Kamakura Sightseeing | Sasuke Inari Shrine

Kanto Tour Kamakura 2023.06.02
Kamakura is more than just the Great Buddha and hydrangea temples. Frolic with the foxes at Sasuke Inari Shrine!

A Secret Shrine Tucked Away Among the Houses

A couple years ago, when Japankuru held a Kamakura/Enoshima photo contest for Chinese-speaking readers, we found about this Inari shrine full of little foxes for the very first time. Of course, it wasn't long before our curiosity got the better of us, and we headed out at the height of Japan's rainy season, when the hydrangeas were blooming and everything glistened with a constant drizzle. Sasuke Inari Shrine is hidden within the depths of a residential area nestled in between the Great Buddha of Kamakura and Zeniarai Benten (another popular shrine in the area), about 20 minutes from Kamakura Station. It's said that Sasuke Inari was originally an auxilliary branch of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine - the historic shrine at the heart of Kamakura - but around the turn of the century, Sasuke Inari Shrine broke away and became independant, focusing on the god Inari and the foxes that work as messenger.
Just like Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto (and other Inari shrines around Japan), Sasuke Inari has a "thousand" red gates lined up along the stone steps that pave the way to the shrine, along with some little porcelain foxes standing guard along the path. Legend tells us that Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate almost 1,000 years ago, found himself weak and sick in bed during his historic battle with the Heike (Taira clan). In his dreams, a silver-haired old man who called himself "Kakurezato Inari" (隠里稲荷) came to Minamoto no Yoritomo to urge him back to health, telling him what medicine to take and how to get better so he could return to the fight. And the advice really worked - Minamoto no Yoritomo was soon back on his feet, winning battles, and eventually becoming the ruler of Japan. Thinking back on the life-changing help he received from Inari in his dreams, he later ordered a Kakurezato Inari shrine built in Kamakura, and the legend still lends Kamakura's Inari shrines a reputation for extra good luck.
A few years later in the same area of Kamakura, the Buddhist monk Ryochu saved a small fox cub from cruel treatment at the hands of a group of local children. In return, it's said that the fox cub's parents later appeared in his dreams, warning him of an epidemic of evil disease that would soon ravish the area. To thank him for saving their child, the foxes in his dream gave him a pouch of seeds that they said could be used to cure the disease - when Ryochu woke up, there really was a pouch of seeds next to his pillow. As the story goes, he swiftly planted the seeds just as the foxes had directed, and the plants that grew from these mystical seeds saved the lives of many from the oncoming epidemic.

In honor of the foxes who appeared in Ryochu's dream, a local tradition has been passed down through the ages at Sasuke Inari Shrine, and visitors will often leave their own pair of foxes at the shrine when they come to pray.
Walking along the path to the front of the shrine's main hall, there are white porcelain foxes large and small in every direction. Perched on stone lanterns or lounging in the shade under the trees. They come in different shapes with unique decorations as well, making it fun to search for different varities.
Go further into the woods behind the main hall, and you'll see what looks like a small village of little stone shrines covered with moss, each completely surrounded by the white foxes. Visit during rainy season, and the warm humidity will lend the mossy hill and the leafy trees beyond a vivid green color like a scene from a picture book. (Or perhaps a Ghibli movie.)
As you might expect in Kamakura, a city of hydrangeas, even Sasuke Inari Shrine has some of the early summer flowers! On our rainy day visit, the weather kept away the vast majority of sightseers and picture takers, and the drip drip drip of the gentle rain created a truly tranquil atmosphere.
With so few people there on rainy days, it's a good opportunity to take some photos like this under the shrine's many red gates. On a later return visit to the shrine, despite the overcast sky and our weekday timing, Sasuke Inari was actually teeming with visitors. If you want to have Sasuke Inari Shrine all to yourself, plan your next visit to Kamakura during the rainy season - a light drizzle only adds to the beauty of this quiet shrine and Kamakura's amazing hydrangeas!
Sasuke Inari Shrine (佐助稲荷神社)
2-22-12 Sasuke, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Access: 20 min from Kamakura Station
Official Website (en)

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