Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha – Inari meets, Inari
January 17, 2014 2 Comments
Inari Konkon is a fascinating little series that introduces popular ideas of belief surrounding the Kami called Inari into a relatively light-hearted romantic comedy set in Kyoto’s Fushimi ward. There are certain elements of the series that are of note, mostly related to the deity Inari and the various symbols and symbolism found within the series. Like a lot of anime there are aspects of Japanese society and culture that may be unfamiliar to people from other countries. These can come in the form of language used in certain situations, social, or cultural norms, and religious beliefs that may seem strange to visitors, but carry with them important meanings to those who take part. This is not unique to Japan of course, but is worth pointing out when watching, and exploring an anime that specifically focuses on a particular deity and the symbolism and beliefs that surround it.
The deity called Inari has been worshiped in Japan since at least the early eight-century, and today more than one-third of all Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to this kami (the number is somewhere between 32,000 and 40,000 depending on the survey used). Small Inari shrines without full-time resident priests, home, and company shrines, tiny field and roadside shrines are everywhere. If we included all of these smaller shrines then the registered number of Inari shrines in Japan would increase by ten to one hundred times the official figure. Furthermore, Inari worship is found throughout Japan in both rural and urban settings, and devotees include people from all social classes, with Inari worship and sacred sites being both shinto and Buddhist, although the form is more numerous. Inari worship is therefore a diverse part of Japanese religion that cannot be reduced to a few simply points that encapsulate what it is about. Also if we take all of this into consideration it should come as no surprise to find that quite a few anime involving religious themes focus on, or use images commonly associated with Inari in their stories.
What is particularly fascinating about Inari is the lack of consensus about the deities’ origin mythology, the meaning attached to the kami, what the kami is supposed to be patron of, and various other aspects of organised religion that are usually found within written texts and central discourses. Inari worship may be conducted by Shinto or Buddhist priests, by nonclearical religious specialists, by lay worship group leaders, or by devotees themselves. Inari also appears in a variety of images and guises, either riding a white fox, or as a Bodhisattva, perhaps flanked by two white foxes, or in the case of some worshipers, as a giant white fox instead. Suffice to say, Inari worship is made up of an eclectic group of people with a wide range of beliefs, ideas as to what the kami stands for, and centres of worship. But, not matter where the worship of Inari takes place, or who conducts it, one or more symbols will more likely be presents; the kitsune (fox), jewel, red torii (red arches which are often mistaken as a general symbol of Shinto shrines rather than specifically for Inari) red worship hall, prayer flags, rock altar, cedar, fried tofu, and rice.
The majority of these symbols are present within Inari Konkon, clearly denoting the character of Ukanomitama-no-kami as the god, or deity known as Inari (she says as much in her introduction). It’s quite interesting that the main character is named after Fushimi Inari (which also happens to be the temple where Uka-sama resides, and where Inari meets her), one of the main centres of Inari worship, and the place that many consider to be the place where Inari worship originated (especially Fushimi Inari). Her name is quite significant as it suggests she already has an affinity with Inari, and despite her clumsy nature, may be the subject of a diving blessing that allows her to see Inari and her kitsune helpers. Most of this first episode is spent showing us the capricious nature of Japanese kami, with Uka-sama granting Inari a single wish for helping one of her fox helpers. Instead of considering things, we see Inari wish to be like Akemi Sumizome so she can finally confess to Tanbabashi, the object of her affection.
Rather than a moral lesson, this first episode shows us Inari’s kind nature, slightly foolish ambitions, and love for her local shrine. Through her impulsive behaviour Inari realises that her problems with Tanbabashi, and her wish to confess to him cannot be solved with divine magic. Indeed, having Uka-sama grant Inari’s wish causes more harm than good, resulting in making all of her friends and family worried about her sudden disappearance, and very likely making Sumizome ill. Uka-sama’s impulsive behaviour is further demonstrated when she willingly gives away a portion of her divine powers to allow Inari to change back to her original form. That she has to do this instead of granting another wish – saying that a kami has to grant wishes for many other humans, and that granting two wishes for a single person in such quick succession could potentially upset the divine balance of nature itself – shows that Uka-sama was not thinking about the consequences of her actions in much the same way that Inari unthinkingly wished to be Sumizome.
But then, as a deity, Uka-sama does not necessarily have to think about the consequences of her actions; leaving it up the humans she bestows her gifts upon to make up their own minds as to what to do with them. It is however quite funny when we see her playing otome-games with the help of her fox helpers, only to try and hide that fact when Inari returns. The idea of a god playing otome-games may seem strange, but it certainly fits with the idea of Inari as a deity with a highly malleable image, while also creating a entertaining disconnect between peoples external image of a kami, and the reality. I wouldn’t call Inari Konkon a moral story, partly because I don’t think the Christian idea of ‘morals’ fits with Japanese kami or bodhisattvas. Instead it is a simple story about a middle school girl with an affinity for the Fushimi Inari temple, and an ability to change shape seemingly at will. You can make comparisons between this series and Gingitsune, but, while the later focuses on the relationship between Makoto and Gintarou, one of Inari’s familiars, this series specifically focuses on the deity herself. While slice-of-life is an overused term, there are clearly elements of it in Inari Konkon, along with a supernatural, or fantastical element provided by Uka-sama and her familiars.