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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jewel of a Study, 12 Sept. 2007
Crazy Fox (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Workship: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship (Paperback)
If you happen to be just about anywhere in Japan, you'll doubtlessly find the landscape dotted with red torii gates that are the signature of Inari Shrines. From little roadside sheds to great shrine complexes, from evergreen groves to office building rooftops, they're everywhere. And there's hardly a local shrine that doesn't have a smaller Inari shrine off to the side on its grounds. Certainly something so prevalent, and obviously the object of active religious practice, must hold an important key to understanding religion in Japan. And yet Inari worship has been virtually ignored by scholars--with the thankful exception of Karen Smeyers, who does a truly excellent job in this very important study.

The merits of this book are many. The primarily anthropological approach allows the author to zero in on what Inari really means to various people without getting tangled up in the Buddhism or Shinto question (to which the answer is perhaps both and neither), but she deftly avoids the socioeconomic reductionism, the ahistorical fuzziness, and the cultural essentialism into which such an approach can lapse. The folk religion/elite religion false dichotomy is also transcended in favor of a multivalent look at the different significances of Inari from multiple perspectives and differing contexts along with how these all mutually conflict against, interact with, or deliberately ignore each other.

"The Fox and the Jewel" is of high scholarly caliber, full of fascinating little details which all add to the big picture (neither the forest nor the trees are lost sight of here). And it is invaluable for helping us understand this vital religious phenomenon ubiquitous in Japan.
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