We floated through tunnels of bright vermilion, passing by a blur of kanji characters, black font etched in columns on either side. Thirsty and exhausted from the trek up the mountain stairs, we encouraged each other to keep climbing. The steps were a steep incline and our legs trembled against the hard rock, but our senses were alert, piqued by the sights and sounds all around us. The path that was normally well defined would periodically detour as trailing steps into the lush forest; stones that were somehow forgotten by time…We were in Kyoto, a magical journey up to the head shrine of Fushimi Inari Taisha.
The shrine was really a vast complex, and there were thousands of Torii dates, well 10,000 to be precise! In Japanese culture, a torii gate marks the entrance or pathway to a sacred shrine, and here at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the seemingly endless rows of red torii gates seemed like a fabric enveloping the mountain on which it was located.
Each of these gates had been donated by a company (or an individual) as an offering of their prosperity, and as a hope for continued good fortune in the future. The names inscribed on each column made me wonder how these offerings, through the years, had become the structure itself; it wasn’t lost on us that we were walking through the gates of good fortune and gratitude to get to the shrine itself…
There were lots of old gates and new ones continue to be added today. Prices run steep, as much as $10,000 for a large one, we were told. I paused and looked at his face,”uhhh…Not today”, said A. and we continued on… 🙂
The journey to the top can be a long one, and when combined with the walk down, it can take a total of 3 -4 hours (and that may not even be counting the time spent on taking countless photos)
As we continued to climb higher, the crowds started to thin out. It was late afternoon when we had started, and now dusk was started to set in; colors were more muted and the air was getting heavier, a light mist grazed the tree tops. We heard the cawing of birds, and looked up to see crows perched on the shrine, lending it an eerie feel…
Hearing voices down a side path, I followed in the direction of a gentle laugh towards a beautiful pond. There were a couple of giggling girls dressed in kimonos taking photos, a reminder that we were still in the present world of smart devices!
Fushimi Inari Taisha transports you into a mythical world, one where foxes hold the secret key to rice granaries and sake. The shrine is dedicated to an avatar of the Fushimi deity, the Inari (fox), considered as the protector of grains and often translated to a symbol of wealth. There are dozens of small fox (kitsune) statues as messengers of Inari scattered across the shrine complex.
The foxes always appear in pairs, where one fox holds the sacred jewel in its mouth representing the spirit of the gods, while the other holds a cylindrical object that represents the key to the granary. Most of them have a red collar tied around their necks.
We crossed several smaller shrines that had sculptures covered with bright garlands, and offerings in the form of mini torii gates and burning incense. Wonder what they had prayed for, maybe wished for a loved one?
As we got closer to the top of the hill, we passed by shops for food and souvenirs. We grabbed a drink to stay hydrated, and paused to take in the beautiful views overlooking Kyoto.
Thankfully, one does not have to reach the top (we gave up 3/4 of the way <sheepish grin>). How much or how little you climb is entirely up to you!
The way down is not the same path as the stairs leading up (after the half way point), and the views going down crossed various small gardens and a beautiful gold statue.
At the bottom (or base) of the shrine are the main Shinto shrines, where we paid our respect in the traditional style.
Approaching the shrine, we first made a small donation and then rang the bell in front of the shrine. Then, bowing twice, followed by two claps, we made a final bow while offering a prayer and making a wish for good fortune ahead!
The colors of the shrine were beautiful and the simplicity of the architecture amazed us even more…
And speaking of wishes, there were so many different ways of making a wish here; little slips of white paper with a secret wish that only you would ever know, mini torii gates with the names of your loved ones, small tiles where you can write your wish in detail (only downside; everyone can read it!), and finally, ancient wooden planks that seemed to hold old secrets.
And then finally, stop by the food vendors outside to grab a bite of the sweet rice balls and other quick Kyoto snacks! 🙂
How to Get There:
The best way is by the JR line; the shrine is located just across the JR Inari Station, on the JR Nara Line. The journey is a quick 10 min from Kyoto station and costs roughly ¥140.
The shrine is always open, and best of all is free! This also means insane tourist crowds, so visit during early morning hours, or late afternoon for the best experience!
Hope you enjoyed reading!
~ A&A ❤
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