When you see those glorious orange tori gates Japan is famous for, one site stands out among the rest for its sheer number: Fushimi Inari, just south of Kyoto proper. There’s a lot of history and culture packed upon this mountain shrine, ready to be unpacked by the willing traveler.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
The main temple grounds are pretty standard: You can buy charms and get your fortunes told in one area, offer prayers in another, and generally stroll about. You’ll notice a lot of fox statues all over the place. These are the messengers of Inari, the god of rice, fertility, agriculture, and industry. Inari is the most popular of the principal deities in Shinto, with nearly a third of all Shinto shrines across Japan dedicated to Inari. Keen eyes will notice that the name of the temple has the god’s name in the title, as well as the ward (Fushimi) where the temple resides.
We went on a cloudy, muggy summer day in August. It’s always best, no matter where you go in Japan, to get there early. The country is tightly-bound with its space, and given that this is such a popular spot to visit, it does fill up quickly.
The shrines and passages are far more expansive than most imagine: The mountain paths, lines famously with the thousand torii gates, or Senbon torii, span over two and a half miles (four kilometers) across the mountain. Given the steepness and windy nature of the paths, not to mention the crowds, you could be facing a multi-hour hike to complete the circuit.
That being said, the sight is something truly to behold. The vibrant orange gates jumped out vividly against the grey skies and dense green foliage of the surrounding fauna. On each gate, you can see the names of individuals and corporations who have donated to the temple to help with maintenance fees. It’s a super impressive feat to see all of these gates standing and nearly all of them with names carved into the back, showing the overwhelming support to keep this cultural heritage sight kept up and thriving for years to come.
It’s absolutely free to enter, and it’s one of the quintessential stops in Kyoto. If you have the time and the will to hike, you should definitely stop by. You know, even if you don’t have the will to hike, you can go in a few minutes up the path and turn back, still affording yourself an incredible opportunity to see this unique shrine.