the god Inari (稲荷神)
The god Inari is one of the Japanese Shinto gods. The god is also called "Daimyojin" and is well-known as "Oinari-sama" and "Oinari-san." Shrines that worship the god Inari are called Inari-jinja Shrines. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City is considered to be the headquarters of all the Inari-jinja Shrines across the country.
The god Inari is the general term for the harvest god, which includes Ukanomitama (the god of foodstuffs), Toyoukebime, Ukemochi, Ogetsuhime, Wakaukame, and Miketsu (the rice god). In the Shinbutsu shugo shiso theory (the amalgamation of Buddhism with Shinto, the Japanese indigenous religion), Buddhist Dakiniten (Dakini - fairy-goddess) is honjibutsu (a Buddha, the true nature of a Shinto deity) of Ukanomitama no Mikoto (the headquarters of all the temples that worship Dakiniten is Toyokawa-inari).
Presumably, there are twenty or thirty thousand Inari-jinja Shrines across the country, but if you include deities enshrined on the roof of buildings and within factory sites, which is called Yashiki-gami, the god Inari is worshipped by countless numbers of shrines. During the Edo period, there was a vogue phrase that lists things that were abundant in Edo (the old name of Tokyo); fires, quarrels, Iseya (the name of shops), Inari, and dogs' droppings. Initially, the god was the harvest and agriculture god, but now, it is worshipped as the god of all industries.
In "Nihon-shoki" (the oldest chronicles of Japan), Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is depicted as follows;
Emperor Kinmei, who ascended to the throne in 539 (or 531), saw a dream when he was a child; in it, he was told that if he gave promotions to a person named "HATA no Otsuchi," he would be surely successful in ruling the country when he grew up. Soon, he started searching for the person by dispatching envoys to various places, and on the first Day of Uma (the horse, the seventh sign of Chinese zodiac) of February 711, HATA no Iroko (or, Irogu) appeared seated.
According to the article of 'Hata Clan', who accounted for about one-third of the-then naturalized people, King Kotobuo, the descendent of Kobuo, who was thirteen generations away from the first Qin Emperor in China, came to Japan from Paekche (an ancient Korean kingdom), taking with him as many as one-hundred twenty-seven prefectures of the Hata clan in the era of Emperor Chuai, and King Yudu in the era of Emperor Ojin. Or they might have come from Kara or Silla; Silla is an ancient Korean kingdom, where survivors from Qin ("秦"), a Chinese dynasty, are believed to have settled as its old alias, "Shinkan" ("秦韓"), signifies "Qin-Korea." Another theory suggests that during the Sixteen Kingdoms period (in China), the imperial family and court nobles from the Former Qin dynasty might have fled to Japan through the Korean peninsula in the middle of a war. The both theories require further verification.
It is certain that in the era of Emperor Yuryaku, there was a large influx of Toraijin (people from overseas, especially from China and Korea, who settled in Japan) due to the situation in and outside Japan, and among them, the Hata clan, who had excellent skills in weaving silk fabrics, might have played an important role in building a nation under the Ritsuryo codes (criminal, administrative and civil codes). Thanks to their great skills, they were given favorable treatment by the imperial court. Given the position of professionals, they thrived as a powerful clan based in the vicinity of Kyoto. In 711, the Hata clan in Fukakusa (Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City) enshrined the god Inari by building a magnificent shrine in a flat place on the Inarisan-sangamine Mountain, which is located in the middle of the Kyoto-bonchi Basin.
According to their family tree, a younger brother of HATA no Tori, who built the Matsuo-taisya Shrine, is HATA no Iroko (or Irogu), who built the Inari-jinja Shrine; this may suggest that the Hata clan of Fukakusa is a branch family of the Hata clan of Uzumaza (Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City).
The god Inari is considered to be the harvest and agriculture god; "Inari," which is spelled "稲荷" in Chinese characters (with "稲" meaning rice-plants and "荷" baggage), may express a sense of gratitude to Nature for making them grow to the point where farmers can reap them and hang them like baggage ("荷") to dry for harvest. There is a town called Tokagi (or Hasakake no ki) in Ichikawa City, Chiba Prefecture; although the town is spelled "稲荷木" or "稲架掛け" in Chinese characters, it has little to do with the god, and there are many places that carry the name of "稲荷."
Let's see whether the following may also suggest that the term "Inari" comes from rice-plants hung like baggage to be dried.
"稲荷" was once pronounced "ine-ni" or "Ina-ni," and later changed to "ina-ri."
How is the term "Inari" related to Inari Shrine on Inari-yama Kofun (an ancient mound tomb) in Sakitama Kofun-gun (a group of ancient mound tombs), and when was it built?
Some shrines are not pronounced "Inari" although their names contain the Chinese characters, "稲荷," like "稲荷大明神" in Enryu-ji Temple in Naka Ward, Hiroshima City, which is called "Toka-daimmyojin," and "稲荷神社" in Omuta City, Fukuoka Prefecture, which is called "Toka-jinja Shrine."
Inari-gi otoshi is a drainage ditch built around 1850, which flows into the Naka-gawa River. The drainage ditch, which runs from Otone-machi, Kitasaitama-gun, Saitama Prefecture through Kurihashi-machi, Kitakatsushika-gun, flowed into the Naka-gawa River on its left side on the border of Arai, Kurihashi-machi Town and Happo 2-chome, Washimiya-machi Town. The term "Inari" may have been associated with rice cultivation, but not the god.
The headquarters of all the Inari-jinja Shrines across the country is Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, which is located on the west side and at the foot of Mt. Inari (Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City). Initially, the shrine worshipped the god of the Hata clan, a powerful clan who had ruled the Kyoto district, and its extant Shake (a family of Shinto priests serving a shrine on a hereditary basis) is the Onishi family. The Kada family, who produced Azumamaro KADA, who started Kokugaku (the study of Japanese literature and culture) in the later Edo period, was also from Shake. Azumamaro KADA, who was born to the Hakura family whose profession was the priest of an Inari Shrine, laid a foundation for the research of classic Japanese literature, Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), Kojiki (The Records of Ancient Matters), and Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), by developing Kinsei Kokugaku (also called "Wagaku") (the study of pre-modern Japanese literature and culture). KAMO no Mabuchi was one of his disciples, who was followed by Norinaga MOTOORI and Atsutane HIRATA; the four were called "The Four Master of Kokugaku".
"Yamashiro no kuni fudoki" (a description of the climate and culture of Yamashiro Province, already lost) contains the following story about how the Inari-jinja Shrine came into existence;
The ancestor of the Hata clan, Irogu no Hata no kimi, who was affluent and arrogant, tried to shoot an arrow, using a sticky rice cake as the target. Then, the rice cake turned into a white bird and flew away to the top of a mountain. There, rice-plants ("ine") ripened ("nari") and this is how the god was given its name. Irogu no Hata no kimi, who went over to the rice-plants, repented all the mistakes he had made in the past, pulled them up by their roots, and replanted them in his house to worship them. "Ine-nari" (rice has ripened) changed to "inari," to which the Chinese character "稲荷" was applied.
When the capital was transferred to Kyoto, the Hata clan who had ruled the region gained political power, causing worship for the god Inari to prevail. When To-ji Temple was built, the Hata clan provided lumber from its own Mt. Inari, causing the god Inari to be worshipped as the guardian deity of To-ji Temple. According to "Nijunisha honen", Kukai (a Japanese monk, scholar, poet, and artist, founder of the Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism) directly asked the god Inari to be his guardian deity. At Toji Temple, The god Inari merged with Dakiniten (an Indian female deity, Dakini) of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, which helped the worship of the god Inari that had encompassed the concept of Dakiniten spread, as Shingon Sect also spread across the country. Dakiniten had been seen as a kind of yaksha (Buddhist guardian deities sometimes depicted as demonic warriors) or rakshasa (type of evil spirit), and in the middle ages, it was thought to be identical to Reiko (a creature believed to live somewhere between the human and spiritual worlds). That's why this god is more likely to be regarded as a Tatari-gami (cursing god).
As the god Inari is the rice god, it became associated with Ukanomitama no Mikoto, the food god, who later merged with other food gods. During the middle ages, when commerce and industry became more prosperous, the god Inari, who had initially been the agriculture god, became the god of all the mighty, merging the gods of commerce, industry, and residence, and was believed to bring happiness and fortunes to people; new Inari-jinja Shrines were built one after another by transferring the god Inari from a Inari-jinja Shrine not only in farming villages but also in the communities of traders and samurai.
When the Meiji government separated Shinto and Buddhism, many Inari-jinja Shrines chose to worship gods that appear in Japanese mythology, like Ukanomitama no Mikoto, but some became Buddhist temples, that worship Dakiniten.
The god Inari and foxes
Ukanomitama no Mikoto is also called 'Miketsu no Kami.'
People interpreted "Miketsu no Kami" as 'three fox gods' as "Mi" means 'three,' "ketsu" used to mean 'fox,' and "no Kami" means 'gods,' causing the fox to be thought as an envoy or a relative of a deity. A folk belief that the fox is an envoy of the god Inari occurred during the middle ages. Later, this gave rise to a misunderstanding that the fox was the god Inari himself. This misunderstanding occurred before or after the Edo period under the influence of folk beliefs or Hayari-gami (beliefs that had temporarily prevailed, seeking for worldly benefits). Kinko (golden foxes) and Ginko (silver foxes), which are a type of Yoko (foxes which have mysterious power to bewitch humans), are believed to be akin to Dakiniten, while foxes enshrined in Inari-jinja Shrine are mostly white.
In front of an Inari-jinja Shrine, the statue of foxes, instead of Komainu (guardian lion-dogs at a Shinto shrine), are usually placed, that have jewels in their mouths. Unlike other Shinto shrines, at Inari-jinja Shrines, sake, red rice (sticky rice cocked with red beans for auspicious occasions), and fried tofu are offered; fried tofu are believed to be foxes' favorite, causing dishes cooked with the fried tofu to be called "Inari."
At Inari-jinja Shrines, a Hatsu-Uma-sai Festival is held on the first Day of Uma (the horse, the seventh sign of Chinese zodiac) of February. This is because the god enshrined in the Fushimi Inari-jinja Shrine is believed to have descended on the first Day of Uma of 711. In Tokyo, to cerebrate the festival, jiguchi-andon (paper-enclosed lanterns) with a jiguchi (pun) and a matching picture drawn on them, are hung along streets.
The god Inari can be generally divided into two groups; one is the god that is worshipped by shrines and temples including the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, Toyokawa Inari Temple, Shinomura-hachimangu Shrine, and the Yutoku Inari-jinja Shrine. The other is a god enshrined as the fox god, a god derived from a belief among common people.
The Three Major Inari in Japan
Some Inari-jinja Shrines or Buddhist temples that worship the god Inari use the phase that 'we are one of the three major Inari in Japan' for promotional purposes. However, what they say is different from shrine to shrine or temple to temple.
According to historical writings like "Dainihon-shi" (History of Great Japan) and Inarishinko-jiten (Encyclopedia of Inari Belief), Yutoku Inari-jinja Shrine and Toyokawa Inari Temple are included in the three major Inari, besides Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, the headquarters. Other literature lists Kasama Inari-jinja Shrine, Takekoma-jinja Shrine, and Saijo Inari Temple as candidates. However, Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, the headquarters, say that the three major Inari are different from area to area; it has no intention to limit them to those they designate.
It is true that local shrines are well revered, worshipped, and better-known by local people than Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrines, from which the god Inari has been moved; this should be regarded as evidence that Inari belief has taken deep root and become the people's pride.
The following is a partial list of shrines and temples that have been designated "The Three Major Inari in Japan" and two other shrines mentioned by the shrine or temple; 'unknown' indicates that the shrine or temple has not recommended the other two.
Yutoku Inari-jinja Shrine (Kashima City, Saga Prefecture): Fushimi and Mogami
Toyokawa Inari Temple (Toyokawa city, Aichi prefecture): Fushimi and Yutoku
Kasama Inari-jinja Shrine (Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture): Fushimi and Yutoku
Saijo Inari, Myogyo-ji Temple, the Headquarters of Saijo Inari-kyo (Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture): Fushimi and Toyokawa
Takekoma-jinja Shrine (Iwanuma City, Miyagi Prefecture): Fushimi and Kasama
Hanazura Inari-jinja Shrine (Saku City, Nagano Prefecture): Fushimi and Toyokawa
Chiyobo Inari-jinja Shrine (Kaizu City, Gifu Prefecture): Fushimi and Toyokawa
Hyotanyama Inari-jinja Shrine (Higashiosaka City, Osaka Prefecture): Fushimi and Toyokawa
Kusado Inari-jinja Shrine (Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture): Fushimi and Toyokawa
Taikodani Inari-jinja Shrine (Tsuwano City, Shimane Prefecture): this shrine claims to be one of the five major Inari shrines (or temples). The other four include Fushimi, Kasama, Yutoku, and Takekoma.
Takahashi Inari-jinja Shrine (Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture): unknown
The following Inari Shrines are also well-known:
Shiwa Inari-jinja Shrine (Shiwa City, Iwate Prefecture)
Fukushima Inari-jinja Shrine (Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture)
Yakyu Inari-jinja Shrine (Higashimatsuyama City, Saitama Prefecture)
Tamatsukuri Inari-jinja Shrine (Chuo Ward, Osaka City)
There are this many combinations of "The Three Major Inari," and a more detailed list would include "The Three Major Inari in Kanto" and "The Three Major Inari in Kyushu;" it seems that there is no end to it. Among Beppyo-jinja Shrines (shrines that are under the Grand Shrine at Ise, as listed in an appendix), those given ranking now are limited to the following shrines and they may have had extraordinary power: Shiwa Inari-jinja Shrine, Takekoma-jinja Shrine, Kasama Inari-jinja Shrine, Yakyu Inari-jinja Shrine, Taikodani Inari-jinja Shrine, Yutoku Inari-jinja Shrine, and Takahashi Inari-jinja Shrine, (additionally, it was only the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine that had received a shrine ranking under the ex-ranking system while the rest were treated as prefectural shrines or village shrines). For your information, Fushimi Inari is not included in the Appendix as it is not under Grand Shrine at Ise.