Inari’s Messenger is the Fox
Inari's Messenger is the Fox In traditional artwork, a pair of foxes typically flank Inari's image. But in modern times, images of Inari have all but disappeared, replaced instead by images of Oinari's messenger, the magical shape-shifting fox (kitsune 狐). Here the symbolism is two-fold. First, rice is sacred in Japan, closely associated with fertility (the pregnant earth) and with sustaining life. Inari and Inari's foxes must therefore be placated -- otherwise it would be disastrous to the livelihood of the nation's farmers and people.
Second, the fox is associated with the concept of Kimon 鬼門, literally "demon gate," a Japanese term stemming from Chinese geomancy (Ch: feng shui). In Chinese thought, the northeast quarter is considered particularly inauspicious. It is the place where "demons gather and enter." This belief was imported by the Japanese and is referred to as Kimon. Kimon generally means ominous direction, or taboo direction. In Japan, the fox is considered a powerful ally in warding off evil Kimon influences. Fox statues are often placed in northeast locations to stand guard over demonic influence, and two foxes typically guard the entrance to Inari Shrines, one to the left and one to the right of the gate.
NOTE: In some Buddhist-Taoist sects in Japan, the role of warding off evil kimon is played by the monkey, as the Japanese term for monkey (猿, pronounced saru) is a homonym for the Japanese word "expel" (去る, also pronounced saru).
Inari 稲荷 (also written Oinari). The deity of rice and a major Shinto kami. Closely associated with various Shinto deities of food, Inari can be depicted in either male or female form. Inari not only protects the rice harvest -- s/he is also the patron of prosperity for farmers and merchants, especially those involved in rice production, foodstuffs and fisheries.
Inari is generally associated with various manifestations of the Hindu goddess Dakini or Dakiniten 荼枳尼天, who in turn is associated with Daikoku-ten 大黒天 (Skt. = Mahakala), the latter considered the Hindu god of Five Cereals. In Japan, Daikoku-ten is one of Japan's Seven Lucky Gods and venerated as the luck-bringing protector of the earth, farming and farmers, commerce, and overall good fortune. Daikoku imagery in Japan is also identified with the mythic Shinto figure Ō-kuninushi-no-Mikoto (or Okuninushi-no-Kami, 大国主命, translated as "Prince Plenty" or "Prince Ruddy Plenty"), another Shinto deity of rice.