Kasama City is to our north and west and we followed a route that took us along the northeast shore of lake Kasumigaura, past Tsukuba-san, to Kasama City, a journey of about an hour and forty minutes.
After negotiating the streets of Ishioka City, we were back on open highway. We soon spotted a wooly mammoth made of rice straw. It was over two meters tall and was there to draw attention to a home business that was selling porcelain yard ornaments - owls, cats, etc. It sure got our attention. I want one in our front yard.
Kasama City is one of the two areas of the Kanto plain known for making pottery. Where Kashima is dominated by its port and related industries, Kasama has many pottery shops, galleries, museums, and tourist related businesses. After the war, the use of crockery in the home decreased a great deal, and the cermics industry declined. Today, it is primarily artists who are engaged in making pottery.
Kasama Inari Jinja is in the heart of the city. Unlike Kashima Jingu, it does not have a large acreage covered in trees, but rather is confined between city streets and buildings. Still, with about 25 acres, it isn't small. Inari shrines are so called as the god (Kami) of rice is called Inari. In Kasama's case, Kami Inari is believed to reside in the mountains during winter and come down to the plains when the crops are ready to be planted. Both of the words Jinja and Jingu mean shrine by the way. Only shrines with some special significance (historical role, ties to an imperial figure, etc.) are called Jingu.
A confusion for many Westerners is that a Shinto "shrine" is the land where religious rituals are performed, as opposed to being a building. In ancient times, an area was roped off around an object of worship - a stone or a tree perhaps - and the ritual performed. When Buddhism came to Japan, it brought with it the tradition of placing a statue or image of the Buddha inside a temple. Shinto adopted the idea and started building structures on the shrine's land. For a long time, Shinto shrines had a statue representing the Kami in their buildings, much like Buddhist temples have Buddha statues, but this practice ended at the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate (early 1600s).
The building where people make an offering and pray is called the Haiden. Behind that, closed to the general public, is the Honden where an object of worship (often a mirror or sword representing the shrine's diety) is kept. So, even though it is common for people, including yours truly, to refer to the buildings as a shrine (mostly to save long explanations like this one), that isn't technically a correct use of the term.
The main streets had a lot of traffic, and the one in front of the shrine had a lot of pedestrians as well. As it was the 4th, we did not see the kind of crowds that occur on the 1st, but it was still a busy place. K found a parking lot close to the shrine so we didn't have far to walk.
Inari shrines are guarded by kitsune (foxes). They line the path to the shrine and are also to be seen around the grounds. In Shinto, animals are thought to be messengers to the gods. such as the deer of Kashima Jingu. Kami Inari's messenger is the kitsune, which is a magical, shapeshifting fox. The statues wear red bibs. Red has a special cultural significance going back to ancient times and represents the power to prevent sickness, to improve fertility, and chase away evil spirits. Red bibs are also seen on statues at many Buddhist temples.
The East gate was built in 1814 and was once the main gate of the shrine. A much larger gate was built in 1961 (not pictured) and the original Zuishin, or statues of guardian dieties, were moved from the East gate into the new one. I liked this gate, however, for its roof style, which was designed after those of farm houses of the time.
The front of the Haiden was almost completely covered and a large cloth-lined bin ran the width of the steps to catch the coins of people making offerings and prayers.
K purchased her Omikuji (paper fortune) from a typical old style wooden box. You drop your money in a slot and reach in to get your Omikuji. A booth next to the Haiden had a more modern version - coin operated machines. I didn't look to see who made them, as I was afraid of finding the name "Diebold".
Behind the Haiden, the sanctuary of the Honden at Kasama Inari is quite elaborately decorated with carved wood panels. It was built in the late 1850's and is registered as an Important Cultural Asset.
Kasama Inari Jinja was quite interesting to see, especially in contrast to Kashima Jingu. They also have a museum there, but we had other places to visit in Kasama City. Our New Year pilgrimage wasn't over yet.