It is said that human beings and foxes lived together in the olden times. Foxes are depicted as intelligent creatures that have the ability to trick others or act as faithful guardians. The latter is the reason why there are many Japanese shrines dedicated to the deity of foxes. One example is Oji Inari Shrine, a shrine that has its roots in the Heian era. The shrine has a great relation to fox mythology which is why an annual event called the “Oji Kitsune-no-gyoretsu Fox Parade” is held here every December 31st. Participants are seen parading in fox costumes to thank the outgoing year and welcome the new year.
The fox plays an important role in Japanese folklore. They started gaining recognition as servants of the rice god, Inari Okami, in the late 7th century. Inari is the Japanese kami (or spirit) of foxes, rice, fertility, sake, and agriculture. He’s a popular figure in Shintoism and Buddhism and is worshipped across the country.
Foxes, called “kitsune” in Japanese, are believed to serve as guardians of shrines. The association of foxes with shrines, however, is unclear. It is believed to have come from a logic where rodents eat rice and foxes eat rodents. In this sense, the fox is seen as a protector of rice. This is the reason why most people visiting Inari shrines commonly offer food that foxes supposedly love, such as slices of fried tofu. On the contrary, it is also believed that there are mischievous foxes who are afraid of Inari foxes.
There are actually many stories regarding the symbolism of fox in the country. Some say that foxes that live long enough become knowledgeable and reach an enlightened state. Other stories say foxes have a wilder version and that they take pleasure in teaching humility and punishing the greedy.
Every December 31st, many people come together dressed in fox costumes and visit Oji Inari Shrine, a Shinto shrine just five minutes away from Oji Station. If you’d like to participate in the event, don’t forget to bring your fox mask or put on makeup that will make you look like a fox. This event honors the fox tale and also allows people to have their first shrine visit or “hatsumode.” It is one of the best ways to count down to the New Year in Japan. The parade usually starts at 10:30 PM and ends at 12:30 AM. You can also enjoy all the great food that you can find in the food stalls.
The Oji Kitsune-no-gyoretsu Fox Parade is an event that immortalizes the legend of foxes in Japan. For the local people, holding this event is important in order to have a blessed year. Why don’t you participate and make it your first shrine visit this coming New Year?