My Patron deity is Inari-Okami, whom I have been working with for ten years now.
In this page I will use female pronouns for Inari, as that is how I see her the majority of the time in my worship.
Introduction to Inari
Inari is a Japanese kami from the Shinto faith of Japan. Inari has over 32,000 registered shrines and temples dedicated to her, one third of all Shinto shrines in Japan. It is said that this does not include the home shrines, roadside shrines and other small shrines in and outside of Japan which would bring the number to way over 100’000.
The entrance to an Inari shrine is usually marked by one or more red torii and some statues of kitsune, which are often adorned with red yodarekake (votive bibs) by worshippers out of respect. This red colour has come to be associated with Inari because of the prevalence of its use among Inari shrines and their torii.
The main shrine is the Fushimi Inari shrine in Fushimi, Kyoto, where the paths up to this shrine hill are marked in this fashion. The kitsune statues are at times taken for a form of Inari, and they typically come in pairs, representing a male and a female. These fox statues hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath a front paw – most often a jewel and a key, but a sheaf of rice, a scroll, or a fox cub are also common.
Inari is also worshiped in Buddhism, though she is represented as female or androgynous and referred to as Dakiniten. In this form she is a Bodhisattva and rides upon a flying white fox.
Associations and Symbols of Inari
Names: Inari-Okami, Oinari, Inari
Associations: Foxes, fertility, rice, tea, sake, prosperity and worldly success
Symbols: The fox, the wish-fulfilling jewel, sickle, sack of rice and the whip
Patron of: Swords-smiths, merchants, actors and prostitutes
Sex: Female, Male or Androgynous
Depictions of Inari
Inari has been identified as both male and female. The most popular representations of Inari are a young female food goddess, an old man carrying sheafs of rice and an androgynous Bodhisattva. Inari’s appearance very much depends on the individual devotees cultural and personal beliefs, making Inari a very personal and accessible deity.
Inari is heavily associated with spirit/magical foxes (kitsune) and is sometimes believed to be one, though this belief is generally discouraged by Priests in both Shinto and Buddhism. She has also been known throughout her lore to take the form of a dragon, a snake and a huge spider, the latter being to teach a wicked man a lesson.
Inari has shown herself to me during meditation and dreams in many different forms. I have seen her as a beautiful women in a white robe, a huge fox spirit and an old man in traditional Japanese clothing. I even saw her once as a white wolf when I was going through a ‘wolf’ phase; she said it was to make me pay attention to her at that particular time.
Inari is also sometimes seen as a collection of three deities (Inari sanza); since the Kamakura period , this number has sometimes increased to five kami (Inari goza). The identification of these kami has varied over time. According to the records of Fushimi Inari, these kami have included Izanagi, Izanami, Ninigi and Wakumusubi.
The five kami today identified with Inari at Fushimi Inari are Ukanomitama, Sarutahiko, Omiyamome, Tanaka and Shi. However, at Takekoma Inari, the second-oldest Inari shrine in Japan, the three enshrined kami are Ukanomitama, Ukemochi and Wakumusubi.
Worship of Inari outside of Japan
There is an increasing movement of the worship of Inari and other Shinto deities outside of Japan. The belief of Shinto being a closed and Japanese-only path is ruined by the Western understanding of Shinto from the World War II era, namely Kokka Shinto. This Shinto was Japanese propaganda to exclude foreigners. This is not true Shinto.
Shinto is now generally acknowledged as an open faith to followers of other paths in modern times. In fact, even in Japan most Shintoists are also involved in Buddhism, Christianity or another faith. Home shrines outside of Japan are becoming more popular as items such as kamidana are available to purchase online, and the resources and information of Shinto is increasingly accessible through the internet.
As well as small home shrines, large public temples have been built in countries including the USA, Canada and the Netherlands.
- Shusse Inari Shrine of America, LA, California
- Tsubaki Jinja, in Granite Falls, Washington
- Ki-no-Mori Jinja, in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
- Shrine to Amaterasu-Omikami on Shambhala mountain center in remote Northern Colorado
- Small Inari shrine in Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York (the National Shinto association is in New York as well)
- Shi-yaku-jin no hokora, Twin Cities, Minnesota
- Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha – Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu has a goshintai of Myotoku Inari was brought to Hawaii in 1946. (source – email from the shrine)
In addition, there is Inari Faith International (稲荷信仰国際協会), a very active community on Facebook.
Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inari_%C5%8Ckami
Inari, the Shinto Rice Kami by Becky Yoose:http://www.uwec.edu/philrel/shimbutsudo/inari.html
Fushimi Inari (Japanese text): http://inari.jp/
Smyers, Karen A. The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.