The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship

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Paperback: $32.00 $22.40
ISBN-13: 9780824821029
Published: December 1998
Hardback: $75.00 $52.50
ISBN-13: 9780824820589
Published: December 1998

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288 pages
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  • About the Book
  • The deity Inari has been worshipped in Japan since at least the early eighth century and today is a revered presence in such varied venues as Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, factories, theaters, private households, restaurants, beauty shops, and rice fields. Although at first glance and to its many devotees Inari worship may seem to be a unified phenomenon, it is in fact exceedingly multiple, noncodified, and noncentralized. No single regulating institution, dogma, scripture, or myth centers the practice. In this exceptionally insightful study, the author explores the worship of Inari in the context of homogeneity and diversity in Japan. The shape-shifting fox and the wish-fulfilling jewel, the main symbols of Inari, serve as interpretive metaphors to describe the simultaneously shared yet infinitely diverse meanings that cluster around the deity. That such diversity exists without the apparent knowledge of Inari worshippers is explained by the use of several communicative strategies that minimize the exchange of substantive information. Shared generalized meanings (tatemae) are articulated while private meanings and complexities (honne) are left unspoken. The appearance of unity is reinforced by a set of symbols representing fertility, change, and growth in ways that can be interpreted and understood by many individuals of various ages and occupations.

    The Fox and the Jewel describes the rich complexity of Inari worship in contemporary Japan. It explores questions of institutional and popular power in religion, demonstrates the ways people make religious figures personally meaningful, and documents the kinds of communicative styles that preserve the appearance of homogeneity in the face of astonishing factionalism.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Karen A. Smyers, Author

      Karen A. Smyers is assistant professor of religion at Wesleyan University
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • A well written and detailed report on a religious phenomenon that can be found throughout Japan, and even in Japanese diasporas.
      Journal of Japanese Studies
    • A highly focused anthropological study that has all the academic virtues ... combined with the best qualities of good journalism ... that bring a subject to life.
      Japan Times
    • An excellent overview of not only Inari worship, but of how one element of religion functions in Japanese society. And the author also has a very readable style.
      H-Net Reviews
    • Not only closes the gap [in critical scholarship on Shinto] but offers a new model of scholarship by encouraging the rest of us to examine the textual with the experiential, the institutional with the personal. The book is also accessible for the general public.
      Journal of Asian Studies
    • A sustained reflection, supported by keen and sympathetic observation ... rich in hints about the way Japan really works. It is well worth reading.
      Japanese Studies
    • Smyers presents a very individualized form of Japanese religion ... challeng[ing] the perception of cultural uniformity.
      Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
    • The Fox and the Jewel is not only a study of Japanese religion but of Japanese society in general, doing away with the simple prejudice that the Japanese are less individualistic and more group oriented than other people. This book also shows how interdisciplinary work by anthropologists can give a more complete picture of a society than the more highly specialized studies of some Japanologists limiting their view, for example, to literature, sociology, or a single religious tradition of Japan.
      Asian Folklore
    • Richement documentée
      Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions
    • Präsentiert faszinierendes ethnographisches Material und bietet Einblick in die Abläufe an bedeutenden Kultstätten Japans.
      NOAG
    • A detailed and rich account of the beliefs, experiences, and practices of the priests and lay practitioners of Inari. Especially valuable is Smyers' documentation of how individual followers are able to set up 'my own Inari', infusing their personal and subjective content into the object of worship.
      Byron Earhart, Western Michigan University