10 Japanese Shrines & Deities Related to Food

By Leslie Betz
Updated: June 12, 2024

With their towering red torii gates and solemn atmosphere, Japanese Shinto shrines are some of the most iconic places to visit in Japan. This ancient animistic religion dates back to Japan’s Bronze Age and is still practiced today. With around 80,000 shrines, housing up to 8 million kami (gods), each shrine is unique. 

All shrines host a main deity, ranging from former emperors to mountain gods and even to legendary food deities! And they all bring a special kind of luck, whether you seek assistance with health, romance, better test scores or even success in the food industry.  

Some of the biggest events are when the locals gather for matsuri (festivals), and they happen at least once a year with local street food stalls, games and special performances. 

Read on to learn more about the history and reasons people visit Japanese shrines, and to explore some of these food-related deities! 

Japanese shrines: Why do they exist?

A Japanese shrine, giving people a place to make offerings to the gods.

Shrines can be found all across Japan and are easily distinguished by their red architecture and unique style of worship, unlike Japanese Buddhist temples which have more simple designs and muted colors. 

Originally places of nature worship for the elite to pray for protection or success in battle, shrines were places that distinguished between the hare (lucky), ke (mundane) and kegare (impure). Most of the major deities are documented in the ancient legends of the Nihon Shoki, The Chronicles of Japan.

Once the long civil war ended, Japan was united and the shogun (ruling warlord) reorganized shrine leadership, opening shrines to local communities. After a couple of hundred years of local practice, from the late 1800s to the end of World War II, Shinto was established as the official state religion, changing many aspects of local worship. But, after the war, it quickly went back to its local roots, and today many locals still visit shrines. 

Why do people visit Japanese shrines?

A red Japanese torii gate in front of a Japanese temple.

The biggest celebration at a Japanese shrine is the New Year’s festival, which features lucky games and street food. Starting before midnight, people line up to pray for luck in the upcoming year. Other important celebrations include a newborn’s first shrine visit, shichi-go-san (celebrating children at the age of three, five and seven), and the Coming-of-Age ceremony.

What to do at a Japanese shrine?

Water pouring from a bamboo pipe with small bamboo ladles to purify your hands upon entering a Japanese shrine

As far as shrine etiquette goes, it’s not too complicated, but there are a few important things to know. First, as you reach the shrine’s gate, you should bow once at the torii gate to show respect, and then walk along either side of the path as the middle is reserved for the gods.

Next, reaching the outer sanctuary, purify your hands using ladles or the running water from the bamboo pipe, whichever is available.

Now that you’re ready, you can proceed to the main sanctuary. Here, you will see an offertory box in front of the inner shrine. Gently drop a ¥5 coin in the offertory box to begin. The reason a ¥5 coin is recommended is because the word for this coin sounds like the word for fate, so it's considered especially lucky. 

Ring the bell two or three times using the large rope, if available, to announce your presence. Next, bow two times, clap your hands twice in front of you, then, keeping your palms together, silently say your prayer. Finally, bow once more to close your prayer, and that’s it!

10 unique deities and their food-related shrines in Japan

1. Inari, the goddess of rice

Inari shrine with multiple small, red torii gates and a moss-covered fox guardian.

Inari is the goddess of rice and general prosperity, and is found in about 25% of all shrines in Japan. This goddess is said to use foxes as messengers, and is often connected with other goddesses below, being said to appear in numerous forms.

While Kyoto is the oldest location, the second oldest location can be found in Miyagi if you want to avoid crowds.

Where to visit: Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto or Takekoma Inari Shrine, Miyagi

What to pray for: Many people visit to pray for general prosperity and wellbeing, especially for households or business, but many chefs and people in the restaurant industry pay their respects to Inari as well.

What to eat: Inari sushi, or vinegared sushi rice wrapped in aburaage (thin, slightly sweet tofu), is a very common food in Japan, and is vegetarian friendly as well. You can also try kitsune udon (fox noodles) which feature aburaage, said to be the foxes’ favorite food.

2. Sanbo Kojin, the god of the kitchen hearth and family protection

A fire sparking over a fire pit in a Japanese shrine.

The god of fire, the hearth and the kitchen, this god is often celebrated at home as well with a fuda (statue representation) placed near the kitchen. It is said to watch over the family and the home.

Where to visit: Kasayama Sampoko Shrine, Nara

What to pray for: protection of the home and family success.

What to eat: Irori, or traditional Japanese hearth cooking.

3. Ebisu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods, and the god of fishermen and tradesmen

A stone statue of Ebisu holding a fish, covered in moss.

Ebisu is one of the Seven Lucky Gods, and is either featured alone or among the seven depending on the shrine. He often holds a fish or can sometimes even be found riding a fish! This fish is especially related to luck and success.

Where to visit: Imamiya Ebisu Shrine, Osaka

When to visit: Toka Ebisu festival that takes place shortly after New Year’s in Osaka

What to pray for: business or financial prosperity, general prosperity and luck.

What to eat: Tai, or Japanese sea bream either grilled whole, or as sushi and sashimi. If you prefer something sweet, you can also try taiyaki (a traditional Japanese sweet in the shape of a lucky fish, filled with red bean paste), or anything at the Toka Ebisu festival.

4. Benzaiten, the goddess of the arts, rain, abundant harvest and wealth

A stone statue of Benzaiten holding a lute, surrounded by Japanese plants with pink flowers.

Originally a Hindu and then Buddhist goddess, Benzaiten was incorporated into Shinto belief in Japan and is said to protect locals, especially from dragons flying across the oceans. She is often depicted holding a lute and is also considered the goddess of the arts. 

Where to visit: Benten Cave, Kamakura

What to pray for: protection, success in the arts and general abundance.

What to eat: Daifuku or sweet rice cakes stuffed with fruit or red bean paste. The word daifuku means “extremely lucky” and there is even a major daifuku producer named after the goddess.

5. Ukemochi, Toyokehime, Ogetsuhime, the goddesses of the harvest, prosperity and Japanese staple foods

An unknown moss covered miniature shrine in the forest with small white fox statues surrounding the front.

These goddesses are often interchangeable and are considered by some to be apparitions of Inari. According to legend, this deity is the grandchild of Izanami, one of the gods that founded Japan, who prepared a meal for the gods. Unfortunately, one of the gods took offense and killed them.

From their body, Japanese staple foods sprung forth, including Japanese red bean, millet, wheat, and soy, allowing the people to enjoy bountiful harvests.

Where to visit: Ime Shrine in Niigata or Toyoke Daijingu in Ise

When to visit: July 12, Ime Shrine has a mikoshi parade festival.

What to pray for: a good harvest and bountiful prosperity.

What to eat: any traditional Japanese food, as most traditional meals incorporate many of the elements that sprung forth from the deity.

6. Takabe or Iwakamutsukari no Mikoto, the god of cooking

A traditional Japanese woodblock print of three women pouring tea and preparing food.

Legend has it that a man named Takabe served the emperor and offered him a dish of white clams that was so delicious he was made the imperial court chef, and his descendants followed suit. Because of this legacy, Takabe was deified.

Where to visit: Takabe Shrine, Chiba

When: In May, October, and November there is a kitchen knife ceremony, originally an imperial court ritual from the Heian period.

What to pray for: cooking techniques, improvement or any wish related to cooking.

What to eat: asari, or Japanese white clams in the spring.

7. Kusu no Kami, the god of sake

A wall of ceremonial sake donations in the sunlight at a Japanese shrine.

According to an ancient myth, in Shimane, there was an evil serpent terrorizing the people. One of the major gods gave some regional sake to the serpent, and then was finally able to slay the monster.

After this, the gods gathered to celebrate and enjoy some of this sake and are said to gather here still today. This region is host to one of the only shrines in Japan allowed to brew sake today.

Where to visit: Saka Shrine, Shimane

When: October 13, Doburoku sake festival.

What to pray for: success in sake brewing or anything related to fermentation.

What to drink: unfiltered sake brewed at the shrine or in the local area.

8. Tajimamori, the god of sweets

A peeled mikan orange with slices laid out next to another mikan, not yet peeled with a leaf coming off its stem on top of a wooden plate.

According to legend, a man named Tajimamori crossed over into a magical land in search of fruit, believed to be a tachibana from Wakayama, in hopes of restoring the emperor's health.

After his return, he found he was too late, and the emperor had passed, so he gave some to the emperor’s widow and the rest as an offering to the emperor, and quickly passed away from grief. For his efforts and love of the imperial family, he was then deified. 

Where to visit: Kitsumoto Shrine, Wakayama or Nakashima Shrine, near Kinosaki Onsen

What to pray for: health and success in the confectionary industry.

Related foods to try: wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweets, especially anything tangerine or yuzu flavored.

9. The three ice gods: Osasagi no Mikoto, Tsuge no Inagi Ooyamanushi no Mikoto, Nukata no Oonakashihiko no Mikoto

Japanese shaved ice with pink syrup in an etched glass dish.

At the foot of a mountain in Nara, there is an ice pond where it is said that three men learned of ice-making techniques and presented them to the emperor, and because of this, they were deified. This area is also home to a unique form of traditional Shinto music and dance.

Where to visit: Himuro Shrine, Nara

When: May 1, there is an ice festival to predict the upcoming luck of the year, featuring frozen rice cakes, ice fortunes and shaved ice offerings.

What to pray for: ice-making techniques, to welcome the spring and pray for favorable weather and a good harvest, or for general protection and prosperity.

What to eat: Kakigori, or traditional Japanese shaved ice, especially in summer.

10. Unknown Stone Chicken Deity, the protector guardian of children

A chicken and a rooster in vibrant colors.

At Keiseki Shrine, a priest took it upon himself to create a stone statue out of respect and appreciation for the humble chicken, said to represent the five virtues of wisdom. This statue was then enshrined alongside Inari and Ukemochi. 

It’s said that the chicken’s cry is a sign of the appearance of the gods, and because it doesn’t cry at night, it is said to be the guardian of children, protecting them at night. 

Where to visit: Keiseki Shrine, Fukuoka

What to pray for: success of a new project since the chicken comes from the humble egg, or seemingly out of nothing. You can also pray for colicky babies and children’s protection, or to show gratitude and appreciation for food.

What to eat: Oyakodon, or steamed chicken and egg in a soy sauce stew over rice.

Obsessed with Japanese shrines? See Hakone’s lakeside shrine, hike Fushimi Inari Shrine, or discover the delights of what to eat in Kyoto, the land of shrines. 

Japanese shrine and deities FAQs

Why do people offer food and money at Japanese shrines?

¥1 coins with a ¥5 coin on the right, held in a person’s palm.

With food being scarce in the past, early Japanese Shinto belief attributed the harvests to the gods, and farmers would offer the first and best of their crops to show gratitude to the deities for their provision. 

Long before coins were common in Japan, wealth was determined by rice production, with the stock market running in rice weights. Today, the ¥5 coin doesn’t just sound lucky, it has two rice sheaves on each side, acknowledging Japan’s rich history and value of rice production.

Today, while financial offerings are more common, farmers still offer the first of their crops to shrines, and the priests then undergo purification processes, ceremonially prepare the food, offer it to the gods, and ritually consume it.

At Ise shrine, this tradition has continued for an amazing 1,500 years, and while only the priests can consume this offertory meal, you will commonly see food offerings on display at local shrines.

A table laid out with a wide array of Japanese traditional food including sashimi, salad and small appetizers.

With its rich history related to Shinto, Japanese food, or washoku, has been registered with UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. If you want to properly enjoy a Japanese meal and connect with locals, start your meal with a little offering of your own. 

Place your hands together in front of your chest and say, “itadakimasu!” as a way to thank everyone and everything involved in making your meal. After finishing your meal, as you leave the restaurant, tell the staff, “gochisosama!” to say thank you for the meal. Brush up on a few more Japanese phrases for dining out.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Leslie Betz
Embracing the local life and finding new hidden gems are my favorite things to do here in Tokyo, Japan. After deciding to make a new life in Japan, I learned the language and fell in love with a great local guy and ended up getting married. In our free time, you can find us roasting coffee, doing pop-up events at bicycle shops or exploring hidden neighborhoods on our bikes.
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