February, 2015

This page is written monthly
by Harumi Okochi.
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The small Inari Shrine of Yoyokaku

My favourite fox is in the story of
"The Little Prince"

What Fox means to Japanese minds.
"Hatsu-Uma Festival

February! On February 1st, I decorate our small "Oinari-sama" with a branch of Sakaki (Holy-tree), and Simenawa(sanctuary rope). I offer some sake and Inari-zushi too. Because February is the month when we have Hatsu-uma festival.

Hatsu-uma means the first horse day, and here, 'the first 'means the first in the lunar calender year.
In Asian calender, there are 12 animals (real and fictional) to express the day or year. 12 animals combined with other oriental elements can tell the date accurately.
in 2015, the Hatsu-uma day turns February 11th.
Strange enough, this horse day is not for Horse, but for Fox. Among the 12 animals, Fox is not included. Instead, the first horse day of the year is donated to the Fox-God.
You know, Fox is a god in Japan. Long history it has. This god mainly is in charge of Food, Harvest, Commerce, and Trade. So merchants have a small shrine of Oinari-sama in his store, factory, garden or inside the house. Usually if you see a red-colored Torii Gate, it is Oinari-sama. Merchants donate a new Torii every year to play for a success of his business. Even on top of a very modern building of a top-runners office, we often find this small shrines. This is Japanese minds. (*^_^*)

 This is the image of Fox for Japanese mind.

 On the first horse day of the year (lunar calender), Inari shrines have parades. Horses are decorated with ornaments.

 This is the Inari Shrine on top of Mt. Kagami in Karatsu City.You will see two foxes as guardians of the God.
 This Inari shrine is in the site of the Karatsu Shrine.
 Famous folk lore of "Shinoda-zuma" tells a sad story of a fox.
A fox God, female white fox, was in danger one day, and she was helped by a Samurai.
Later this man was injured. Then a beautiful woman appeared and took care of him. They loved each other and had a boy. One day under the moon light, it was revealed that this woman was a fox. She left her husband and boy leaving a poem........


 50 years ago, I loved cartoons of Osamu Tezuka. The most famous one of his works was The Atom Boy, but for girls, Dr. Tezuka prepared a different type of stories. I liked this fox so much.

 In Western culture, foxes are like this picture, isn't it?

 Strange enough, people believe that the fox god loves "Usu-age", that is, thinly sliced and deep fried tofu. Inari-zushi is a popular food. It is sushi rice (cooked and vinegared) packed in Usu-age.
For Fox god, we often prepare this Inari-zushi
(sushi is pronounced zushi after another word).
   Usu-age, without sushi rice, is often liked on top of Udon (noodle). In this case, the name of this Udon is, not Inari Udon, but Kitsune Udon. Kitsune means Fox.

Well, I was going to tell you about one of Japanese customs.But all I wrote was abou Fox.
Kitsune, fox, does not always mean good thing.
If you hear, "The person is a fox", that means this person is cunning and cheats.
If a strange thing happens and you can not tell the reason, we say Fox is doing tricks. And worse thing is, if someone went lunatic, people say that a fox is behind the person.
Why then, in spite of these bad images, do we Japanese people have created a Fox God? You will think about it and tell me the answer please.


Thank you very much for joining me.
I hope you will visit us again next month.

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