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Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社)

If you are like me, you like blogs you are interested in to be updated daily or at least several times a week. Nothing is worse than those blogs of promise that only have new content once every few months. I get tired of waiting and stop visiting. To that end, I will blog “old” information at times–especially times like now when I’m not on the road.

So let’s flash back to our trip to Japan from last year. On our last morning in Kyoto we went to the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha which is one of my favorite places in the world. Like many temples and shrines in Japan, it is particularly nice in the early morning hours or at dusk. If you have seen the movie Memoirs of a Geisha then you have seen this place. It is famous for its Torii (鳥居) gates, of which it has a ton–seemingly as many as the rest of Japan combined. However, I’ll save the Torii pictures for another entry.

For this entry, let’s focus on a couple of other curiosities about the place. Inari (稲荷) is the Japanese god of foxes (kitsune, きつね, or 狐) among other things. Hence, you can find lots of foxes at this shrine. The one pictured here is near the entrance. (As always, maximize your window and click on any of this blog’s photos for a much better view.)

One of the beautiful things at Shinto shrines is the prayer card walls. The prayer or wish plaques are called ema (絵馬). I’m not sure if “plaque” is the proper term. I suppose they could just as easily be called cards, boards, or tablets. They are made out of wood. Ema means “picture horse” but these days they can have any or no pictures on them. I’ve seen some with popular manga pictures printed on the wood. They are frequently placed in such a way that you can get this kind of wonderful photo of them all lined up with a shrine in the background. This one not only had the wooden plaques lined up nicely but also had colorful origami cranes below.

Fushimi Inari Taisha actually contains multiple shrines. This next one has a specific purpose. The readable kanji in the lower right are 入学奉. I’m guessing that there is a fourth character that didn’t make it into the picture and that kanji is probably 納. 入学奉納 means “an offering to get into school.” Students come here (and you can see one in the above picture) to wish for acceptance into the high school or university that they are trying to enter. It’s easier and takes less time than studying. 😉

You can see the wish cards to the right and left of the center. A student would pull the white cord to ring the bell and summon the gods, clap their hands together twice, bow, make an offering of money, and then, perhaps, write their prayer on an ema to hang on the aforementioned wall.

Based on what I’ve read and conversations I’ve had, most Japanese don’t actually believe that the gods will get them into school. They do this more out of tradition and because it’s kind of fun. Although I’m no fan of superstition, I find these shrines and ema walls to be incredibly beautiful. The sights, sounds (of the bells, gongs, and hands doing quick claps), and smells (incense) really do make me feel something.

One Response to “Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社)”

  1. 1
    Stéfan:

    You have some great photos of Fushimi Inari, reminds me of when I went there last summer.

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