... in Japan, God's always been kind of a flexible concept. Look at what happened after the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person. So after 1946 he wasn't God anymore.Western academics often find it difficult to describe Japanese gods (Shinto okami). In Japan, the gods seem dynamic.
That's what Japanese gods are like — they can be tweaked and adjusted. Some American comping on a cheap pipe gives the order and presto change-o — God's no longer God. A very postmodern kind of thing.
~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
According to Japan's Shinto religion there are 8 million gods (八百万の神). This number is the ancient Chinese way to represent an infinite number.
Of all these gods, one god ― Inari, is probably the most important. Inari is the Japanese god (Shinto okami) of fertility, rice, agriculture, business and money.
Inari is sometimes depicted as female, male or as a androgynous being. According to other accounts, Inari sometimes becomes a fox.
InariIn old Japan, the Emperor would rank the gods (okami). In 827, he granted Inari the lower fifth rank. With time, Inari grew to become one of Shinto's most important okami. It's little wonder. In Japan rice, fertility, business and money often top the list of people's concerns.
Around 32,000 shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari. That's over 30% of all shrines in the country.
Many of the shrines that aren't dedicated to Inari have a smaller shrine off to the side that's used to worship her.
Inari has been depicted as a young female goddess, an androgynous bodhisattva or an old man carrying rice.
Inari and FoxesIf you ask Japanese people, many will tell you that Inari can become a fox. This view is discouraged by most Shinto priests who say Inari has white foxes (kitsune) that act as her messengers but isn't a fox herself. Either way, foxes get a great deal of respect in Japan.
There's often a small shrine to foxes at Inari Shrines. People leave gifts of fried tofu at these shrines. It's thought that this is their favorite food.
Japanese myths and legends are full of references to foxes. It's believed that foxes can shapeshift to human form and that they're magical and intelligent.
In legend, foxes become beautiful women to fool humans. In feudal times, people feared that beautiful strangers who appear at dawn or dusk could be a fox.
Seeing a fox is considered good luck. If you're kind to a fox the kindness might be returned by Inari herself.
In legend, Inari has also appeared as a spider, dragon, snake or fox with many tails. When she appears it's often to teach someone a lesson.