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by Micha F. Lindemans
The Japanese god of food or goddess of rice. Inari is one of the most mysterious deities of Japan. He is both male and female. Each year he/she descends from a mountain to the rice fields. The fox is Inari's messenger and it is believed that he/she can assume a fox's shape. The deity may also assume the shape of a spider in order to teach wicked men a lesson. Inari is portrayed with a beard and carrying two bundles of rice.

An Inari-shrine can be found in many Japanese towns and in many households he/she is venerated as a symbol of prosperity and friendship. These shrines are guarded by statues of foxes, divine messengers. Inari's central temple is Fushimi-Inara in south-east Kyoto city, built around 700 CE.

Inara the rice-goddess is celebrated in a festival held during the first days of spring when cultivation begins. She may be identified with the Indian Lakshmi and the Javanese Dewi Sri. Inari is also sometimes identified with Uga-no-Mitama, the goddess of agriculture.

Aburage, fried bean-curd, is an offering relished by Inari. Rice wrapped in aburage is called Inari-sushi or o-Inari-san.

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