The Cats of Fushimi Inari

Like many Japanese shrines and temples, Fushimi Inari Taisha, south of Kyoto, has its share of resident cats.

Although not numerous, the cats appear to be permanent residents of the shrine, and though some, like this little fellow:

Fushimi Inari Kitten

 clearly belong to the people who run the teahouses dotting the slopes of Mount Inari, others–like this one I met near the bottom of Inariyama last November:

Fushimi Inari Cat (1)

seem to live on the mountain itself. That said, unlike most feral cats, the residents of Fushimi Inari seemed eager for human attention. The handsome tuxedo in the photo above followed me along the path, meowing insistently, until I stopped to pet him.

A group of visitors gathered behind me, pointing at the cat, and as soon as I left him they moved in to take my place.

When I left to continue my climb, the cat was surrounded by happy people, purring loudly and splayed out on his side to maximize the petting he could receive.

While it’s always wise to act cautiously around strange or feral animals, many of the cats of Fushimi Inari seem only too happy to receive any attention visitors want to give. According to legend, some of them might not actually be cats at all . . . Japanese legends say that Inari’s messenger foxes are shapeshifters, capable of assuming human or other animal forms at will.

Fushimi Inari Cat

Which means that, maybe, the animal I met on the path was not a cat at all…