Inari/Oinari/Oinari-Sama is the god/goddess of rice. The common messenger of but issing butssi is the kitsune (fox). Inari is considered to be a key Shinto kami (god). Inari has close ties to the shinto goddess of food. Inari is also able to assume both a female and male form. Inari goes beyond simply protecting the rice crops, but is also credited with protecting the farmers and merchants without regards to prosperity, praticularly when it concerns rice.

Inari has been depicted only as a male, as they are asexual creatures. The most popular representations of Inari, according to scholar Karen Ann Smyers, are an old man carrying rice, a young female food goddess, and an androgynous boddhisatva. No one view is correct; the preferred gender of depiction varies according to regional traditions and individual beliefs. Because of his close association with kitsune, Inari is sometimes portrayed as a fox; however, although this belief is widespread, both Shinto and Buddhist priests discourage it. Inari also appears in the form of a snake or dragon, and one folktale has him appear to a wicked man in the shape of a monstrous spider as a way of teaching him a lesson.

Inari is sometimes identified with other mythological figures. Some scholars suggest that Inari is the figure known in classical Japanese mythology as Ukanomitama or the Kojiki's Ōgetsu-Hime; others suggest Inari is the same figure as Toyouke. Some take Inari to be identical to any grain kami.

Pre-modern Artwork depicts Inari as as an old man standing on a sack of rice accompanied by a pair of foxes or as a long haired woman carrying sheeves of rice or riding a white fox.

The wish-fulfilling jewel is another prominent symbols of Inari.

Oniari ceramic statue Other Ties

Inari is associated with the goddess Dakini or Dakinten who in turn is associated with Daikoku-ten who is the god of 5 cereals and one of the 7 lucky hindu gods.

Inari is also associated with the food goddess Ukemochi no Kami (aka Ogetsu hime no kami). Ukemochi and Ogetsu make appearances in the literature of the early 8th century. Despite their different names, the two share common attributes and are probably manifestations of the same deity. One tradition says that Inari was married to Ukemochi / Ogetsu. When she was killed by the moon god Tsuki-yomi, Inari stepped in to replace her as protector of the rice crop.

Uga Benzaiten, incorporates both Shinto and Buddhist attributes and fulfills many of the same roles as Inari. During Japan's Heian era, the powerful Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei merged the Hindu-Buddhist female deity Benzaiten 弁財天 with an obscure local kami (spirit) named Ugajin to create the syncretic deity known as Uga Benzaiten 宇賀弁財天, a deity of good fortune and wealth. Most sources believe Ugajin is none other than Uga no Mitama, the Shinto goddess of foodstuffs mentioned above. Uga no Mitama is also commonly identified with a male counterpart named Uka no Mitama, the deity of grains. This Shinto pair are further identified with Inari (this page), the god/goddess of rice and agriculture.

Inari is sometimes identified with other mythological figures. Some scholars suggest that Inari is the figure known in classical Japanese mythology as Ukanomitama or the Kojiki's Ōgetsu-Hime; others suggest Inari is the same figure as Toyouke. Some take Inari to be identical to any grain such as Smyers 7, 77-78, Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003. 67-68

Inari is often venerated as a collective of three deities (Inari sanza); since the Kamakura period, this number has sometimes increased to five kami (Inari goza). However, the identification of these kami has varied over time. According to records of Fushimi Inari, the oldest and perhaps most prominent Inari shrine, these kami have included Izanagi, Izanami, Ninigi, and Wakumusubi, in addition to the food deities previously mentioned. The five kami today identified with Inari at Fushimi Inari are Ukanomitama, Sadahiko, Omiyanome, Tanaka, and Shi. However, at Takekoma Inari, the second-oldest Inari shrine in Japan, the three enshrined deities are Ukanomitama, Ukemochi, and Wakumusubi. Smyers 151-155

Inari are spirit or nature deities similar to the Indian yaksha. Their shrines are numerous and can be distinguished by the pair of fox statues that guard the entrance.

Inari is identified with Uga no Mitama no Kami, the Shinto goddess of agriculture, and also with a male counterpart named Uka no Mitama no Mikoto (the deity of grains, who was perhaps fathered by Susano-o?). History of Worship

The origin of Inari worship is not entirely clear. The first recorded use of the present-day kanji (characters), which mean “carrying rice,” was in the Ruijū Kokushi in 827 A.D. Other sets of kanji with the same phonetic readings, most of which contained a reference to rice, were in use earlier, and most scholars agree that the name Inari is derived from ine-nari (growing rice).[7] The worship of Inari is known to have existed as of 711 A.D., the official founding date of the shrine at Inari Mountain in Fushimi, Kyoto. Scholars such as Kazuo Higo believe worship was conducted for centuries before that date; they suggest that the Hata clan began the formal worship of Inari as an agriculture kami in the late fifth century. The name Inari does not appear in classical Japanese mythology.[9]

By the Heian period, Inari worship began to spread. In 823 A.D., after Emperor Saga presented the Tō-ji temple to Kūkai, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, the latter designated Inari as its resident protector kami. In 827, the court granted Inari the lower fifth rank, which further increased the deity's popularity in the capital. Inari's rank was subsequently increased, and by 942, Emperor Suzaku granted Inari the top rank in thanks for overcoming rebellions. At this time, the Fushimi Inari shrine was among the twenty-two shrines chosen by the court to receive imperial patronage, a high honor.[10] The second Inari shrine, Takekoma Inari, was established in the late ninth century.

Inari's popularity continued to grow. The Fushimi shrine, already a popular pilgrimage site, gained wide renown when it became an imperial pilgrimage site in 1072. By 1338, the shrine's festival was said to rival the Gion Festival in splendor.

In 1468, during the Ōnin War, the entire Fushimi shrine complex was burned. Rebuilding took about thirty years; the new building was consecrated in 1499. While the old complex had enshrined three kami in separate buildings, the new one enshrined five kami in a single building. The new shrine also included a Buddhist temple building for the first time, and the hereditary priesthood was expanded to include the Kada clan. Statue of a kitsune adorned with a red votive bib in a shrine at Inuyama Castle. Many castles in Japan contain Inari shrines.

During the Edo period, Inari worship spread across Japan; it became especially prominent in Edo. Smyers attributes this spread to the movement of daimyo (feudal lords). Inari had by the sixteenth century become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors — for this reason, many castle compounds in Japan contain Inari shrines — and the daimyo took their belief in their protector kami with them when they relocated to a new domain. Inari's divine role continued to expand; on the coast, he became a protector of fishermen; in Edo, he was invoked to prevent fires. He became the patron of actors and of prostitutes, since his shrines were often found near the pleasure quarters where these individuals lived. He began to be worshipped as the Desire-Fulfilling Inari, a deity of luck and prosperity; a common saying in Osaka was Byō Kōbō, yoku Inari (For sickness [pray to] Kōbō, for desires [pray to] Inari). Ironically, Inari also began to be petitioned for good health; he is credited with curing such diverse afflictions as coughs, toothaches, broken bones, and syphilis. Women prayed to Inari to grant them children.

After a government decree mandated the separation of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, many Inari shrines underwent changes. At Fushimi Inari, for instance, structures that were obviously Buddhist were torn down. Among the populace, however, the blended form of worship continued. Some Buddhist temples maintained Inari worship by arguing that they had always been devoted to a Buddhist deity (often Dakiniten), which had been perceived by the common folk to be Inari.

In the Tokugawa period, when money replaced rice as the measure of wealth in Japan, Inari's role as a kami of worldly prosperity was expanded to include all aspects of finance, business, and industry. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, followers of Inari at the Ginza mint struck coins meant for offerings to Inari, which featured pictures of two foxes and a jewel or the characters for long life and good luck. Link to kitsune

Inari's messangers are the magical shape-shifting fox (kitsune 狐). The temple of Inari became first associated with kitsune, when a kitsune couple sought shelter in the temple. They, and their five children, were given sanctuary and protection by Inari, in exchange for their servitude. Each swore ten oaths to Inari, and were given positions in the temple. Since then, decendants have served Inari faithfully. The kitsune of Inari became important enough that even at Inari shrines, they were given their own, special shrines. These white foxes are called myobu. The word myobu is the name of a court-rank for ladies in Japan. The kitsune were given special favour in Japan, including a caste within the courts, for those who served Inari. This has a lot of significance, because it means that kitsune are capable of being part of the royal lines during the Fuedal Japan, or even earlier.

The temple of Inari has two levels, the upper level, and the lower level. The Upper Temple was served by the male kitsune, and the Lower Temple was served by the female kitsune.

The male kitsune's name was Osusuki, and the female's name was Akomachi. In some art depicting kitsune, the male is black, while the female is white. Either the black fox or the white fox are good omens in oriental culture, with the black fox being called genko, and the white fox being called byako.

Here the symbolism is two-fold. First, rice is sacred in Japan, closely associated with fertility (the pregnant earth) and with sustaining life. Inari and Inari's foxes must therefore be placated otherwise it would be disastrous to the livelihood of the nation's farmers and people.

Second, the fox is associated with the concept of Kimon 鬼門, literally “demon gate,” a Japanese term stemming from Chinese geomancy (Ch: feng shui). In Chinese thought, the northeast quarter is considered particularly inauspicious. It is the place where “demons gather and enter.” This belief was imported by the Japanese and is referred to as Kimon. Kimon generally means ominous direction, or taboo direction. In Japan, the fox is considered a powerful ally in warding off evil Kimon influences. Fox statues are often placed in northeast locations to stand guard over demonic influence, and two foxes typically guard the entrance to Inari Shrines, one to the left and one to the right of the gate.

By the 11th century, for reasons hard to discern, Inari becomes intricately associated with the fox. In Japan, the fox is a legendary creature with supernatural powers for doing both good and evil. Able to transform into human shape (typically that of a bewitching woman), and to hear and see all secrets of humankind, the fox is Inari's messenger. Even today, fox statues are found in great number inside and outside the thousands of Japanese shrines dedicated to Inari (some 20,000 Inari shrines nationwide; some sources say 30,000). Characteristics of Inari shrines are red torii (gates) protected by a pair of fox statues, one on the left and one on the right. The fox, moreover, is associated with the concept of Kimon 鬼門 (a Japanese term stemming from Chinese geomancy; literally “demon gate”). Kimon generally means ominous direction, or taboo direction, and can be most accurately translated as “demon gate to the northeast,” or the “northeast place where demons gather and enter.” The fox, like the monkey, is able to ward off evil kimon, and therefore the fox, in Japan, plays the role of guarding the demon gate to the northeast. Chinese concepts of geomancy (i.e., feng shui) are discussed here.

Although the lore of fox magic was introduced to Japan from China and Korea, it originated in India. Nonetheless, the supernatural powers of the fox are not exclusive to Asia, for fox mythology exists – quite independently – in many non-Asian nations as well. Other Legends

Formerly a god of cereals worshipped in Fushimi on the outskirts of Kyoto, Inari was later merged with the Buddhist guardian deity Dakini who was generally depicted riding a fox. This and the traditional reverence of the common people for the fox are probably behind Inari's close association with the animal. Miniature Inari Shrines marking sacred sites are common. They are distinguished by their smallness, bright red gates (torii), and fox figure or figures. Deep-fried bean curd, abura-age, is thought to be a favorite food of the fox. <end excerpt> References

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