Nestled close to Matsue Castle, Jozan Inari Shrine stands as a serene testament to Japan’s rich cultural tapestry. With its roots deeply entwined in history and a unique connection to the renowned Lafcadio Hearn, this sacred shrine invites travelers to explore its tranquil grounds and immerse themselves in the spiritual ambiance that Matsue has to offer.

The Legend of the Shrine

Legend has it that in 1638, when Matsudaira Naomasa, the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, arrived in Matsue, a celestial boy named Inari Shinzaemon appeared by his bedside. The boy pledged, “I am here to shield you from all disasters. If you provide me with a dwelling within the castle, I will safeguard not only the castle structures but also your mansion in Edo from fire”. With that, the boy vanished. In response, Naomasa is said to have erected an Inari shrine within the castle precincts.

A sacred talisman was then believed to be affixed to every house in the town for protection against fires, a sentiment echoed by Lafcadio Hearn, who regarded it as “the sole fire prevention equipment in Matsue”. Essentially, a simple piece of paper doubled as a powerful talisman against misfortunes. The profound spiritual beliefs of the Japanese people, as observed by Hearn, showcase the enduring impact of this mysterious boy who, to this day, stands guard over Matsue Castle and the town, honoring the pledge made centuries ago.

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Lafcadio Hearn’s Connection

Jozan Inari Shrine shares a unique connection with Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-born writer who became a naturalized Japanese citizen, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo. Hearn’s fascination with Japanese folklore and spirituality led him to Matsue in the late 19th century, where he documented his encounters with the mystical and the supernatural.

The shrine holds a special place in the heart of Hearn, where he found solace and inspiration during his 15-month sojourn in Matsue. This favored shrine, merely an 8-minute stroll from Hearn’s former residence in Shiomi Nawate, served as a frequent stop for him on his daily walks or commutes to work.

One poignant encounter at the sanctuary courtyard left an indelible mark on Hearn’s creative journey. Observing a stone statue, possibly an earless fox, stirred a unique sense of melancholy within him, echoing his own struggles with blindness in his right eye. This poignant moment became the catalyst for his subsequent work, “Stories of Ghosts: Hoichi without Ears.”

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The connection between Jozan Inari Shrine and Hearn is profound, extending beyond the spiritual realm. The short walk shrine to his residence bridges the physical gap, symbolizing the intimate link between the sacred space and the writer’s cherished abode. Hearn’s relocation to Matsue, his dream destination, marked a fulfilling chapter in his life. The city became not only his home but also the backdrop for his creative endeavors. The assumption of his satisfaction with concluding his life in Japan finds resonance in the serenity of Matsue. Jozan Inari Shrine stands as a silent witness, preserving the footprints of Hearn’s transformative journey.

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Foxes Everywhere!

Jozan Inari Shrine’s grounds offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling modern world. The main hall, or Honden, stands as the focal point of worship, providing a serene space for prayer.

The shrine’s connection to Inari is further emphasized by the presence of 1,000 fox statues scattered throughout the grounds. These stone foxes, adorned with moss, exhibit a captivating variety, some lacking eyes, some vaguely resembling fox shapes, and others varying in size. The reason for the presence of so many fox statues is unknown, but we can guess they were left as a token of gratitude by those rescued from a fire. Standing amidst this silent congregation, one can’t help but feel an unseen gaze, creating an atmosphere of intrigue and suspicion. Each step down the stone platform feels like a return to reality from an alternate dimension, dispelling the illusion that momentarily enveloped the senses.

Practical Tips for Your Visit

When planning your visit to Jozan Inari Shrine, consider exploring during the spring months when cherry blossoms bloom, or in autumn when the foliage paints the shrine grounds in warm hues. It’s advisable to wear comfortable shoes, as the shrine is nestled on a hillside, and stairs might be slippery when wet.

The people of the shrine have some chickens, who love to chit-chat as you walk by, as well as a cat that will probably hide or rest among the trees.

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Embracing the Festival

In comparison to other Inari shrines, Jozan Inari Shrine hosts one main festival, the Jozan Inari-Jinja Shikinen Shinkousai Festival, widely known as Horan-Enya. This sacred event involves transferring the Divine Spirit from the Inari Shrine to Adakaya Shrine in Higashi Izumo, covering a distance of 10km by boat. Following a week of fervent prayers for a bountiful harvest and the well-being of Matsue’s residents, the Divine Spirit returns to the Inari Shrine.

Approximately 370 years ago, an anticipation of unpredictable weather patterns in the Izumo Province foreshadowed a potential decline in crop yields, particularly rice. In response to this concern, Matsudaira Naomasa, the domain’s lord, took proactive measures by initiating prayers for a prosperous harvest. The positive outcome of these prayers established a tradition, and subsequently, a recurring ceremony every decade became a cultural norm in the region.

The festival witnessed the support of Makata village fishermen who navigated stormy conditions to accompany the shrine boat to Adakaya Shrine, establishing a tradition upheld by Kaidenma boats. Over time, this tradition expanded to include boats from Yada, Ooi, Fukutomi, and Oomisaki villages, enriching the festival’s cultural tapestry.

The festival is held on three different days over the span of a week, every 10 year. The next one will take place in 2029.