Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the head of Inari shrines in Japan. The number of Inari shrines registered at Association of Shinto Shrines is merely 2,924. However, the registered shrines are only a small part and the total number of Inari shrined is estimated to exceed 40,000. Inari god is by far the most popular god in Japan.
Nevertheless, we do not know much about the god who is worshipped in Inari shrine. In Fushimi it is said to be Uka-no-mitama-no-Ookami and four other gods who are different manifestations of the same deity. But, almost nobody knows the name "Uka-no-mitama-no-Ookami". The oldest history books "Kojiki" and "Nihon-shoki" mentioned the name only a few times and merely in the periphery of the story.
It was Hata clan, a group of immigrants from the continent, who settled down in the area of Inari-yama (Inari Mountain) where Fushimi Inari-Taisha now exists and started to worship gods in the mountain. I understand that Inari is a sort of nickname of the gods and came from the name of the mountain "Inari-yama". As Hata clan was very influential in the Heian period, Inari became worshiped not only by clan members but also by other people. Fushimi Inari then acquired special relations to Toji, the center of Shingon esoteric Buddhism, and Inari god gained further popularity.
Originally Inari was a god of good rice harvest. Inari then gradually came to be seen as a powerful deity not only for agriculture, but also for manufacture, commerce and real estate - virtually everything which creates fortune for human beings. Inari therefore became very popular in particular since the Edo period (1603-1867) and not only large shrines but also numerous small private shrines were built. Even now, it is common for companies to keep a small shrine in their garden of on top of the roof of their buildings.
I was interested in Fushimi Inari, though I am not much religious, because there is a custom to build a red painted "torii" as an evidence of generous offering in the hope that Inari god will give special benefits to the donor. The custom to donate torii started during the Edo period. Now the number of torii is said to exceed 10,000 and long pads with torii continues tens of km in the Inariyama.
Though I wrote a lengthy introduction, the purpose of my visit to Fushimi Inari was to see the thousands torii with my own eyes and feel the unusual atmosphere.
Fox is the envoy of Inari god.
I wish I could transmit you even a small particle of this unusual atmosphere with my pictures. It appears, so many people are not satisfied with their destiny. There are people who want to maximize their material fortune. Some want to further develop prosperous business. If people are ill, they want to get rid of their pain and regain their health. If people do not have a good partner, they want to find one with the help of god.
Human desire is endless.
As I am not much religious, I do not believe that the pray to a god can bring any concrete benefit. But, I also understand that humans always feel anxious in this world. It is natural that the people want to have whatever help they can get, if they are in desperate situations.
The thousands torii start at the back gate of the main shrine.
The design of ema is fox in Fushimi.
In the backyard route I had an even bigger surprise. There were many shrines which were dedicated to really various kinds of purpose; a special deity to alleviate backache, Inari for earning good profit from advertisement (established by Mainich Newspaper, one of the leading newspapers of Japan), matchmaker god in shape of fox, a god to ensure safe birth giving, and so on.
Sources of human suffering are endless.
I checked the standing torii and found that the red torii are mostly built in the last twenty years. The majority of donors are from Kansai, but there are also many from other regions. It seems that the life of wooden torii is between 15 to 20 years and thereafter they are substituted with new ones. There is a price list of torii: 18cm (diameter) 383,000 yen (and upwards), 21cm 482,000 yen, 24cm 708,000 yen, 27cm 826,000 yen and 30cm 1,302,000 yen. It is clear that the god for business certainly does better business than the people who donate torii.