Sunday, January 3, 2016

All About Foxes

                 A Small Bonfire                                                        Midnight Tea

Back in 2011, I started a couple of paintings featuring the fox. I had a long fascination with this animal, which has several associations with indigenous Shinto and folklore in Japan. After completing my first paintings, circumstances prevented me from moving forward with a complete series until recently. Since time has passed and my original inspiration is fuzzy, I decided to visit the foxes during a recent family visit to Japan.

   The Makekirai Inari shrine is located in Sasayama and it was hard to research. There was only one or two references on Google and location was unclear. However, once I got to the city of Sasayama, people knew where to send me. The purple curtains above depict a muscular fox ready to wrestle. Afterwards, we stopped for coffee at a small Peruvian cafe and became friends with the couple who runs the place. He was a former adventurer who rode his motorcycle across the US and all over South America. He met his wife in Peru and they moved to the little town of Sasayama. His wife was overcome with emotion when my mother mentioned that I was visiting her from the States. She said she misses her mother terribly, though her mother now resides in the States.

The Toyokawa Inari is located in the town of Toyokawa outside of Nagoya. Under the shade of tall cryptomeria trees, the large pack of kitsune creates an eerie scene. I don't know who sews the red bibs and dresses each fox, but the effect is stunning. These foxes looked like jackals and some have fierce expressions.

Just outside the Toyokawa shrine, there's a small inari zushi place that serves the most delicious inari. I instantly turned into a fox, gobbling down these delectable morsels. 

The Fushimi Inari in Kyoto is one of the largest, and features a long torii gateway up the hill to the main shrine. Eachi torri represents a hefty donation by a business or individual. At the top, you can purchase a charming wish card in the shape of a fox's face. At the entrance to the shrine, there is a leaping fox with a sheaf of rice grain in its mouth. The fox's role as the intermediary or messenger of the god of grain is emphasized here. And so is capitalism. 

The Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine in Osaka is only incidentally an inari shrine. It features the sacred jewel rather than the fox. But a small corner of the shrine includes some foxes that were shunted over to this shrine many centuries ago by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

The Oiwa Inari is tucked away in an unassuming Tokyo neighborhood. It is named after Oiwa, the famous vengeful ghost in Yotsuya Kaidan. Located in the family estate of the "real" Oiwa, this shrine is visited by film crews and actors who pray that misfortune will not visit them while they film the latest version of Yotsuya Kaidan.

Foxes are also associated with family and fertility. Here are some tender scenes between mother and child.