Chances are you have seen pictures of Japanese Shrines at some point in your life. Let’s be real, if you’ve ever seen any picture of an anime show or manga there’s a strong chance you’ve glimpsed something that looks like this: Japan is known for its ancient temples and unique combination of Buddhism and Shinto. As such, I’ve decided to start series on all the shrines I’ve visited so far. To start it off, let’s talk about Trip Advisor’s choice for best shrine to visit in Japan, as a foreigner: Kyoto’s Thousand Tori Gate Shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha.
How to get there:
Getting to Fushimi Inari is insanely easy. You ready for this? Have a pen? A pencil? Some paper or maybe a forearm?
Get to Kyoto Station and take the JR Train Line to “Inari” and then get off.
Take the Keihan Train Line to “Fushimi Inari” and then get off.
What is this shrine?
Before you visit Fushimi Inari, I want you to know what you are getting yourself into. If you actually want to see all that the shrine can offer and not just the main entrance way, prepare to spend about 4 hours lunging your through a 4 kilometer long trail that criss crosses the mountain behind the main shrine buildings. This mountain, Mt. Inari, has one of the best views in Kyoto and is an amazing way to get some exercise while on your trip ;).
The trail looks like this and maps can be found at different rest stops throughout your walk. Note: they are NOT to scale…like at all.
What’s really important is that this is the head shrine of the Shinto god of rice, Inari. Thought of as a patron of merchants and businesses, most companies and groups gather here to donate one or multiple tori gates, in the hope that it will bring good fortune to their future ventures. As of now, there are believed to be over 1,000 of these gates placed throughout the mountain. Trust me, there have to be more, they are literally everywhere! You’ll really start to feel the care and hope etched into their frames.
What should you do & look out for?
1. Gates – It’ll be pretty hard NOT to see the big orange beauties. That being said, take some time and really look at them. Check out the writing on them and see what condition they happen to be in. If you’re lucky you’ll see people working away to repair holes or chipped paint. These people most likely work for one of Japan’s coveted 1000 year old companies who have maintained shrines for centuries. Yeah….seriously….it is epic.
Remember how I told you businesses will donate these gates to the shrine? The bottom picture above explains how much certain sizes cost. They basically range from 5 meters and ¥175,000 to 10 meters and ¥1,302,000.
2. Kitsune –
Kitsune, or foxes, are seen as messengers of the gods and are frequently placed in Inari shrines. Here, they are EVERYWHERE. Most often, you can identify them with the red jacket they wear and the long strand of rice in their mouth. At various points throughout the mountain you can also find the main idol points of worship that also have foxes.
At one of these stops, you can even participate in the shrine tradition of writing a prayer to the shrine and placing it along some fence. However, here it takes the form of a cute fox face that you can decorate in any way you want. Here are a few of the amazing murals that have been made from peoples prayers.*
*It is recommended to pay 500 yen for these cute little arts and crafts projects.
3. Ice Cream & Beer – Its early morning, you’re pretty winded from the hike, never realizing you were this out of shape, and you start to think a nice cold Asahi beer will fix all your problems. Well Japan has you covered. In Japan, it is totally fine to drink in the shrines. In fact, there are stalls selling alcohol as you walk. You even have choices of grabbing it to go or sitting down at one of the super cute cafes perched to the side of the mountain.
Too young for beer, or just not cool with day drinking? Don’t worry, there are soft drinks, water, and ice cream available, as well. I’m talking good matcha and green tea ice cream. I’m just going to say you’ll probably be one of the few people not diving into a cone up at the top of the mountain ;).
4. STAY ON THE TRAIL – Now, it is very difficult to get lost here but it is possible. You are in a forest and whatever is not on the main path is completely unmarked. I learned this the hard way when I followed some suspciuous torii gates out into the woods. It took half an hour, scraped bruises, and some spelunking to find my way back to the trail for my 2 hour descent.
My advice: if you see an elderly Japanese man going off into the woods jogging or with gear, he knows what he is doing so go make a new friend.
Even if you do end up getting lost, just be calm and have a good time. Inari is a beautiful place and has all kinds of secrets and treasures hidden around its mountain.
That’s my two cents on the subject and I’ll be writing more on things that you should do at Inari soon, plus what to do around Inari. If you’ve been there before I’d love to hear your thoughts or any stories!