This shrine didn’t feature in my Okayama guidebook and wasn’t high up the online lists of recommended places. However, I had read about Saijo-Inari Shrine in a book called ‘The Fox And The Jewel‘ by Karen A. Smyers which one lady very kindly sent me a copy of having read some of my fox/inari stuff on Tokyo Fox, particularly ‘On The Fox Trail……In Oji (Tokyo).‘
That heightened my interest a bit but I still wasn’t too sure about visiting it due to it’s location. It’s a bit out of the way but is in the vicinity of the Airport so knowing that I wouldn’t be returning to the airport to leave Okayama I decided that I would just take a taxi as soon as I landed.
Subsequently, I was already at Saijo Inari before 10am and the weather was absolutely sweltering. There really was nowhere to hide from the blazing sunshine in those early moments at the shrine.
My expectation was that it would be a fairly small shrine full of fox statues and that I’d be done within 30 minutes or so. As it was though, it was more like a poor-man’s Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto in terms of it stretching up the mountains. Whilst not a patch on that it did have it’s advantages though as during my whole time there I only saw a few people!
My early impressions of this place were quite disappointing. The shrine was covering a vast area but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I sure never thought it would be like Fushimi Inari but I did think it might be like other notable major centres of Inari worship in Tokyo such as Toyakawa Inari, Anamori Inari or Oji Inari.
As mentioned in ‘Okayama 2016 Pt IV…‘, the Japanese like to group things into three’s and Saijo-Inari Shrine is supposedly one of the three great Inari shrines but it seems that outside of the Kansai region there are local variations with differing results! The majority of these shrines are shinto ones dedicated to the Inari but this particular one in Okayama prefecture instead emphasises Buddhist teachings concerning the Lotus Sutra not that I have any idea what that’s all about!
If I had actually read more of the aforementioned book before my trip I may have learned that the main sanctuary is devoid of any fox imagery although the mini-pilgramage area and mountain do feature fox symbols.
Not knowing what I was letting myself in for, I started ascending the steps and eventually came to a fairly large rocky area overhanging some smaller shrines. I was already sweating quite a bit but by the time I made it to the lookout point on top of those rock the sweat was dripping off me. Not good when I knew it would be a long, long day with Washuzan Highland and Kurashiki (plus all the travelling!) still to squeeze in before I could take a shower/bath at the capsule hotel. Thankfully the panoramic views across the outskirts of Okayama city were reward enough!
On my arrival I realised that getting away from the place may be difficult and my theory was confirmed when I left and there was no sign of any waiting taxis. There were hardly any people other than one workman who I asked for directions to the bus stop. He pointed me in a direction and I followed it but found no bus stop so checked my maps app and saw that the nearest station at Bitchu Takamatsu was 37 minutes walk away. Not wanting to waste time and eager to get to Washuzan Highland Theme Park as soon as possible, my mind was immediately made up and I set off down the main road leading to the station. The giant torii gate in the distance was my guide not that I really needed one as it was a straight route all the way.
Click here to read ‘Okayama 2016 Pt VI: Naoshima’