Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is a colossal Shinto shrine that sprawls up the western slope of Mount Inari in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto. It is the head shrine of over 32,000 Inari sub-shrines, approximately one third of the Shinto shrines with full-time resident priests in all of Japan. Inari is the Shinto god (kami) of a litany of matters, rice chief among them. The kami is also associated with foxes, fertility, tea, sake, agriculture and industry in general, as well as prosperity and success. Foxes are considered to be Inari’s messengers or familiars (divine servants), statues of which are frequently found in Inari shrines, along with bright vermillion torii, the gates found at entrances and within shrines. Inari shrines generally have more torii than others, as each is donated by a business as a gesture of thanks.
Regular readers know that I generally focus on small scale, everyday public spaces, the kind that are often hard to love from an aesthetics standpoint but provide vital civic space to communities. Such a grand space as Fushimi Inari Taisha, by some accounts the most popular tourist site in Japan, seems more than a bit out of character. However, it also overlaps with my second main area of focus, pop culture tourism based on anime. If you are looking for an article with a detailed history of the shrine or thorough explanations of its layout, there are many excellent resources elsewhere on the web. This post will look at the site through a somewhat unusual lens.
As a widely known and instantly recognizable site, it is not rare at all to find Fushimi Inari Taisha appearing in various forms of pop culture media. In the 2014 Winter television broadcast season, it appeared in at least four anime, including an unexpectedly detailed rendering in Monogatari Series Second Season, an installment of a series typically known for abstracted urbanscapes. However, the main event was Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha (いなり、こんこん、恋いろは。), an anime adaptation of a manga that features a young girl who lives next to the shrine and develops a deep relationship with Inari after the kami reveals itself to the child. Inari takes many different forms. In the show, the kami is rendered as the single female human form, Uka-no-Mitama-no-Kami (宇迦之御魂神), though she alludes to the fluid/multitudinous definition of Inari by referring to herself in first-person plural. The “konkon” in the show title is onomatopoeia for the sound of a fox call.
The pop culture tourism that I observe falls into two main categories. Seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 holy land pilgrimage) is a general level of interest, and can be as simple as visiting the real world site used as a model for background art. Butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting) is detailed, cut-by-cut searching and documenting with photography for later comparison analysis. That InaKon (いなこん), as it’s known for short, was the pop culture tourism favorite of its season was somewhat a surprise to me, given that it was up against offerings from Kyoto Animation and P.A.Works (favorites among the butaitanbou community in particular), as well as interesting shows with atypical settings across Japan from several other studios. While the Production IMS package for InaKon didn’t give us Kyoto Animation’s photo-realistic backgrounds or P.A.Works’ stylized but methodical inclusion of complete neighborhoods, it did comprehensively cover all of Fushimi Inari Taisha, from its main grounds and periphery, to the deepest shrines and worship mounds high up the mountain.
I cataloged butaitanbou activity along with weekly observations on the show as it aired. To get a feel for the level of participation, you can scan through the Weekly Review of Transit, Place and Culture in Anime issues in 2014 January, Feburary and March, beginning with issue 73. Exemplars include the following individuals:
Kobaya (こばや, @ts_kobaya) produced one of his signature video pilgrimages:
A half year after the broadcast I was in Kyoto for a new round of urban field study, as well as meeting a group of butaitanbou and seichijunrei practitioners face-to-face for the first time, and decided to carve out an afternoon and evening for my first visit to the famed shrine.
Other than the shrine itself, a big presence in the InaKon works and on the ground in Fushimi is the Keihan Electric Railway. Most of the main characters names are taken from stations on the Kyoto section of the Keihan Main Line, the stations themselves named for their locations in the city. Keihan is no stranger to pop culture media, proactively using opportunities like InaKon for promotional collaborations. Its official cooperation in show production is noted in the ending credits. Around the time of the broadcast, Keihan advertised the show (and itself) through marketing collateral in stations and trains, as well commemorative tickets and a stamp rally.
At Fushimi-Inari Station, long before InaKon, Keihan tapped into the local aesthetic by outfitting the station platforms in vermillion columns, filigree and fox imagery.
InaKon depicts Fushimi-Inari Station, as well as trips on the Keihan Main Line, in great detail.
There is a shopping street along the direct route between the station and shrine, though it predictably features goods primarily targeting tourists.
A grade level railroad crossing allows the JR Nara Line to pass through.
The chartreuse 103 series trains still used on local services are a blast from the past, first introduced in 1964.
Shōtengai run north and south from the base of Mount Inari into the largely residential areas surrounding.
Though InaKon is on my mind as I enter the grounds, when I first glimpse the stunning architecture of the main buildings I’m reminded of why so many have come to see, draw, paint, photograph and write about the shrine over the centuries.
A quick walk around the corner takes me down the slope to begin at the foot of the sandō (参道), the main approach to the grounds.
If you turn your back to the shrine for a moment, you can catch the curious juxtaposition of the convenience store Daily Yamazaki framed by the gargantuan verimillion torii that marks the main entrance. Travel writer Pico Iyer has written and spoken at length about the unexpected nature of his relationship with Kyoto, where he lives. Specifically, he arrived in search of old and traditional structures and spaces for which the historic city is known, and the spirituality supposedly attendant to them, only to be inexorably confronted by the “profane” daily life of the modern city at every turn. He eventually learned to appreciate both as integral parts of the whole. In this scene, also captured in InaKon, one gets some sense of what he means.
Tower gate (楼門 rōmon)
While many shrines have guardian dogs (狛犬 komainu) watching over entrances, Inari shrines have foxes instead.
Some of the foxes clutch a key to granary in their mouths.
Chōzuya (手水舎), pavilion for purifying hands with water
Passing through the tower gate leads to the main shrine.
Gai-haiden (外拝殿), outer public worship hall
Nai-haiden (内拝殿), inner public worship hall
Stairs lead up behind the main shrine to the beginning of the paths up the mountain.
One last chance to return to the mundane world
Main character Fushimi Inari and her brother Touka often pass through here.
At the top of the stairs is the beginning of the shrine’s famous thousand torii (千本鳥居 Senbon torii) path to the inner shrine and beyond.
Good luck trying to get a photo without people in it. Those beautiful images of serene, sun kissed torii tunnels on brochures are most likely taken at sunrise!
Public worship area of the inner shrine (奥社奉拝所)
Fushimi Inari Taisha has unique ema (絵馬) shaped as the faces of foxes.
The torii continue to the smaller shrines and worship mounds higher up the mountain. This entrance was used as the key visual, the main image used in posters and other marketing collateral for InaKon.
There is a great view of Kyoto in the Yamashiro Basin from the Yotsutsuji (四つ辻) intersection.
This makes a good stopping point if you think you’ve seen enough torii. But it was all or nothing for me, so upward we continue.
I took the counter clockwise loop from Yotsutsuji, first coming across Ganriki-sha (眼力社).
It’s fun to look over these photos in retrospect, but this is quite a physically challenging climb.
Though, it makes it that much more of a special moment of joy and relief when you finally do reach Ichi no mine (一ノ峰), the shrine at the top of the mountain.
Ichi no mine appears only once in InaKon, at a pivtol moment when Inari (the human) ascends to the heavens to rescue Uka.
If you hadn’t been paying attention on the way up, the descent gives you a good view of the corporate sponsors listed on the reverse side of each torii.
San no mine (三ノ峰)
One of my favorite aspects of Fushimi Inari Taisha, and one which is used to great effect in InaKon, is the porous boundary between the shrine and neighborhoods around it, especially on the north and south edges of the grounds. Despite its significance, the shrine, like many all over Japan, is living history. It became woven into surrounding urban fabric as the city developed, not walled off and sealed from the outside world.
Honden (本殿), the main hall enshrining the kami
All of that climbing helps work up a good appetite. Fortunately, I had one final stop planned at Oshokujidokoro Inari (お食事処いなり) (Tabelog), the noodle and donburi shop that appeared in the first episode of InaKon, and subsequently saw a bump in foot traffic from diners with very specific seating requirements.
At the late hour, the shop was quiet other than for me and a couple of Chinese tourists, so I was able to chat with the owner and his family a little while I waited for my kitsune udon.
I asked them what they remembered about visitors during the broadcast and height of the pop culture tourism flow. They grinned and pointed to the table in front of me, the second one along the wall near the door. Everyone wanted to wait for that one!
Though show images were plastered all over the train station, the streets and even parts of the shrine during the broadcast and promotional events, a few posters here and there are all that remain from the InaKon days in this part of Kyoto. Special events and promotional ticket passes featuring show content do continue to surface from time to time, but on the whole, life has returned to routine tourism services, as Inari Ōkami looks forward to the next 1300 years of worshipers.