The 3 Most Notable Animals of Shinto Shrines
Shinto is the ancient religion of Japan. Shrines are the key place of worship for the religion, and it's estimated there are around 100,000 Shinto shrines across Japan. Animals are often the messengers of Shinto gods, or are believed to be guardians that ward off evil spirits. As such, animal statues or motifs are often found in and around shrines.
3. Hato (Dove)
With over 25,000 individual shrines, Hachiman shrines account for the second-largest network of Shinto shrines in Japan. Hachiman shrines are dedicated to Hachiman, the god of war and the protector of Japan and the Japanese people. Doves are regarded as the messengers of Hachiman.
If you want to check out a Haciman shrine, we recommend the head shrine: Usa Hachimangu in Oita Prefecture.
2. Komainu (Lion-Dog)
Komainu are lion-like creatures that are believed to guard Shinto shrines of multiple deities from evil spirits. Their statues are often spotted in pairs near the entrance of shrines or inside the inner shrine (where they cannot be seen by the public).
If you want to see some unusual komainu, we recommend you go deep into the forest to visit Yaeyama Shrine in Shimane Prefecture.
1. Kitsune (Fox)
With over 32,000 individual shrines, Inari shrines account for the largest network of Shinto shrines in Japan. Inari shrines are dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, fertility, tea, sake, agriculture and industry. Foxes are regarded as the messengers of Inari, and fox statues are commonly spotted in and around Inari shrines, acting as guardians and replacing the komainu of other shrines. Live foxes were also kept at certain shrines in the past!
If you want to check out an Inari shrine, we naturally recommend the head shrine: Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Kyoto!