June 12, 2020

Toyokawa Inari

Toyokawa Inari is a Buddhist temple in Aichi that is part of a trinity of Inari sanctuaries along with Kyoto's famous Fushimi Inari Taisha.

A fox statue at Aichi Prefecture's Toyokawa Inari sits in front of a torii gate.

These days, just about everyone under the sun knows of Kyoto’s eternally popular Fushimi Inari Taisha. With its endless series of vermilion torii gates, a shot at this location for the Gram is basically a must do when visiting Japan’s former capital. Alas, though all under the sun may now be aware of this shrine, fewer folks know that Fushimi Inari Taisha is actually part of a trifecta of sites that pay homage to the deity, Inari. Seeing as I’ve already covered Saga Prefecture’s contribution to the set in another article, I want to complete the trio of foxy sanctums with today’s post by introducing Toyokawa Inari.

Haven’t heard of Toyokawa Inari before? Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Located down in Aichi Prefecture, most foreign visitors to Japan sadly opt to skip over this stretch of the country en route to Kyoto and Osaka. This is a real shame as Central Japan is jam packed full of history and attractions. Moreover, many of these draws are easily accessible by those with JR Rail Passes who can hop on and off the bullet trains at will. Seeing as you can’t ride the Nozomi super-express anyway, why not make a pit stop for an allure like Toyokawa Inari before continuing on to Kansai?

Getting to Toyokawa Inari

The main approach to Toyokawa Inari in Aichi Prefecture.

While we’re on the topic of location, let’s pause for a second and cover how to reach Toyokawa Inari. Assuming you’re starting in Tokyo, you’ll need to hop on one of the Hikari or Kodama bullet trains that run on the Tokaido Line. Your first destination will be Toyohashi Station. Located just to the east of Nagoya, Toyohashi has long served as an important crossroad between eastern and western Japan and was therefore historically often contested. These days, Toyohashi serves as a jumping off point for those looking to head south to the coastal Atsumi Peninsula or otherwise, explore the area to the east of Nagoya.

Once you arrive at Toyohashi Station, you’ll need to make a transfer to a local train line. From there, you’ll need to make a short journey from Toyohashi Station to Toyokawa Station. As always, refer to a service like Hyperdia to figure out the schedules in advance. While trains aren’t as infrequent as they are in some of the more rural areas I cover on this blog, yet this is not the Yamanote Line. All in all, the leg of the journey from Toyohashi Station to Toyokawa Station should take less than a half an hour, even when you account for wait times.

After arriving at Toyokawa Station, your final objective will be to head to Toyokawa Inari itself. To do so, exit out of the station via the West Exit and bear right. Soon thereafter, you’ll stumble upon the humble shopping street pictured above. This is the main approach to Toyokawa Inari and is lined with an eclectic assortment of vendors. Toyokawa Inari’s entrance and first gate can be found at the very end of this boulevard.

Is Tokugawa Inari a Temple or a Shrine?

A fox statue at Aichi Prefecture’s Toyokawa Inari sits in front of the main hall.

If you’re an especially sharp reader, you’ll note that I have yet to use the word shrine or temple to refer to Toyokawa Inari. Moreover, the sepulchure’s moniker lacks the typical trappings that you’d find associated with either a shrine or a temple. What gives? Well, here I need to come clean and assert that Toyokawa Inari is actually not the site’s official name. Though Toyokawa Inari is the popular title by which lay people refer to the complex, it is technically a temple called Enpukuzan Toyokawa-kaku Myogon-ji. Given that’s a mouthful though, I’ll just stick with Toyokawa Inari…

Wait a minute you must be asking. Why is a temple part of a trinity of shrines to the deity, Inari? Oh boy… To comprehend the phenomenon, you need to first understand that historically, Shinto and Buddhism were not separated until an imperial decree in the late 1800’s. As such, Toyokawa Inari has both the markings of a shrine and a temple. In a nod to its syncretic routes, you’ll find torii and all sorts of other shrine paraphernalia scattered throughout the “temple’s” grounds. In fact, of all the many sites I’ve witnessed thus far, I can think of few other examples that so brazenly display their syncretic heritage.

Well, what about the deity Inari himself you ask? Here, you need to also know that under the syncretic system of Shinbutsu Shugo (lit. “the union of Buddhism and Shinto”), all of the Shinto deities had analogous counterparts in the Buddhist pantheon. Because of this, there is technically no real issue for a temple like Toyokawa Inari to enshrine the god Inari as the deity is also represented in Buddhism.

Feeling Foxy at Toyokawa Inari’s Reiko-zuka

Countless fox statues at the Reiko-zuka in Aichi Prefecture’s Toyokawa Inari.

While Toyokawa Inari lacks the sheer scale that the more famous Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto holds, nonetheless it still delivers when it comes to Instagrammable spots. Though I encourage you to spend an hour or so exploring the locale at your own leisure, you definitely cannot miss an area known as the Reiko-zuka (lit. “Hill of Foxes). Here, you’ll encounter a countless collection of fox statues. Often considered to be messengers for the deity Inari, it’s common to find a few statues at other Inari Shrines in Japan but I’ve never seen THIS MANY in one place.

While the Reiko-zuka is certainly the main draw, there are a number of other intriguing spots to check out. Tragically, many of the temple’s nearly 600 year-old original architecture no longer exists but that doesn’t mean that the grounds are any less photogenic. As can be seen throughout this piece, there are numerous hosts of handsome fox effigies littered across the grounds. Moreover, you’ll also discover a three-storied pagoda as well as several additional sub-halls to explore. Note, unlike the rest of Toyokawa Inari, the gate standing at the end of the main approach hails from the year 1536.

Eat Toyokawa Inari’s F@$#ing Meibutsu

Inari-zushi at a shop along the main approach to Toyokawa Inari in Aichi Prefecture.

No visit to Toyokawa Inari would be complete without eating the region’s local specialty. Given that the temple pays homage to the deity Inari, is it any surprise the favorite cuisine surrounding the compound is Inarizushi? Considered to be a favorite of Inari’s foxy messengers, Inarizushi are sweet pouches of fried tofu that are filled with sushi rice. Though modest in their ingredients, they taste heavenly and can be further flavored with an assortment of veggies that are mixed in with the rice.

You can find a number of venues to savor Inarizushi along the main approach to the temple. The Inarizushi set that I purchased (pictured above) cost me only 1,000 yen which was definitely money well spent. These days, I simply cannot resist the urge to support local vendors as they desperately need the yen of travelers like ourselves to survive. Despite the fact that I tend to eat close to zero net carbs, I just couldn’t resist doing what I can to help out.

Attractions Near Toyokawa Inari

Okazaki Castle, the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, in Aichi Prefecture

If you’re going to take the time to make a stopover for Toyokawa Inari, it would behoove you to check out a few other venues in this neck of the woods. After all, Central Japan is a treasure trove of history and culture. In fact, I wouldn’t fault the person who makes the claim that this is the true heart of Japan. Anyway, the suggestions below are logistically easy to add on to a trip to Toyokawa Inari.

  • Okazaki Castle
    Located approximately thirty minutes from Toyokawa Inari by train, this fortress is a modern reconstruction. Known to history as the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the legendary lord who founded the Tokugawa shogunate, Okazaki Castle makes for an easy addition to Toyokawa Inari. You’ll find the castle in Okazaki Park, a space within the confines of the fort’s former walls.
  • Hatcho Miso-no-Sato
    This facility offers visitors the chance to learn about the history and manufacturing of what is known as Hatch miso, a crucial ingredient in many of the local dishes. Of course, there are also ample opportunities at Hatcho Miso-no-Sato to dig in as well. If you’re a fan of miso, you absolutely need to check out this one. You’ll find it a few minutes walk from the previously noted Okazaki Park.
  • Toga Shrine
    Worshipped for centuries as the top shrine of the former Mikawa Province (essentially the eastern half of modern day Aichi Prefecture), this hidden gem has a history that dates back over a millennium. Since the lovely shrine is located a stone’s throw from Toyokawa Inari, it’s a logistically sound add-on.

Until next time travelers…