Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Buddhist temples in Japan often have smaller Shinto shrines within their precincts. I came across this charming little shrine near the exit of a temple in Kyoto. It honours the sacred kitsune (fox) messengers of Inari, the popular and all-important Shinto deity of rice.
Peering inside the shrine, I saw a miniature red torii gate, two vases of greenery and an offering cup probably containing rice or sake. But what is hiding at the back behind the foliage?
Two ceramic statues of white foxes with large ears and big bushy tails! Traditionally, one fox of the pair is male and the other is female. The kitsune of Inari are benevolent, protective guardian spirits and ward off evil. Legend says that their favourite food is fried tofu.
But Japanese mythology features many other kinds of kitsune as well, not all of which are good or protective. They are often tricksters and shapeshifters. Their mercurial moods and shifting loyalties teach many hard lessons. Because kitsune can be both allies and enemies of humans, it is proper to simultaneously revere and fear them.
[Photos by Debra She Who Seeks]