When I took the photos of the newlyweds last Sunday at Heian shrine, something strange happened: At some point the groom took out a mask of a white fox and held it in front of the bride’s face. In her white robes, it had a quite striking effect: shinto bride with fox maskA bit later, he put the mask on the back of his own head. Not knowing what to make of this, I asked the father of the bride for the meaning of this. He explained that the (white) fox was the messenger of Inari, the god of rice (read: wealth, read: money) and as such, this gesture is meant to bring wealth to the couple. The main shrine dedicated to Inari – Fushimi Inari Taisha – lies in the South of Kyoto, so this explanation does make sense, but to be honest, I am unconvinced.

In Japanese folklore, the fox is generally considered a rather mischievous fellow, although he is capable of good deeds as well. A housemate said there was a story of a man marrying a beautiful woman – who in the end turned out to be a fox in disguise, with not so healthy consequences for the husband. The internet is surprisingly quiet about this though, I could find only find the old story The foxes’ wedding, but this is about a happpy wedding of two “real” foxes leading to lots of offspring – in a sense supporting the wealth theory. I could also find a saying that a foxes’ wedding takes place when there is rain during sunshine. Finally, a friend of mine from Tokyo sent an email to a local shrine asking for clarification, but there the custom appears to be unknown.

If anybody has a suggestion as to the meaning of the fox mask, please do let me know!