For anybody who has traveled to Japan, and even those who have dreamed about it, Fushimi Inari, the famous fox shrine in Kyoto is a must-see destination. With it’s seemingly endless rows of torii gates, it’s worldwide appeal is well established. Much less known, but still worth the visit is Toyokawa Inari, in eastern Aichi prefecture.
Similar to its Kyoto cousin, Toyokawa Inari has all the trappings of a grand Shinto shrine with the telltale torii gate and veneration to Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神)- the fox-like god of fertility, agriculture and industry. Despite all of that, Toyokawa Inari is in fact a Buddhist temple of the Bodhisattva kan’on-sama whose avatar was said to ride a white fox. It is actually quite common for Buddhist temples to look like shrines, and vice-versa. This stems from a period in Japanese history called Shinbutsu-shūgō – or the period of syncretism. This period extended from when Buddhism first took a foothold in Japan around 552CE until the Meiji Restoration in 1868CE. During this period Buddhist teachings became intermingled with Shinto beliefs, and many Shinto shrines combined with Buddhist temples. This confluence likely has much to do with Japan’s all-accepting, religious cherry-picking that continues to this day. It was during this period that Kannon and her white fox came to be associated with the Shinto deity Inari.
But truth be told, if not for Inari Ōkami, this temple would really not stand out. The distinguishing feature by far, is a section in the far back of the temple yard, with hundreds of statues of foxes. If Fushimi Inari overdoes it with gates, Toyokawa Inari overdoes it with fox statues. Since visitors have the option of buying and placing a new fox, the collection is always growing too.
Throughout the warring states period, Toyokawa Inari was patronized by the famous generals Tokugawa Ieyasu, Oda Nobunaga, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The temple also completes the 100 Kannon Pilgrimage through the Tokai area, combining 33 temples in Owari province (Western Aichi Pref), another 33 in Mino province (modern day Gifu Pref) and a final 33 in Mikawa Province (Eastern Aichi Pref). While those accolades might mean a lot to history buffs, the majority of visitors come to see the foxes. It may not have quite the same majesty as Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, but it is certainly worth a visit. Especially if you are a fan of foxes.
Toyokawa Inari is accessible by JR Tokaido Line, JR Iida Line and the Meitetsu Main Line.