The quirky Kasamori Inari Shrine is hidden among the tall buildings in downtown Matsumoto, but it’s a little easier to find than my last « hidden Matsumoto » spot, Tsukiizumi Shrine.
Like the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Kasamori Inari Shrine is dedicated to the Inari deity (associated with the rice harvest, prosperity in business, among other things) and is characterized by fox figures and rows of red torii gates.
The foxes—white foxes, to be exact—are not gods themselves; rather, they are kindred spirits that act as messengers to the Inari deity. Although most fox figures at Inari shrines are fashioned out of stone, the quirky thing about Kasamori Inari Shrine are the two enormous white fox statures constructed out of what seems to be some sort of papier-mâché!
Besides the giant papier-mâché foxes, on certain days, they open the doors to the shrines hall so you can see the altar and set up large speakers in front playing ominous, instrumental music (I’m not sure what is up with the music…). I’m not sure how they decide the days to open the shrine yet, but on these days at the small building on the corner next to the shrine, someone will be selling packages of fried tofu (!) and bundles of incense sticks used to make offerings at the shrine.
Although offerings of incense are common at shrines and temples, you might be wondering, why the fried tofu??
Well, I visited the Kasamori Inari Shrine during New Year’s, as I figured there would be something interesting going on, and indeed, the incense/fried tofu stall was open for business and instead of the strange, ominous music, the speakers were playing pleasant, traditional Japanese music for New Year’s.
I wanted to find out more about the offerings of fried tofu, so I asked the lady selling it. As the story goes, the absolute favorite food of the white foxes is fried tofu. And, according to the lady, if you make an offering of fried tofu when making your request or wish at the shrine, the foxes (being messengers to the Inari deity) will be so happy that they will deliver your message to the deity without fail!
So, why not give it a try? I bought my piece of fried tofu, took it to the shrine, placed it in the pile before the altar and made a New Year’s wish.
For New Year’s, there was also priest sitting inside the shrine before the altar selling small charms and ceramic white fox statues.
I noticed that some people also lay the tofu at the feet of the stone fox statues.
Other people got the bundles of incense instead, and burned them in the large, stone incense bowl at the end of the torii gate tunnels. Some like to douse themselves in the smoke, as it is said to have healing effects.
Aside from all its quirkiness, Kasamori Inari Shrine has many beautiful features, too, such as colorfully painted wooden adornments and intricate carvings. Connected directly to the shrine is the large Jorinji Temple with an over 200-year-old wooden gate that is apparently the oldest in Matsumoto.
Kasamori Inari Shrine is only five minutes from Matsumoto Station and on the way to the castle (see map), so do go check it out! You can read more about the history of the shrine and temple here on the Kasamori Inari Shrine/Jorinji Temple page, too.
If you are interested in learning more about Inari shrines in general, the Fushimi Inari Shrine website has a great FAQ page that can answer a lot of your questions!