Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

Step into A Japanese Fairy-tale: The Inaho Fox Wedding

Tucked away in the often-overlooked prefecture of Yamaguchi is a small city known as Kudamatsu. Often ranking amongst the top comfortable cities to live in Japan, it is strange to think of how unknown Kudamatsu is to anyone from outside of the prefecture.

Although the city is little known and quite uncharted by both domestic and foreign tourists alike, it is actually home to multiple legends and folktales, but perhaps the one that stands out the most is the legend of the white fox.

Once a year, during the autumn season, a festival called The Inaho Fox Wedding is held to commemorate the story of the white fox. The typically narrow and peaceful streets of north Kudamatsu suddenly burst into life as more than 3,000 people come to witness the annual event.

Elaborately decorated floats are carried through the narrow streets. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

Legend of the white foxes

According to local folklore, the story of the white fox began when the head priest of Hoseiji temple lost his rosary beads in the nearby forest.

When he slept that night, two fox spirits came to him in a vivid dream where they stood beneath an old birch tree. They said to him:

We will bring back your rosary beads tonight for you, but you must bring us to your temple and honour us there. In return we will watch over the people of your temple and ensure no misfortune comes to your village.

The priest woke suddenly from his slumber and found, to his astonishment, the rosary beads next to his pillow.

Following the request of the fox spirits, he headed back into the forest and started towards the old birch tree.

There, underneath the birch, the priest found the bodies of two dead white foxes.

Recalling what the spirits had asked of him, he took the two foxes back to his temple. There, he buried the two bodies in the same way as people and respectfully performed an elaborate memorial ceremony for them.

From that day on, Hoseiji temple has become famous for finding things that are lost. Many people visit the shrine to find whatever it is that has gone missing, and often they find what they are looking for.

A wedding procession takes place with all the attendees dressed up as foxes. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

The Fox Wedding Festival of Kudamatsu

Although the folktale of Kudamatsu’s white foxes originated in the Edo period, the Inaho Fox Wedding Festival made its debut in 1950.

Following the second world war, the country was plunged into mayhem, and many old Japanese practices were lost. Local volunteers of Kudamatsu city sought to bring back the tradition of praying for a good harvest, and to remember the story of the white foxes. For those reasons the Inaho Fox Wedding Festival was established.

Every year, the Fox Wedding festival is held on November the 3rd in the Hanaoka area of Kudamatsu city.

The festival sees a wedding procession of a fox bride and groom take to the streets of Hanaoka. People who take part in the parade are dressed up in wedding attendee attire and don fox masks or face paint. Making their way through the old streets to Hanaoka station, the parade partakers perform dances and carry elaborate festival floats to the sound of traditional Japanese wedding music.

The fox bride and groom, clad in traditional Japanese wedding Kimono and Hakama, are carried through the streets on a Jinrikisha (a type of pulled rickshaw). Each year the performers who play the bride and groom are selected from the residents of Kudamatsu, however, their identity remains a mystery and they conceal their faces behind kitsune masks. It is said that whoever plays the role of the bride, will be blessed with a good marriage in the future.

Hot on the heels of the fox couple, relatives and wedding attendees also wearing masks or fox facepaint, follow.

After the parade reaches Hanaoka station, the traditional wedding ceremony of “San San Kudo” is performed, where the bride and groom drink sake three times from three different cups. The three sake cups are of different sizes, with the smallest one representing the past, the medium one the present and the largest cup the future.

Many locals, including foreign expats come to take part in the performance as it is believed that those who are involved in the procession will come to no harm, experience good harvest, and prosper in business.

Numerous stalls selling food items and festival goods line the streets of where the parade takes place. At the stalls, visitors can pick up a fox mask of their own and try the favourite food of foxes; Inari Sushi.

Relatives and wedding attendees also dressed as foxes, follow the bride and groom. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

Getting to Hanaoka Fukutoku Inari Shrine

For those who are interested in seeing the Inaho Fox Wedding festival of Kudamatsu City, the event is held annually on the 3rd of November at the Hanaoka Fukutoku Inari Shrine.

Hanaoka Fukutoku Inari Shrine can be reached within a 5 minute walk from Suo-Hanaoka station on the Gantoku train line. The Gantoku line runs hourly from Tokuyama station to Iwakuni Station. Another option is to take a taxi directly from Kudamatsu station to Hanaoka Fukutoku Inari Shrine.

By - Connie Sceaphierde.