Fushimi Inari Taisha. Does the name seem familiar? Maybe? What if I say “Senbon Torii”? Still no? Okay well let me put you out of your misery. It’s a famous Shinto shrine nestled at the base of Inari mountain, Kyoto. It’s most recognisable feature is it’s alleged over 1,000 torii (gateways unique to Shintoism and Japan). Let’s take a walk, shall we?
Ema boards and garlands at Fushimi Inari.
Dreams do come true.
This was a real bucket list dream for me. I’ve long admired images of Fushimi Inari; in glossy magazines, on TV, and never did I really think I would ever be lucky enough to tread its paths and admire its bright orange torii. In July of 2016, dreams became reality.
Lanterns hanging from one of the shrine buildings.
Fushimi Inari has an ancient history, with structures built as early as 711. Originally constructed on the Inariyama Hill in south-western Kyoto, the shrine was actually moved under the guidance of Monk Kukuk to where it sits now in 819. In 1499, the main shrine was built. At the base of Mount Inari sits the main gate (Roman/tower gate), and the go-honden (main shrine). The inner shrine is within the mountain behind, accessible up a mountain path, and through the sea of torii. Also lining this path are Tsuka, or worship mounds, and no less than 10,000! Incredible.
In the 8th century, the shrine was dedicated to the Kami of rice and sake by the Hata Clan. Over time agricultural roles diminished, seeing the adding of further deities to ensure business prosperity continued. The shrine is the head of all the Inari shrine in Japan, a subset dedicated to the Kami of sake, rice, fertility, agriculture, industry, and tea. It’s said there are 32,000 sub-shrines throughout Japan.
Hiking up Mount Inari.
Gateway to heaven.
Let’s talk torii. I said “1000 gate shrine”, but the number is reportedly closer to 5,000. As also mentioned, the torii is a feature unique to Japan and Shintoism (though you will occasionally see them at Buddhist temples in Japan and sometimes in other parts of the Far East, however their origin is Japanese), and the torii of Fushimi Inari are a vibrant orange, lining the path all the way from base to summit, where the inner shrine lies. Each torii is gifted by a business; the gate is erected along the path and etched with the details of the business. Walking through you will see signs detailing how your business too can gift a torii. It isn’t cheap! When you first enter, the first set of torii are smaller (maybe 6ft tall at most), and sit close together, forming a tunnel of sorts. It cuts off most of the light and gives off a whimsical glow. The further you go, the bigger they get, and the more spread out they become.
The magnificent torii.
Hiking the trail.
The walk up is moderate; it has a well worn path. However, it is a lot of stairs, and it’s a long walk, so factor in around 2-3 hours if you wish to make it to the top. It’s usually busy to around halfway up, then it dies off. It’s worth the walk though, the area is serene, has great views, and it’s simply beautiful. It’s easily accessed too, with the JR Nara Line Inari station and the Keihan Electric Railway Main Line Fushimi-Inari station only short walks away.
Mount Inari’s summit.
Another thing you’ll see are foxes (kitsune). Hailed as messengers to the Inari Kami, you’ll often see them sat in pairs, with keys in their mouths used to open granaries. Some are sporting fetching red bibs too; red is a colour believed to ward off evil and disease. It’s heavily associated with Buddhism, however Shintoism has adopted the practice over centuries of close co-habitation. In fact, as an aside, quite a few practices have been shared between the two faiths, and you’ll very often see Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples built close to one another.
Kitsune sporting red bibs.
Tips for visiting.
Carry plenty of cash, as there are no places within the grounds that accept card or foreign currency, as well as businesses surrounding it (Japan is largely a cash society). Pack water with you and wear sensible shoes, as the climb won’t be too fun in stilettos! Lastly, bring a camera, be respectful, and enjoy!