A photo taken and posted on Twitter by 狐仙人乃弟子トコノオルタ (kitsune sennin no deshi tokono oruta | "Fox hermit disciple Tokono Orta"), who enjoys taking photos of foxes, went viral earlier this month, garnering over 200,000 likes at the time of writing.

The surprising photo was taken at the 御金稲荷 Okon Inari Shrine in 白石市 Shiroishi City, Miyagi Prefecture.

Here's the photo that has so many people talking:

"Kitsune sumo"

Reproduced with permission from 狐仙人乃弟子トコノオルタ (kitsune sennin no deshi tokono oruta | "Fox hermit disciple Tokono Orta")

At many shrines in Japan, a pair of statues are erected at the entrance representing guardian beasts, the messengers of the kami (god) of the shrine. The most typical type of guardian beast is a 狛犬 komainu, which look like a cross between a lion and a dog. However, at shrines dedicated to 稲荷大神 Inari Ōkami, a popular deity associated with foxes, rice, household wellbeing, and prosperity at home and at work, these are 狛狐 komagitsune, or guardian foxes.

Under the watchful gaze of the twin guardian fox statues of Okon Inari Shrine, a pair of real foxes, Ezo red foxes to be precise, were having a "sumo match"!

It's a heartwarming sight, as if the messengers of the gods have appeared, showing their vitality in a (hopefully) friendly bout of "fox sumo."

If you wonder about the likelihood of seeing foxes within the grounds of an actual fox shrine, let alone fighting, it's infintessimally small. You could spend several lifetimes and never see it happen...unless you happen to be at this particular shrine.

The Okon Inari Shrine is located in the 宮城蔵王キツネ村 Miyagi Zaō Fox Village where more than 100 foxes roam free. With so many foxes roaming around, it's not so unusual to see them fighting once in a while. This photo, however, represents a particularly fortuitous coincidence.

As a result, the photographer was able to treat the world to this amazing collaboration between guardian foxes and real foxes.

This remarkable photo elicited a wide variety of comments, such as:

  • "They look quite plump for foxes, more like raccoon dogs!"
  • "Cute! It looks like a scene from a fairy tale!"
  • "This is a sumo bout worth watching! A real fight among the guardian foxes..."
  • "Maybe they only offered one strip of fried tofu at the shrine?" *

* The Inari tradition and the fox worship at its heart are said to have originated from the fact that foxes were seen as "protectors" of the rice harvest since they ate the vermin that threatened it. As a result, the food offerings at Inari shrines were originally fried rats but this was thankfully changed to 油揚げ abura-age, deep-fried tofu pouches. This gave rise to the notion that foxes love abura-age.

If you want to see a collaboration between an Inari Shrine and foxes, why not visit Miyagi Zaō Fox Village. Who knows, you may get lucky!

By - grape Japan editorial staff.