Another attraction to put on your top 10 things to do in Kyoto list. The Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto dates back to the seventh century (~711 AD) when the Hata family built it and dedicated it to Inari, the god of rice and sake. Today, it remains the head shrine for over 30 000 Inari shrines across Japan and is one of Japan’s most visited shrines and a top sight-seeing destination. (TripAdvisor rates it as the #1 thing to do in Kyoto – not sure I agree. I was far more impressed with their #3 Kiyomizudera temple, but I was fortunate to experience a special night viewing there.)
The Fushimi Inari Shrine may look vaguely familiar to you if you’ve seen the movie Memoir of a Geisha, some of which was filmed here. But the shrine itself is not the main attraction―it’s the iconic orange torii gates (10,000 and counting) that crown the 2.5 mile pathway up Mount Inari (764 feet). While it’s a relatively short “hike” on a concrete path that winds its way up the hill past multitudes of mini-shrines, it can take a while given the crowds. The “summit” is a bit anti-climatic, city and mountain views were smudged with smog when I was there.
Instead of returning the way you came, you can hike down the other side of the mount on forest trails into either Yamashina or Tofukuji, another temple area that’s especially popular when the leaves are turning. Really, you can’t go wrong walking anywhere in Kyoto. Kyoto is all about having a scenic, cultural and beautiful experience, but it is Japan so you’ll most likely be sharing that experience with the masses.
What’s with the gates?
Torii gates symbolize the division between the physical world and the spiritual world. The oldest Torri gates here date back to the 8th century, but new gates are still being added, “donated” by Japanese businesses in hopes of obtaining prosperity and good luck. Today, the price for good luck if you go with a big gate is around 10k; 4k for smaller gates.
What’s with the foxes?
You’ll also encounter many stone statues of foxes, messengers of the god Inari. The foxes often carry symbolic objects, such as a key to the granary (as in the fox in the picture with me at the entrance), a sheaf of rice or a scroll. You may see some fox statues wearing red scarves, which are thought to expel demons and illness. Some fox statues may be equipped multiple tails to symbolize older, wiser and more powerful foxes.
Hours: Open 24/7, best times – early morning or evenings, otherwise expect a crowd.
Getting there: The shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, two stops South from Kyoto Station (main station) along the JR Nara Line and takes 5 minutes one way. It is also a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
Notes: There’s a street market and shops and restaurants near the shrine’s entrance and also there are a couple of little food shops near the “top”.
Plenty more sights to see in Kyoto
Ready to check out an ancient shogun’s castle or a wooden temple dating back to 780 that’s built without nails, or would you prefer to get away from it all in the scenic hamlets of Kibune and Kurama?