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Special feature: Hatsu-uma

Hatsu-uma, the Festival of Inari! What Are Its Origins, Characteristics, and Powers?


Hello! I'm Shirosuzume, a writer who loves shrines (*^∋^*)

Fushimi Inari Shrine's Hatsu-uma Festival
Fushimi Inari Shrine's Hatsu-uma Festival

By the way, do you know what Hatsu-uma is?
This day is said to be the day when Inari was enshrined on Mt. Inari

In this article, I'll be introducing the specific dates and origins of Hatsu-uma, as well as the characteristics of the Hatsu-uma Festival held at Inari Shrine on this day.

At the time of writing, I participated in the Hatsu-uma Festival at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto!
I'll be explaining in detail the talisman called shirushi no sugi ("signs of cedar"), which is exclusive to this Hatsu-uma Festival, and the interesting secret story of Inari's birth.

There's also an interesting story of a Hatsu-uma visit in the past, so sit back and enjoy the ride♪

What is Hatsu-uma?

Senbon Torii (lit.
Senbon Torii (lit. "1000 torii gates") at Fushimi Inari Srhine.
Hatsu-uma is busier than ever!

Hatsu-uma is "the first day of the horse in February," which is a special day for Inari.

It is said that Inari Okami (along with Ukanomitama-no-Mikoto), the deity of Fushimi Inari, the main shrine of the 30,000 Inari shrines in Japan, was enshrined on the three peaks of Mt. Inari on the day of Hatsu-uma in February in the 4th year of the Wado period (711).

Roughly speaking, it is the anniversary of the dedication of the great boss of Inari, who is all over the country!

In connection with this, people began to visit Inari Shrine on the day of Hatsu-uma to pray for prosperous business, family safety, and a bountiful harvest.

When is Hatsu-uma This Year?

This year (2023), the day of Hatsu-uma is February 5 (Sun).

"The Day of the Horse" is based on the zodiac sign of the day that is counted by applying the date to the zodiac. The first day is counted as "rat", and when it reaches "boar" on the 12th day, it returns to "rat" again.

The day of Hatsu-uma will change depending on the year, and in 2024 it will be on February 12 (Mon).

By the way, although most Hatsu-uma festivals are held on the day of Hatsu-uma, there seem to be some variations depending on the shrine and region. For example, at the "Satisfaction Inari Shrine" in Kyoto, the Hatsu-uma festival is held on February 17th.

Just in case, check in advance before going out for a Hatsu-uma visit!

What is the Hatsu-uma Festival?

Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine

Now, let's take a look at what the Hatsu-uma Festival is actually about.
Here, I'll focus on the Fushimi Inari Shrine's Hatsu-uma Festival held on the first day of Hatsu-uma!

Fushimi Inari Shrine's Hatsu-uma Festival

The sunny Hatsu-uma Festival, lively with a cheerful festive mood♪
The sunny Hatsu-uma Festival, lively with a cheerful festive mood♪

Fushimi Inari Shrine is a famous sightseeing spot that is open all year round.
Inari, who brings good luck with a good harvest, is said to have powers mainly for business prosperity, family safety, and a bountiful harvest.

On the day of the festival, the approach to the shrine was lined with banners proclaiming the “Hatsu-uma Festival” and the shrine was bustling with activity.
At the main shrine, prayers for Hatsu-uma are held without interruption, and kagura dances are performed in the kagura hall next to it.

  • A pile of donated crops. Prayers and gratitude for a bountiful harvest are conveyed.
    A pile of donated crops. Prayers and gratitude for a bountiful harvest are conveyed.
  • Liquor barrels for offering sake. They are also tightly lined up here!
    Liquor barrels for offering sake. They are also tightly lined up here!

As soon as you pass through the tower gate, you will see the offerings piled up like a mountain in the main building. A lot of dedications such as vegetables and sake are displayed in heaps!

It is a scene that conveys the sincere faith of praying for a good harvest and deep gratitude to Inari.

Limited to Hatsu-uma – The Blessed Shirushi no Sugi

  • Shirushi no sugi. A special talisman given only on the day of the Hatsu-uma Festival.
    Shirushi no sugi. A special talisman given only on the day of the Hatsu-uma Festival.
  • The shrine office is crowded with a large number of visitors.
    The shrine office is crowded with a large number of visitors. "Fuku-kasane" is also lined up.

At Fushimi Inari Shrine's Hatsu-uma Festival, you can't miss the talisman called shirushi no sugi.

This is a 20 cm wooden stick with a cedar twig attached to it and is given only on the day of Hatsu-uma. It is a talisman for business prosperity and home safety, said to bring prosperity to the home when displayed at the entrance or in the alcove.

In addition to the standard shirushi no sugi (1,500 yen), there was also fuku-kasane (3,500 yen) with hamaya arrows and ema plaques.

The visitors were looking carefully at the items that seemed to bring good luck from among the talismans lined up in a row. Of course, I also chose the item that I thought was "the one."

Receive a rich harvest and good fortune via the shirushi no sugi, only at the Hatsu-uma Grand Festival ♪

The Origin of the Shirushi no Sugi: Branches Used to be Broken

The origin of shirushi no sugi is old, with there being a custom in the Heian period to wear a cedar twig of Mt. Inari as proof of visiting.

It seems that it was especially popular during the Hatsu-uma visit, and on the day of Hatsu-uma, many visitors broke off the cedar twigs of Mt. Inari, making the trees completely bald.

In the Edo period, farmers, fishers, and craftsmen were particularly devoted to Inari. It is said that many farmers visited Fushimi Inari Shrine on the day of Hatsu-uma.

Back then, in addition to the shirushi no sugi, it is said that the seeds of the five grains associated with a good harvest, pottery, and dolls made from the soil of Mt. Inari were given as souvenirs.

An Interesting Story - Hatsu-uma Visits as a Way to Meet Your Love!?

The Hatsu-uma Festival, which happens once a year, used to be crowded with many visitors.

There were not only those who visited the shrine out of pure devotion to Inari, but also many who visited the shrine in the hope of "meeting men and women".

Konjaku Monogatarishu records such an interesting Hatsu-uma visit story.

A married junior government official goes on a Hatsu-uma visit, full of ulterior motives. When he tried to persuade a pretty lady wearing a headdress, whom he thought was an amazing catch, it turned out to be his wife in disguise!

With many visitors and Inari watching, that must have been an embarrassing failure (laughs).
It's the same now as it was in the past.

Hatsu-uma Food

Here are some food items unique to Hatsu-uma!

◆Hatsu-uma Inari (Inari Sushi)
When speaking of Inari, inari sushi comes to mind. The Hatsu-uma festival at Inari Shrine is also celebrated by eating inari sushi on Hatsu-uma.

By the way, did you know Inaris look different in Eastern Japan and Western Japan?
They are mainly "bale-shaped" in eastern Japan, after rice bales, and "triangular" in western Japan, after fox ears.

◆Hatsu-uma Dango
In areas where sericulture was thriving, Hatsu-uma dango is made on Hatsu-uma and offered to the god of silkworms.

Hatsu-uma dango is a dumpling in the shape of a cocoon, enjoyed in miso soup or grilled and eaten as is with sugar and soy sauce to this day.

A local dish from mainly Tochigi Prefecture, made on Hatsu-uma and offered to Inari along with sekihan red rice.

The Origin of the God of Inari

  • A statue of a guardian fox biting an ear of rice
    A statue of a guardian fox biting an ear of rice

Now, I'll be explaining the origin of Inari, who is deeply involved in Hatsu-uma.

The Legend of Inari as seen in Yamashiro no Kuni Fudoki

Inari is enshrined throughout all corners of the country.
It is the most familiar god to us and has been deeply believed by people since ancient times.

The origin of Fushimi Inari Shrine, the head shrine of Inari, is described in an old book called Yamashiro no Kuni Fudoki.

According to the book, Fushimi Inari Shrine was built by a family of migrants called the Hata clan. A long time ago, around the Yayoi period, they came from the continent to Japan, where paddy rice cultivation was finally flourishing.

The Hata clan, which inherited the superior technology of the continent, prospered by spreading industries such as rice farming, sericulture, and brewing, amassing enormous wealth.

God of Rice Growing, Enshrined by the Ancient Migrants

In Yamashiro no Kuni Fudoki, a legend as the origin of Inari is as follows:

“When Irogu, the head of the Hata clan, shot a rice cake with a bow, it turned into a white bird and flew away. It stayed on the mountain peak where rice grew, and thus Inenari (lit. 'rice growing') became the name of the shrine.”

The god, who was nestled in rice cakes, turned into a bird and flew to Mt. Inari, where rice grew. This is the beginning of Inari, the god of rice that nurtures life.

…However, there's Irogu, the elder. He may be punished for using the precious rice cake, which was considered the source of life and a god, as an archery target!
As expected, the Hata clan also reflected a little, and the legend continues as follows:

“In the generation of his descendants, they regretted his previous mistake, pulling up the tree of the shrine along with its roots to plant it in their house and enshrine it. Now, if we plant the tree and it thrives, we will be blessed; if it withers, we will not.

The Japanese are a people who have worshiped rice as a god and have partaken in it. The ancient migrants who brought such important rice farming techniques founded the god of a good harvest, Inari.

Surprisingly enough, Inari was a god with international roots!


So how did you find it?

In this article, I've introduced Hatsu-uma, focusing on the Hatsu-uma Festival at Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Inari is a god that is the most familiar and deeply connected to us humans. Its roots, surprisingly, were once established by “migrants” who came from outside the country.

The Hatsu-uma Festival is a festival to celebrate the enshrinement of Inari and pray for a good harvest, prosperous business, and safety at home.
Be sure to pay a visit and receive good fortune via the shirushi no sugi and have a fruitful and happy year!

Inari Summit - Ichinomine (Kamisha Shinseki)
Inari Summit - Ichinomine (Kamisha Shinseki)

Location: 68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto

・Get off at Inari Station on the JR Nara Line and walk straight (5 minutes from Kyoto Station) ・Get off at Fushimi-Inari Station on the Keihan Main Line and walk east for 5 minutes

【City Bus】
・South 5 route: Get off at Inari Shrine-mae and walk east for 7 minutes

【By car】
・Meishin Expressway: About 20 minutes from Kyoto-minami Interchange ・Hanshin Expressway: About 10 minutes from Kamitoba Exit


・Supervised by Yo Nakamura “Ichi Kara Shiritai Nippon No Kamisama 2: Inari Okami” 2009 ・Ebisu Kosyo Publishing ・Fushimi Inari Shrine (official website) http://inari.jp/