Stroll through the torii gates
After a lovely day visiting temples the previous day, I was off to Fushimi Inari. To be honest, I was very curious to see what all the hype about the thousands of vermilion gates was about. I can just say that I was pleasantly surprised.
I got off the train at Inari and had no problem finding the shrine, I just followed the crowd of people. Fushimi Inari is popular with both Japanese visitors and foreign tourists but for different reasons. Japanese come to pay their respects while tourists come as the site is one of the most iconic landmarks of Japan. I noticed that they were more Japanese people than tourists, maybe due to the large number of school children.
Founded in 711 is Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is the most important Shinto shrine. It is famous all across the world for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, previously mentioned, and has appeared in many television dramas and movies like "Memoirs of a Geisha". Torii gate is seen as an entrance to a sacred shrine in the Shinto religion. The shrines located at Fushimi Inari honor the Shinto god of grains, more specifically rice (and sake by connection), Inari (稲荷). As well as the multiple gates, I was surprised to see lots of stone foxes (kitsune -狐, キツネ ) throughout the shrine grounds; they are everywhere as they are said to be messengers for Inari. The foxes are of all sizes and kind – big foxes, small foxes, foxes with capes, stone foxes, white foxes, cute foxes, scary foxes – there is a fox for every taste.
You can buy ema within the inner shrine. Ema (絵馬) are wooden plaques on which worshippers write on their prayers or wishes, which are then left hanging on the shrine wall as offering to the kami (spitits or gods). As you can see, there were lost of artists who tried their hands on the fox-shaped ema, some drawings being quite unique.
As you enter the large main Torii gate you are faced with the main building (Honden). After a few minutes of walking I find myself facing the famous alley of gates, the view is really striking. There are a lot of people and I had to wait before I could take a picture with fewer people. Sadly taking pictures with nobody in the background was impossible due to the the big number of visitors! However the higher I went the fewer people there were, so I was able to take pictures with relatively few people in them! I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. The more steps I took towards the top of the mountain, the more amazed I was by the beauty of the surroundings. The varying sizes and colours of the gates in contrast with the green forest make the location even more spectacular. Even though I am not a particularly spiritual person, it did make me feel in sync with nature.
Each of the gates has been donated by a company or organisation to give their thanks for their prosperity and in hope of good fortune in the future. So businesses pay large some to have their names written on the torii gates. Gates cost from 400,000 Yen for a small gate and over a million Yen for a large one. Since there is no more place for additional gates, they wait until a gates need to be refurbished in order to snatch a space.
Walking through the wooded forest and up the hill was not a simple affair, as Fushimi Inari is located on the sacred 223 metres high Mount Inari. If you manage to go all the way up, you will be able to see beautiful Kyoto. To get to the top and return again to the bottom would take a couple of hours; so comfortable shoes are required ( I was not well prepare!). As you continue the journey through the 10,000 torii gates, you see even more shrines, souvenir shops and food.
I really enjoyed visiting this shrine. After the beautiful but disappointing Kinkakuji, I had no high expectation of Fushimi. I am happy that this happened to be the best of all my visits. Perhaps it was the length of the visit, or the fact that it was free to visit but could could visit at your pace.
If you are planning to go to Kyoto please pay a visit to Fushimi Inari, you will not regret it as it is simply AMAZING.
A little reading about manners before you visit the shrine - Fushimi Inari Shrine – Etiquette Leaflet.
After admiring the site, I headed to my hotel to freshen up before meeting my friend for another amazing experience.
A Trip To Uji
After feeding up my cultural appetite, Noriko and I headed over to a small city situated between Kyoto and Nara. Uji (宇治) is known for its World Heritage sites such as Byodoin Temple or Ujigami Shrine or the Tale of Genji. However the thing that put Uji on the map is the quality of its green tea.
We drove to Uji however a train trip from Kyoto is about 20 minutes to either JR Uji or Keihan Uji.
After having no difficulty finding a place to park our car, we walk over the Uji-bashi Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in Japan. The end of the bridge takes you to Byodo-in Omotesando Street. This street is the center of the city I believe with shops after shops selling souvenirs, tea and tea-related products, from “dango” dumplings, to noodles, ice creams or even donuts. I tried both the noodles and ice cream and they were both delicious. After a nice walk around the shopping street and along the river bank, we headed to the meeting point for Uji's number two experience: Cormorant fishing. For more information about the experience, please check here. We did not visit Byodo-in Temple as we were on schedule but it is worth a visit.
Fushimin Inari Taisha, 68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa Fushimi-ku, Kyoto
* Entrance Fee: Free
* Access: 3-minute walk from JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line
5-minute walk from Keihan Railway Fushimiinari Station
* Hours: 7:00-18:30 / 8:30-16:30 (Prayer) – 24H for visit