Shinshi (Divine Servant) (神使)
Shinshi (Divine servant) is, in Shinto, an animal specified as a messenger (servant) of god. Also called 'Kami no tsukai' (a familiar spirit). Sometimes it is regarded as a god itself.
Tales of special animals acting on behalf of god to transmit the divine will are seen in Japanese Mythology.
In an episode from Emperor Keiko in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), an araburu kami (rough deity) from Mt. Ibuki was transformed into a huge snake and appeared in front of Yamato Takeru (no mikoto) who said 'This snake must be a servant of the rough deity.'
In another episode from Emperor Kogyoku in "Nihonshoki," the cries of monkeys were taken as omens of good and ill fortune, since they were considered 'servants of the great goddess of Ise.'
With time, animal familiars took on fixed identities in episodes of mythology of relevant gods or in shrine lore, and it became customary to feed those animals in the shrine's precincts. In later ages, a god's animal familiar might be popularly worshiped as a representation of the god itself, as seen in the case of the fox at Inari-jinja Shrines. This phenomenon likely arose due to the perception of such animals as unusual spiritual beings, irrelevant to their respective gods.
The following table shows examples of shinshi animals.