in my personal kyoto’s summer festivals ranking, motomiya-sai (festival) at fushimi inari grand shrine has come top so far. i’m not really good at revelling in activities like summer festivals that have to have a characteristically upbeat mood…i hope you won’t call me a killjoy. so instead, i visited the pre-festival night of motomiya-sai two years ago, in which candles are lit for garden lanterns throughout and some 7000 paper lanterns are displayed every summer. i loved the calm but inspirational atmosphere. actually, i’ve just learned that it was held last weekend. i though it was taking place this weekend. there was no news coverage of the festival.
fushimi inari grand shine is renowned for featuring various statues of foxes and thousands of torii (a reddish orange lacquered gate). the fox is considered the messenger of the shinto deity of granaries. so this particular shrine is guarded by a pair of the sacred foxes (i don’t know their sex, both male perhaps? or asexual). a walk through some 4km upwards tunnel of torii that leads into the heart of inari-yama (a mountain, but rather, it’s a lush and steep hill) must be quite something, which certainly inspired christo’s gate project. although i had to give up half way there due to the darkness and attacks of mosquito when i followed the orange tunnelled path, the experience convinced me that the site was sacred. we japanese believe that holy spirit resides in a forest or a mountain. you’d feel it in the air: inari-yama at sunset was indeed spiritual.
*why are foxes thought to be sly, by the way? my mother told me she would get thrilled when her grand-mother who raised her told her a bedtime story of a cunning fox. all those fables are long gone. we’ve all become less superstitious than ever, while a virtual world is dominating more and more. still, the traditional notion of fox as a symbol of deceivers, or sexy women sounds fascinating to me. there seems to be more than a few variants of the folktale that a man was bewitched by a vixen that disguised herself as a young beautiful woman in japan. and, the cunning little vixen by leoš janáček is one of my favourite operas i’ve seen at the royal opera house in london. it is based on a comic-strip about a vixen and a man. i went to see that light-hearted opera in march, but somehow the season has been wrongly input in my memory. i always would think i saw it in summer. maybe because my visual memories of that fairytale opera mixed it up with shakespeare’s midnight summer’s dream that i saw at the barbican in summer, i suppose.
while it’s hardly surprising even if you encounter urban foxes in london since i’ve seen them in west hampstead, we can see no foxes in modern japanese cities as folktales of vixen are fading into oblivion. alternatively, we’ve had enough of over-populated starlings, pigeons and crows everywhere. you wouldn’t believe it. ‘the birds’, hitchcock’s masterpiece, has almost become a true horror. which case is more fun, or scarier?