There are 10,000 Torii Gates that take you to the top of a hill overlooking Kyoto, a city that once served as Japan’s capital. These gates serve as the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社). The vermillion color (red, originally created from mineral cinnabar) serves to block misfortune and calamity. The gates, donated by companies, organizations, and individuals as an expression of gratitude for prosperity, surround the path of several trails. There are lanterns that light the tunnels of color, creating a wondrous experience in the early evening.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is in honor of the Shinto god of rice. “Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants.” (Wikipedia) What are Kami? I found this site that gives the best definition. (I liked this site so much I “bookmarked” it on my search engine to use for future ‘exploration’.)
Along the paths, there are many statues of kitsunes (foxes). People of the Shinto faith may leave offerings of food or objects at these locations as they appeal to the spirits. A favorite food of the fox is said to be a fried tofu – aburaage. This article gives a background on the fox and its place in Japanese spirituality and culture. Understanding the background may make you more aware of the use of the fox in today’s Japanese influenced entertainment.
Walking through the beautiful vermillion gates would be very relaxing to me, but I can’t read Japanese. The names of the donating businesses and organizations are written on the gates and I have wondered: If I could read Japanese, would I be reading all those gates as I passed through? When I was in Chile, I found that my mind could relax because I couldn’t read the signs or understand the language. Not being able to understand them made me realize how hard my mind must work all the time to take in the written and audible communication around me. Would walking past these beautiful gates be like walking past billboards if I understood the language?
It is interesting that the god of rice is also the god of prosperity. Rice is important to Japan. It is an important food in the diet and has a long history of cultivation influencing the culture. Please see this important article that explains the deep effects of rice on the culture of past and present. Rice is such an important part of the culture that I will spend more time on this subject – tomorrow.