In Japanese culture, cats are frequently seen as “lucky,” (in fact, the popular “waving cat” or maneki-neko is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “lucky cat”). Their presence at shrines is often considered lucky, too, and it’s common to see a cat or kitten strolling around at quite a few of Japan’s sacred sites.
In this, Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine), located south of Kyoto, is no exception.
While climbing Fushimi Inari a couple of years ago, my son encountered an adult cat that appeared from the forest and paused in front of him on the path, considering him for a moment before continuing calmly on its way. When he related the encounter to a Japanese woman later on, she told him the cat was probably a messenger of Inari–perhaps even a kitsune (fox spirit) in disguise.
Kitsune or not, the cat made quite an impression, and my son recalls it as a special moment on Mount Inari.
During my own first trip up Fushimi Inari Shrine in the summer of 2015, I encountered a cat as well.
While hiking up the torii-lined path to the top of the mountain, I stopped at one of the many sub-shrine stations for a rest and something to drink. (Several of these stations have small stores that sell snacks and beverages for visitors as well as offerings to leave for Inari. Some have full restaurants as well – and I’ll share my experience with one of those next Monday here on the blog.)
Outside the tiny shop, I noticed a tiny kitten sleeping on top of a wooden wall:
A number of other visitors noticed the sleepy little guy as well, and tried to get his attention–but he ignored us. He looked up once, and didn’t seem frightened; we just didn’t hold as much interest for him as his afternoon nap.
The kitten was clearly well-fed, and had the quiet, contented attitude of a pet. Most likely, he belongs to the owners of the little shop (who seem to have living quarters on the second floor). I have to admit, I was a little jealous of him, living a peaceful life high on one of Japan’s most sacred mountains.
Have you ever spotted cats in lovely but unexpected places? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!