TRAVEL GUIDE: The One About the Meaning of Fox Statues at Shrines

You have seen it at many Shrines throughout Japan.  Fox statues galore.

Perhaps one of the few places where you will see a lot of them are in Kyoto at Fushimi Inari Jinja where they are everywhere.  May it be at the main path or hidden paths, there are fox statues everywhere.

But what do they symbolize?

In Japan, fox statues are part of Shinto religion.

The fox (known as “Kitsune”, pronounced as keh-tsu-ne) is part of the culture and the Inari-fox is the epitome of good foxes, all bad foxes are scared of it.

Inari is a god known to protect rice cultivation and is worshiped by merchants and tradesmen,

Inari, according to Shinto beliefs, is the son of the storm god, Susanoo.

The foxes are the messengers of Inari and at Inari Shrines, outside are orange shrines torii gates and red inari shrines.

So, it’s important to know that the fox is not a god but a messenger of Inari.

But it’s important to note that in Shinto belief, foxes are either malevolent or benevolent.  And there are youkai foxes that are evil and are kitsune fox demons.  There is some belief that there are foxes that are demon foxes, foxes that try to entice people to do bad things.

No doubt that this belief of evil foxes may have been more widespread during the Edo Period when people were superstitious and looked at foxes as being “witch animals” or mischievous goblins.

As there are beliefs that the many tails a fox has, the more powerful they are.  The most powerful being the nine-tail fox.  This myth goes as far back as Chinese mythology and in Japanese history, stories recorded in the Konjaku Monogatarishu (a collection of over a thousand tales written during the late Heian period [794-1185).

So,  it kind of gives you an idea why there are fox statues at many Inari temples, people wanting good karma of the Inari fox messengers.

Two years ago, a few overseas delinquents defaced and destroyed a few fox statues and immediately, Shinto believers were quick to say they wouldn’t want to be in those people’s shoes to incur the wrath of the kitsune because no one knows how long a curse would be placed on these people or their family line.

But nevertheless, whatever you believe or don’t believe, there is no doubt something mystical when you visit shrines with fox statues all around.