You might see these photos and think, “oh, I know this place!”
Let me remind you that this is a San’in region blog. This is not Kyoto. This is Tsuwano, the Little Kyoto of San’in!
Like the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Taikodani Inari Shrine is also dedicated to this popular fox deity. Also like Fushimi Inari and other Inari shrines throughout Japan, it has a tunnel of torii gates leading up the shrine, and pockets of little areas filled with fox statues left as offerings. It is said that there are a thousand gates at this shrine, and you can see the bright red shrine with a brilliant trail leading up to it from a ways away on the road, though what appears above the trees makes it look like it suddenly appeared on the mountain. Although it looks like a daunting hike, it doesn’t take very long at all.
Of course, going by car and parking under the shrine is also an option.
Inari, a harvest god who may or may not be a fox (there are different interpretations of this, but the fox association remains strong). A simple internet search would probably reveal countless legends surrounding this deity, perhaps presenting Inari in ways that might even seem contradictory (such as whether Inari is a beautiful woman, an old man, or just a plain and simple fox). One of my favorite little quirks I’ve heard is that there is always a fox hole under the honden (main hall) of the shrine so that the fox can come and go as it pleases, and if they do not build this hole in an Inari shrine, the deity gets angry and curses people. If you’re looking for it, this hole is very easy to spot in Jozan Inari Shrine near Matsue Castle (Lord Matsudaira Naomasa was a faithful Inari follower).
Inari can be a rather difficult god to please and a shrine should not be set up to him/her lightly, so when samurai lords set up shrines line Taikodani Inari in Tsuwano and Jozan Inari in Matsue, they did so whole-heartedly in the hopes that Inari would grant food and riches to their domains. It’s hard to think of an Inari shrine that is not covered with seemingly excessive amounts of large or small offerings hiding around any little corner.
This is also a deity people look to when they want monetary luck. While most shrines around Japan will offer some simple form of omikuji (fortunes on paper slips drawn at random), and larger shrines will offer a couple different kinds, this shrine offered quite a number of options. For example, a lion dance robot or a take-home statue of a fox.
There were all throughout the shrine and I hadn’t done an omikuji for a while, so I picked out one of the cheap ones not worth taking a picture of. Daikichi–great luck!
What really left an impression on me about this shrine is that it was, by far, the shiniest shrine I’ve ever seen. That’s saying something, because I’ve seen a lot of shrines. I do love a good moss-covered shrine with quite atmosphere, but I was very impressed by how smooth and squeaky clean this one was. At least according to the people I pointed this out to, I did not happen to visit after a shrine renewal or anything, it’s meticulously maintained like that all the time.
Look at this. Look at how shiny this shrine is!
Although all shrines are thought to be like a world somewhat separate from this one, the placement and color of Taikodani, especially after the tunnel on the way up to it, did feel otherworldly in a sense I don’t usually get from other shrines. Everyone was smiling and pleasant, and for all I could tell, fussy Inari must have felt pretty pleased with it, too.
They must have remembered to build that fox hole, if what we found on the steps back down was any indication.
For as much as I liked this spot, it was not what I was anticipating most on my trip to Tsuwano. I was there for horses, not foxes. We’ll touch on that in the next entry.