Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Shrine and the 5,000 Vermilion Gates

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All of Kyoto’s World Heritage Sites are unique and stunning in their own way, and the mountain complex of Fushimi Inari Shrine (AKA Fushimi Inari Taisha) is one of the most breathtaking. Thousands of vermillion coloured “torii” (a traditional Japanese gate found at shrines) line kilometers of mountain path, creating a surreal, almost tunnel-like walk to the many sub-shrines and mountain lookout.

Fushimi Inari is easy to access, only two stations from JR Kyoto station. Entry is free of charge and the shrine is open every day.

So let’s take a look around Fushimi Inari…

Photos of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha's Main Torii and Romon

Fushimi Inari Taisha’s Main Torii and Romon.

This amazing mountain shrine complex is characterised by the thousands of vermillion coloured gates that line the 4.2km main path.

Vermillion torii lining the mountain path of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Closely packed together, some of the torii are brand new, some are falling apart.

The main suggested path is about a 2 hour walk, starting at the bottom of the mountain at the main shrine complex. We spent over 3 hours, taking our time exploring the mountain and also the shrine complex at the main entrance.

Beginning of one of Fushimi Inari Shrine's mountain paths

One of the entrances to the mountain path.

Smaller sub-shrines are found along the mountain path – making for a good rest stop on your hike up the mountain.

Small sub-shrine along Fushimi Inari's mountain path (HDR Photo)

HDR photo of a sub-shrine in the mountain.

Fushimi Inari’s name comes from: Fushimi-ku, the name of the area where the shrine is located and; Inari, a Japanese deity. The Inari deity is most well know as the god of agriculture and business. As such, Fushimi Inari Shrine is frequented by businesses and businessmen praying for success. Over the new year period, millions of Japanese come to pray for happiness.

Statues of foxes are found all over the shrine. You’ll first come across them in pairs at the main gates of the shrine at the bottom of the mountain. One of the pair is holding a rice granary key in its mouth, and together the foxes stand guard and protect the shrine from evil and bad luck. Foxes have always been closely associated with the Inari god.

The Inari god and his foxes have a fascinating history, read more about the Shinto God of rice and his foxes at the Japanese Buddhist Statuary site.

Small sub-shrine along Fushimi Inari's mountain path

The magical shape shifting fox “kitsune”.

The torii are sponsored by companies or business people. The inscriptions on the gates themselves show the business name (on the left) and the date their sponsorship started (on the right). The largest gates cost 1.3million yen – about $15,000.

Inscribed Japanese Vermillion Torii in Kyoto at Fushimi Inari (HDR Photo)

The thousands of torii are paid for by business, praying for success (HDR Photo)

Individuals who wish to pray for happiness and success – but don’t have thousands of dollars to pay for a large gate to be installed on the mountain path – can buy a smaller ornamental sized gate, and have their name painted on it. They are then placed in the smaller sub-shrines and graves on the mountain.

Tiny Torii at a small shrine at Fushimi Inari

The ritual of praying for happiness and success includes leaving your own mini-torii at the mountain shrines.

Mini-torii shrine offering Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

Mini-torii offerings at one of the sub-shrines on Mount Fushimi.

Looking through the torii Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Looking through the torii…

As well as the smaller shrines of Fushimi Inari, a handy rest point is found on your journey up the mountain. A lookout and rest area are located here, giving you a great view of Kyoto city.

Kyoto Lookout at Mount Inari

Kyoto city from a lookout on Mount Inari.

One thing you’ll notice about the torii is that some are very old and in poor condition. We happened upon this old man who was either performing some maintenance on one of the gates, or perhaps working on the installation of a new sponsored gate.

Torii Maintenance

Fushimi Inari Shrine’s torii maintenance.

Maintenance must be a never ending job…

Huge Torii at the World Heritage Fushimi Inari Taisha

The bigger the gate, the bigger the payment = more success in business and happiness.

Located at the bottom of the mountain is the main shrine, across from Inari station. The photo below shows the lower shrine complex when coming down from the mountain.

Shrine Entrance of Fushimi Inari

Many large shrines and souvenir stores can be found in the main complex.

The main shrine complex contains the large main tower gate, main shrine, halls and souvenir shops.

Large Shrine at bottom of Fushimi Inari Shrine

The main hall – behind it is the go-honden (main shrine).

Fushimi Inari Shrine's Main Gate

The main tower gate (romon). HDR Photo

 

One of the best free things to do in Kyoto

The ancient, UNESCO World Heritage site of Fushimi Inari Taisha is a “must-do” for anyone visiting Kyoto.

Just be sure to wear some good walking shoes – there are plenty of places to buy food and drink along the track, so don’t worry about packing supplies for a hike. Signs say the track length is 4.2km (2.6miles) which reaches the top of the mountain where a shrine is located, but if you wanted to explore all the tracks, there could be about 10km of track to explore. If you’re feeling unfit, there are much shorter routes along the path – for example, you can get to the lookout in 30 minutes and then take an alternative route back down the mountain to the main complex.

How to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine

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The easiest way to get to Fushimi Inari is by train – a bit unusual as most sites in Kyoto are accessed by bus.

From JR Kyoto train station, find the JR Nara Line Local service to Inari station. The ticket is 140 yen and it’s only a 5 minute train ride. You’ll go through only one station (Tofukuji) before arriving at Inari station.

The entrance to the shrine is literally directly across the road (to the east) from Inari station, you’ll see the familiar red torii guarded by a fox statue.

Entry is free and the shrine is always open, you can even visit at nigh-time and experience the eerily-lantern-lit paths of the mountain!

Where to stay

I’m not really the conventional traveller and don’t like to stay at hotels in Japan. But I’m a big fan of capsule hotels… You should try Kyoto’s modern designer capsule hotel 9hours near the Gion district, which is an amazing experience in itself!

Read about more things to do in Kyoto

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