Fushimi Inari Taisha sits resplendent at the base of Mount Inari, Kyoto. Bright pops of vermillion can be seen even before you set foot upon its hallowed grounds, and this only intensifies as you explore deeper.
Step through it’s alluring Torii, and into a world of ancient history. In 711, on the Inariyama hill in Southwestern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha’s earliest buildings began to take shape. However, In 816, at the direction of Kukai, a monk, these were relocated. In 1499, the Honden, or main shrine was completed. At the base of the mountain sits the roman tower gate, and the go-honden. The inner shrine sits within the mountain behind, reached by a path lined with Torii. Along the path to the summit you will find over 10,000 tsuka, or mounds for private worship. In the 8th century, it was dedicated to the Japanese God of rice, sake, fertility, agriculture, and industry, Inari, by the Hata Clan. In 965, Emperor Murakami made it law that messengers must carry written accounts of important events and present them to the guardian God of Japan. Early on, these “heihaku” were presented to 16 shrines across the nation, Fushimi-Inari being among them. From 1871 to1946, it was officially designated a “kanpei-taisha”, a first in rank of government supported shrines. It is head shrine of all the Inari shrines, and since its early days has been seen as a patron of merchants, manufacturers, and businesses. It’s estimated that this shrine has over 32,000 sub-shrines scattered throughout Japan.
The Senbon Torii, or “Thousand Gate”, is arguably Fushimi Inari Taisha’s most famous attraction. From the base of the mountain, snaking around and up to the 233m summit, is a chain of thousands (actual number unclear) of Torii. All are painted a bright orange, a feature very typical of Inari shrines. Since the shrine has strong ties with industry, a lot of the Torii are sponsored by businesses. You can see the names of each sponsor carved and painted black. They sit vertically along the supporting posts. From an aesthetic point of view, it’s a bewitching sight. Even on a dull day, the Torii stand loud and proud. I highly recommend making the full 4km hike (moderate, but not wheelchair or stroller friendly, sadly) to the summit.
Another famous feature is the many resident Kitsune guardians. Kitsune, or fox in English, are another common feature at Inari shrines. They usually come in pairs, bearing items such as granary keys. They are also often adorned in red, a color that has come to be associated with warding off evil spirits. There are many Kitsune to be seen and enjoyed across the grounds of the shrine, so keep your eyes peeled for them.
The easiest way to access the shrine is by rail. Both the JR Nara Line Inari station and the Keihan Electric Railway Main Line Fushimi-Inari station service the shrine. If you plan to hike to the summit, allot a full day to visit. Check the streets leading up to the shrine for cool gifts, local delicacies, and even the odd cat cafe! It can be visited in all seasons, but bear in mind winter could mean additional hazards, such as snow and ice. Be sure to wear sensible shoes, take cash with you, and carry plenty of water. There are shops and vending machines along the mountain path, but these can be expensive, since you are a captive audience. The path of Senbon Torii sits behind the main shrine buildings, but do be sure to peruse these before you ascend, as they are very beautiful.
Intrigued? Here’s a location to help you out.