Fushimi Inari is arguably one of the most iconic sites of Japan and one of my absolute favourite places in Kyoto. This important Shinto shrine is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which stretch majestically over a network of trails leading up to a mountain summit (about a 2-3 hour walk) and around the shrine grounds. If hiking’s not really your thing, you’ll still need a good few hours to explore the shrines and statues tucked away in Fushimi Inari’s winding passages.
Surprisingly, the torii gates are donated by individuals and companies whose names are beautifully inscribed on each gate. The smallest gates start at 400,000 yen (£2000) but the largest will set you back by over 1 million yen (£5000). As with most historical sites in Japan, the torii gates are carefully maintained but you will see some rotting wood along the way, which gives you some idea of how long they’ve been standing – even before 974AD when Kyoto was founded. Standing at the shrine’s entrance is the Romon Gate, donated by the famous shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi who had a big hand in Kyoto’s growth as cultural capital.
If you can handle the 30-40 minute ascent, you’ll reach the Yotsutsuji intersection – almost the halfway point and a great place for taking photos. You can then choose to be hardcore and make your way to the top, or turn down one of the other paths for some exploring, which is what we did. You’ll be surprised at how big the grounds are and how much there is to see. There are lots of smallest shrines and torii gates lining the stone paths and people regularly leave bottles of water for them.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of the several thousand shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. You’ll also see a lifetime’s worth of statues of foxes, the messengers of Inari, around the shrine. We also found some frog statues, which are considered to bring good luck and help travellers return home safely.
One of my favourite finds was a shrine dedicated to the Chinese zodiac, which had statues depicting each of the animals from the zodiac…
Fushimi Inari should not be missed if you’re visiting Kyoto and is easily accessible from the city centre by bus, underground to Fushimi Inari station, or on the JR line to Inari station. We actually stayed very close to the shrine at the lovely Karatachi ryokan, which I highly recommend. Kyoto is pretty expensive so if you want the ‘traditional Japanese inn’ experience without breaking the bank, a delicious breakfast and a ten minute ride into the city centre, I highly recommend it.