If you told me you only had time to go to one out of the hundreds of shrines in Kyoto, I would immediately try to convince you to go to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi Inari Shrine is located on Inari Mountain in the Fushimi Ward of Kyoto, which is a five minute train ride away on the JR Line from Kyoto Station.
Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of the popular Inari kami/god, who is the patron of rice, business, agriculture, sake and fertility. More than a third of all Shinto shrines across Japan are dedicated to Inari and white foxes are said to act as Inari’s messengers. The fox can often be seen with a key in its mouth, which symbolises it guarding the key to the granery where the rice is stored.
But the really spectacular thing that makes Fushimi Inari Shrine my favourite is the torii gates – the hundreds and thousands of gates that wind their way up the mountain, one after another. Every torii has been donated by a Japanese company as a wish for prosperity and good business and the name of the company is inscribed on each gate.
It’s about a two hour walk to the summit through the gates, beautiful forest landscape and past the smaller shrines that dot the mountain. Although it looks like there’s not another soul to be seen – don’t be fooled by my photos.
Fushimi Inari is very popular and if you go there, you will be elbowing a lot of tourists and schoolkids on field trips out of the way. If you want total peace and quiet while you meander, I would suggest going earlier in the morning but if not, the further you go up the mountain, the less people you will encounter anyway.
At Fushimi Inari, you will also come across the omokaru ishi or the heavy-light rocks. You’re supposed to think of what you wish/pray for and then hold up one of the rocks. If the rock feels light to you, it means that your endeavour will go well and if it feels heavy, then it may be a sign that it won’t.
I’ve always been a fan of foxes, so all of the fox imagery was right up my alley!
Foxes or kitsune have always been a common subject in Japanese folklore and they were usually portrayed as cunning, manipulative and with shape shifting abilities. Sometimes they were depicted with more than one tail, even up to nine (think of Nine Tails from Pokemon) and the more they had, the more powerful they were said to be.
At most shrines in Japan, you can buy a wooden plaque called an ema to write your wishes or prayers on and then hang it up at the shrine for the kami/god(s) to receive it. The ema usually has a design on it that matches the symbols of the shrine and Fushimi Inari had ones shaped as a fox face, where people took that as a free license to draw their own funny facial expressions on.
Understandably, they also sold ones shaped like torii gates.
We went up Fushimi Inari mid-afternoon of a midsummer’s day, which was probably the worst possible time we could have gone in terms of crowds and unbearable heat. Halfway up the mountain we came across a little shop selling drinks that they’d kept chilled in a stone fountain – it was a very welcoming sight.
Watch out for wild monkeys!
- Do not take pictures
- Do not feed the monkeys
- Do not make eye contact
- Do not show food
If they approach, pick up rocks and pretend to throw at them.
Kyoto City / Fushimi Inari Shrine
I didn’t see any wild monkeys that I had to pretend to throw rocks at, but I did spot this cute creature nestled in the leaves.
All of the little gift shops leading up to the shrine had fox-themed gifts and these three were my favourite.
So, did you like Fushimi Inari Shrine?
Did you learn something new about Japan?