The story is centered around a small Inari shrine dedicated to the agricultural god Uka-no-Mitama (“The Spirit of the Rice Storehouse”) who is identified with or at least associated with the fox god Inari. Once the center of a farming village, the shrine is now surrounded by urban development.
Someone else lives at the shrine: a large anthropomorphic fox named Gintarou whom only Makoto can see. He is a shinshi (“divine messenger”) and is actually a personification of one of the shrine’s two guardian statues. Gintarou is a gruff, grumpy and growly spirit but he’s pretty much putty in Makoto’s hands. He tries not to let her realize it though.
Makoto first saw Gintarou on the day of her mother’s funeral. Apparently the ability to see shinshi is inherited by the women of her family, with only one able to exercise it at a time.
Gintarou has a strange quirk for a fox: he love to eat oranges. This apparently dates back to a time centuries ago when he was a real fox and was injured. A cheerful girl who looked something like Makoto gave him oranges to eat.
In modern Shinto mikos (shrine maidens) have little authority and are subordinate to a mostly-male priesthood. In anime and other fantasy fiction it’s practically the other way around. In fiction, if you have trouble with an evil spirit you had better get the help of a miko because Shinto priests are almost always depicted as ineffectual if not incompetent.
By these standards Makoto’s father is a pretty decent Shinto priest. He’s laid-back and cheerful and smarter than he looks. He can’t see Gintarou but he doesn’t doubt that he exists and that Makoto can see him.
Makoto’s classmate Yumi Ikegami is a brash arrogant semi-delinquent. Makoto manages to make friends with her by helping her find a lost cat.
Hiwako Funabashi is vice-president of the student council. She comes from a very strict traditional family and is studious, humorless and judgmental. She and Yumi seem like natural enemies but Makoto wants them all to be friends.
Makoto finds a turtle who used to be the shinshi of a tiny lakeside shrine, until it was abandoned and demolished. Now she needs to find a suitable new home for him.
Utamaru and Saimaru are a couple of elderly liondog spirits who guard the area’s most important shrine.
All this may seem pretty familiar. Shrine maidens and Shinto spirits are an anime staple. However most such shows just use Shinto ideas as a takeoff point for some sort of fighting or horror story. They don’t worry too much about whether the things they depict are authentic Shinto traditions. For example it’s common to show a miko using onmyoudou to fight evil spirits. That’s really more of Taoist tradition than Shinto.
Gingitsune seems much more concerned with authenticity. In fact, at times it feels like religious education. Every episode manages to work in a brief lesson about Shinto traditions and history. (When visiting a Shinto shrine you always walk on the left side of the path, because the center of the path is reserved for gods–and it also helps to keep people from bumping into each other.)
To a Japanese culture geek like me this is a great bonus. (Maybe next time I visit a Shinto shrine I won’t look like such a bumpkin.) Your mileage may vary.