Temples and shrines for animal lovers

Discover how cherished animals have long played a role in Japan’s spiritual celebrations.

From fierce tigers to mysterious foxes and of course, Nara's cherished deer, animals have long played an integral role in Japan's spiritual celebrations.

Fierce Guardians and Sacred Messengers

Located on the Yamanobe-no-michi route, Japan's oldest road, Isonokami Jingu Shrine is famous for its sacred roosters and chickens which roam the grounds freely. Legend has it that it was a rooster’s cry which helped bring the sun goddess Amaterasu out of hiding, bringing light to the world.

Darumaji Temple is the resting place of Yukimaru, the beloved canine companion of Prince Shotoku, one of the pioneers of Japanese Buddhism. Legend says Yukimaru could speak and wanted to be laid to rest at this very temple. The journey from historic Horyuji Temple takes around 40 minutes by foot and a short train ride.

This shrine is sacred to sake brewers, with many visitors from all over Japan and the world. The main kami worshipped here is Omononushi, creator of Japan. There's a legend that Omononushi once transformed into a snake, so the shrine is filled with snake symbols and offerings of sake and eggs for the kami. There is also a bronze rabbit, and petting the rabbit is said to make your wish come true.

The world's largest papier-mache tiger, Fukutora, guards the entrance of this temple dedicated to war god Bishamonten, also known as the "tiger temple." The grounds are filled with tiger figures, making it a favourite worship spot for fans of the Hanshin Tigers, one of the most popular baseball teams in Japan. Curiously, there are many plaques depicting centipedes around the temple, as they were said to be the messengers of Bishamonten.

According to legend, the first of the four gods of Kasugataisha Shrine travelled all the way from Ibaraki to Mt.Mikasa on a white deer. Deer are considered to be divine servants of the gods and treated as sacred. Deer roam freely around the forest paths, lined with stone lanterns, some carved with deer motifs, there’s even a deer-shaped temizusho fountain for washing your hands before visiting the shrine.

This temple is one of the three main Inari shrines in Japan, dedicated to the kami of generous harvests and business success. Foxes are the guardians and messengers of the kami, seen guarding the shrine in pairs. Each spring, the shrine plays host to a festival in honour of the fox spirits, with many children parading in fox masks. Genkuro also refers to the fox who appears in a famous kabuki play "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura," drawing many kabuki actors to the shrine to pay their respects.

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