Foxfire Fantasy on New Year’s Eve: Hiroshige and Ōji Inari Shrine

Culture

Foxes gather for a New Year’s shrine visit in the eerie 118th print of Utagawa Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

A Secret Meeting Place for Foxes Becomes a Magnet for Sightseers

During the Edo period (1603–1868), Ōji Inari Shrine was one of the shogunate’s designated prayer centers (kigansho), arguably making it eastern Japan’s most prominent shrine to Inari, god of rice, prosperity, and a host of other concepts.

Tradition held that the foxes who were Inari’s servants came from far and wide to visit the shrine on New Year’s Eve, changing into formal clothes under a hackberry tree nearby before forming a procession to pay their respects. That tree became known as the Changing Tree, and Hiroshige’s print is a phantasmagorical vision, complete with foxfire, of the scene beneath its boughs.

According to locals, the tree itself was chopped down in the early Shōwa era (1925–1989) as part of a railroad expansion. But when a series of misfortunes in the region followed, leading to fears that the act had provoked a curse, a new hackberry tree was planted, and the Shōzoku (literally “changing”) Inari Shrine was established beside it.

Today that shrine is home to the Ōji Fox Parade, an event that begins on New Year’s Eve and runs into the next day. My photograph shows the scene around Shōzoku Inari Shrine on the last day of 2016. The current Changing Tree is visible to the left of the building, but the sheer number of visitors is also hard to miss.

About the Location

Ōji Fox Parade

The Ōji Fox Parade began in 1993, when some locals decided to stage a procession from Shōzoku Inari Shrine to Ōji Inari Shrine itself on New Year’s Eve. Today their numbers are swelled by visitors, and around a hundred people in fox make-up and Edo-inspired clothing march to the shrine in all. They are cheered on by around a thousand spectators, including some who have come from other countries to watch the parade, and souvenir stands do a brisk trade in fox masks to add to the fun.

One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Kichiya, the Ukiyo Photographer: Today’s Tokyo Through Hiroshige’s Eyes

Meisho Edo hyakkei, known in the West as One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was one of ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s most celebrated works, influencing even Western artists like Van Gogh and Monet. Drawn in Hiroshige’s final years and published from 1856 to 1861, the series depicted the sights of Edo (as Tokyo was then known) through the changing seasons. Audiences around the world admired Hiroshige’s inventive use of bold compositions, bird’s-eye-view perspectives, and vivid colors. A century and a half later, “ukiyo photographer” Kichiya has set himself the task of recreating each of these views with a photograph taken in the same place, at the same time of year, from the same angle. Join us in this new series at Nippon.com on a tour of these “famous views” in Edo and modern-day Tokyo, guided by Kichiya’s artistry and his knowledge of old maps and life in Edo.

See More: Kichiya’s “Hundred Famous Views” Gallery

Tokyo shrine New Year One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Kichiya ukiyoe inari