of various carnivorous (see carnivorous sense 1) mammals (especially genus Vulpes) of the dog family related to but smaller than wolves with shorter legs, more pointed muzzle, large erect ears, and long bushy tail. : the fur of a fox. : a clever crafty person. He's a sly old fox.Where do you put a fox tattoo? ›
In regards to placement, you will want your red fox tattoo to be seen. So, we'd recommend areas like the forearm, thigh area, ankle area, upper back or back of the neck area, etc. Depending on the size of the design, you can place this tattoo wherever you want at the end of the day.What does a fox mean in personality? ›
Generally, the fox personality is associated with the following traits: focus, adaptability, intelligence, shrewdness, determination, and many more. However, they are often also referred to in negative content and are associated with being sly, tricky, and mischievous.What are the 12 types of kitsune? ›
- Tengoku (Heaven, Celestial, Light, Prime)
- Kukan (Void or Dark)
- Kaze (Wind)
- Seishin (Spirit)
- Kasai (Fire)
- Chikyu (Earth)
- Kawa (River)
- Umi (Ocean, Sea)