Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin

The main building of the temple, and the approach.

It's a temple, not a shrine

The first shrine I visited on my walk along the Ōyama Kaidō last month was not, in fact, a shrine at all, at least not strictly speaking. Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin is formally a Zen Buddhist temple. It is also, very clearly, an Inari establishment, and Inari is almost always a Shinto kami.

A vermillion torii and avenue of prayer flags

Don't be fooled; this is not a shrine

So, what’s going on? From around the eighth century to the nineteenth, the borders between Shinto and Buddhism were extremely ill-defined, with many practices and people shifting from one to the other. A lot of early Shinto theology, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was written by Buddhist monks, for example, and reading Buddhist sutras to held kami achieve nirvana was also very common. The most famous manifestation of this, however, was the doctrine of Honji Suijaku, which said that the kami were local, Japanese manifestations of Buddhist deities. The inverse doctrine, holding that Buddhist deities were different manifestation of the kami, was also popularised by some Shinto priests.

In the late nineteenth century, however, the Meiji government declared that Shinto and Buddhism were clearly separate, issuing a law, the Shinbutsu Bunri Rei, or Law to Separate Kami and Buddhas, which said that all religious institutions and practitioners had to choose to be either Shinto or Buddhist.

The Inari cult started at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto in the early eighth century, but when KÅ«kai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, founded Tōji nearby in the late eighth century, he adopted the kami as a protector of his sect’s temples. As a result, many Inari shrines were founded with strong Buddhist elements. Nevertheless, in the Meiji period almost all chose to become shrines, getting rid of much of the Buddhism.

Toyokawa Inari, in Aichi prefecture, was an exception, and it became a Buddhist temple. The one I visited in Akasaka is technically a part of that temple. Karen Smyers did part of her research for The Fox and the Jewel at the one in Aichi, which she says has few obvious foxes. That is not the case in the Tokyo temple.

The combination of Shinto and Buddhist elements was very interesting. The main building did not have a torii, but it did have two fox statues in front of it, like the koma-inu at a shrine. The shrine building at the end of the path marked by the large red torii was built like a shrine, but the items inside were Buddhist style. Similarly, the dedication on the stone at the centre of the crowd of fox statues was to Dakiniten, the Buddhist deity who was assimilated to Inari, not to Inari directly.

A statue of a fox in front of an incense burner

The stone fox looks like it belongs in a shrine, but the incense burner behind it is definitely temple furniture

There were quite a lot of fox statues around, some of them next to distinctively Buddhist items, such as an incense burner. There was also a complete set of statues of the seven gods of good fortune, behind some shrine buildings. The seven gods of good fortune are derived from Shinto, Buddhism, and Hinduism, at least, so they are even more complex than most elements of Japanese religion.

It is interesting to speculate that, two hundred years ago, most Shinto shrines were like this, with sutras being chanted before the kami and incense burned, while monks went about their business. However, Toyokawa Inari had no miko, and even two hundred years ago a shrine would have had them, so this is no more a relic of pre-Meiji practices than any other location. It does, however, provide evidence that the syncretic practices were not completely suppressed by the Meiji law, and were ready to reappear when, eighty years later, the law was repealed by the occupying Americans.

Lots of stone fox statues, arranged on stone shelves

I can't think why so many people think Inari is a fox

Posted in Shinto, Ōyama Kaidō.

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