Reading list for the Alternative Fushimi Inari Walking Tour

So you’ve been on the Alternative Fushimi Inari Walking Tour. You’re now ready to dive even deeper into Kyoto’s temples and shrines. A little reading up won’t hurt, so here’s a reading list for the bookworms out there. Craft Tabby’s tours are all extensively researched and the Alternative Fushimi Inari Walking Tour was based off these, on top of on-site interviews with the people living on Mt Inari.

We have arranged these readings thematically, then alphabetically.


Buchanan, D.C. Inari: Its Origin, Development, and Nature. Tokyo: Asiatic Society of Japan, 1935.

Buchanan was the first person who wrote about Inari in English. This early work is orientalist especially in the first few chapters and Buchanan at times refers to the “primitive” acts that occur in the faith. However the later chapters especially “Shrines and Festivals” and “Worship” contain valuable historical information about the events and practices that existed in the 1930s. Read The Fox and the Jewel before reading Buchanan’s book. This volume is difficult to get your hands on (many libraries in the States hold copies though), but the Inari Faith International Facebook group has made available a complete scan under the “Files” section of the group.

★ Smyers, Karen. The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Karen Smyers spent over a year with people on Fushimi Inari to complete her PhD dissertation back in the mid-nineties While two decades have since past, this is still the preeminent guide to the syncretism and individualism that you will find at Fushimi Inari. Her in-depth research at Fushimi Inari truly brings to life the dynamism of worship at the shrine in Kyoto, where official and unofficial interpretations about the gods and rituals can exist alongside each other.

Smyers, Karen. “Inari Pilgrimage: Following One’s Path on the Mountain”. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 24/3-4 (1997): 427-452.

If you don’t have time for the whole book, Smyers also has a short article that focuses on how two groups of pilgrims circle Fushimi Inari. The worship groups she describes are no longer there but other groups exist albeit on a far smaller scale. Her description of the methods that people employ to select the gods they want to worship remains relevant to this day.

Shintoism & Buddhism

Abe, Ryuichi. The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

There are many books about Kukai, the Buddhist priest who built Toji Temple, which has Fushimi Inari as its guardian shrine. Most fail to take a critical look at the power and politics of the man, choosing to focus on his works. Abe takes a closer look at Kukai’s life and the route Kukai took to become the famous monk everyone knows him as today. This book is not for a reader who is trying to understand Shingon Buddhism, but for the reader who wants to understand the politics of the founder of Shingon Buddhism.

★ Ajahn Brahm. “What is Buddhism”. Buddhist Society of Western Australia, 2016.

A very short, concise, excellent introduction for beginners.

★ Bragg, Melvyn. In Our Time, Shinto — Interview with Martin Palmer, Richard Bowring, and Lucia Dolce, BBC Radio 4, audio recording, September 22, 2011,

This 45-minute discussion of what Shinto is doesn’t dumb it down but neither does it oversimplify. A good beginner’s introduction to religion in Japan.

Breen, John, and Teeuwen, Mark. A New History of Shinto. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

The first chapter is titled “An Alternative Approach to the History of Shinto”, which should give you a good idea about the flavour of the book. The political nature of the changes that have occurred in Shintoism over time is properly described here, and the two authors also elaborate on the controversy that surrounds the National Association of Shrines.

Hardacre, Helen. Shinto: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

The thousand torii gates from Fushimi Inari adorns the cover of this book, but it goes beyond just Fushimi Inari. It is an academic book, but anyone trying to understand the history of Shintoism would do well to get this book. In the section about Inari, Hardacre describes the clampdown of the 1800s when the government started seeing the shamans on the mountain as “unorthodox religionists”.

Toshio, Kuroda, Dobbins, James, and Gay, Suzanne. “Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion”. The Journal of Japanese Studies 7/1 (1998): 1-21.

This short article is by no way comprehensive, but it provides an good overview about how Shintoism in its different forms has been regarded by people in different ages, how the Ise Shrines cannot be said to practice “pure Shinto” and how Shintoism has been so intertwined with Buddhism that it cannot be understood as a religion that is completely separate from Buddhism.

Nelson, John. Enduring Identities: The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Shrines have to react to changes around them, and Nelson takes a behind-the-scenes look at the running of the Kamigamo Shrine, a large, important shrine located in the northern parts of Kyoto City. Incidentally the lightning god enshrined there is said to be the son of the rock at Fushimi Inari’s Mitsurugi Shrine. Nelson’s findings are very similar to Smyers in her book about Inari — that different groups of people see and use shrines differently, and that the identities they create for themselves are very much dependent on the power that they hold.

Politics and Religion

Bernstein, Andrew. Modern Passings: Death Rites, Politics, And Social Change in Imperial Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

Today Shinto shrines have almost nothing to do with death, while Buddhist temples usually have a cemetery attached. Bernstein looks at how this came to be, and also goes into fascinating detail about how the Japanese came to embrace cremation. This academic book is far from dry and boring — Bernstein has managed to make death and dying quite interesting.

Gay, Suzanne. The Moneylenders of Late Medieval Kyoto. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

The water from Fushimi Inari flows down to the Fushimi area where breweries continue to make sake to this day. Gay looks at a time when rice and sake were currency that created power for those who had it. She focuses on the Kyoto area, which makes her book very interesting for anyone who has visited Fushimi Inari and drunk sake from the Fushimi district. You’ll also see the monks at Mt Hiei in the northeastern part of Kyoto in a totally different light by the time you get to the end of the book.

Zen Gardens

Inaji, Toshiro. The Garden As Architecture: Form and Spirit in the Gardens of Japan, China, and Korea. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

★ Itoh, Teiji. The Gardens of Japan, 2nd edition. New York: Kodansha USA, 1998.

Itoh, former president of Kogakuin University, writes about the Shinto origins of zen gardens, and dissects a few important zen gardens in Kyoto. This is a rare find, where the photographs are backed with lots of information. You’ll learn about individual elements of a garden, and the differences between sitting and strolling gardens. Toraya Karyo Ichijo has a copy of this book, so you might want to read this while enjoying tea and sweets next to the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Kawaguchi, Yoko. Japanese Zen Gardens. London: Frances Lincoln Publishers, 2017.

Slawson, David. Secret Teachings In Art Of Japanese Gardens: Design Principles, Aesthetic Values. New York: Kodansha America, 2013.

★ Tschumi, Christian. Rebel in the Garden: Modern Japanese Landscape Architecture by Mirei Shigemori. Basel: Birkhäuser Architecture, 2007.

Shigemori Mirei, the designer of the Garden of the Wave of the Heart at Komyo-in Temple, is regarded as the father of the modern zen garden. Tschumi’s detailed research into Shigemori’s life and work will help you understand why Shigemori’s gardens look as they do. Tschumi also brings you into 17 different Shigemori gardens, many of which are found in Kyoto. A must-read if you liked the garden at Komyo-in Temple.


Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2016.

The Guardian has called the author “the man who thinks trees talk to each other”. At Fushimi Inari, as with all other Shinto shrines, the trees have been regarded as divine and talkative. Wohlleben says he doesn’t hug trees and doesn’t talk to them, but his book will help you fall even deeper in love with trees.


Burnham, Helen. Looking East : Western Artists and the Allure of Japan. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2014.

Some guests wonder if Japanese religion or Japanese art have affected Western perceptions of Japan. Learn how even Vincent van Gogh had been influenced by what he saw coming out of Japan in the early twentieth century.

Fleming, David. Surviving the Future : Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016.

This book may appear to have nothing to do with the tour at first glance, but take a look at the chapters “Carnival” and “Religion” and you’ll understand why this is on the reading list. Fleming argues that carnivals and rituals, like the ones you witnessed at Fushimi Inari, are necessary for the survival of communities.