- 2 min read

Hiraosan Inari Shrine

Abode of Foxes, Messengers of the Deities

Those readers who are familiar with the famous red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto will be surprised to learn that Nara has a miniature version of the same torii gates. In a small village of northern Tenri on the road to Nara there is a small Inari shrine dedicated to the deity Himemaru Inari Dai Myōjin. Every year in January and February, people who have entered the unlucky years of their lives (males — ages 25, 42 and 61; females — ages 19, 33 and 37) come to this shrine to pray for deliverance from misfortune.

There are a number of fox statues on the shrine grounds as well. These are referred to as “ken ken-san” (foxes) and are worshipped as messengers of the Inari rice deity. In a spot approximately 500 meters to the southeast of this Shrine there is a “fox mound,” upon which a stone tablet has been erected. There are many holes in the mound and a long time ago many foxes lived in the vicinity of the shrine. Currently it has grown into a bamboo grove and it is rare to catch glimpses of foxes these days. 

There are legends associated with the shrine that tell tales of a very religiously devout old woman who used to attend to the upkeep of this remote Inari Shrine. It is said that late in the winter evening when it was dark, a fox would come to guide her to the shrine carrying a lit paper lantern. Other legends tell of foxes who carried paper lanterns to guide people to the shrine on New Year’s Eve many years ago. 

Because the shrine is located in a grove of trees separated from populated areas, there is a mysterious aura about it. Of the many hundreds of  Shinto shrines I have visited in Japan, this one was truly the most mystifying. The isolation and darkness lends a mystique to the shrine and credence to the legends which have developed around it concerning foxes.

Was this article helpful?
Help us improve the site
Give Feedback

Leave a comment

Thank you for your support!

Your feedback has been sent.