Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine: Kyoto’s Number One Attraction:
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社), is built at the base of Inari Mountain by the Hata family in the seventh century. It is said to be the most famous of several thousand shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of rice. In Japan, foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, and as a result, there are many fox statues scattered across the shrine grounds.
Over the centuries, it established itself as the primary shrine for over 30,000 Inari shrines all over Japan. Now, it is the most visited shrine—during the new years, more than 3 million people travel from all over to pay their respect.
More than 10,000 red torii gates straddle the stone pathway leading up to Inari Mountain. Although in pictures, you are lead to believe the torii gates are red, it is actually vermilion, the colour of the sun —and is said to expel evil spirits and diseases. Every single one of those torii gates has been donated by an individual or an organisation from around the world. Their names and the date in which it was purchased are inscribed on the gates in Japanese characters. Thinking of making a gate purchase? It could cost you anywhere from $4000 USD for a small one, and up to $10,000 USD for a large one. After much deliberation (looking at my coin purse), we decided it was impossible at that very moment.
Exploring Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Most foreigners visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine to explore the mountain trails, however, the shrine buildings themselves are worth a visit as they are quite beautifully constructed. Since the walk to the main entrance is about 8 minutes on foot, we were able to enjoy the many food stalls leading toward the shrine.
Travelling through Asia, you will realise that street food reigns supreme. For me, the best and most authentic foods weren’t found in large fancy restaurants, but in the stalls or carts lining up quiet alleys and busy streets. So, of course, we took advantage of the variety of food options at the stalls, since the prices are a lot cheaper than most restaurants and is definitely as filling and satisfying as one.
After a short walk, the Roman Gate, donated in 1589 by the famous leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi stands tall at the shrine’s entrance. Just behind the Roman Gate stands the shrine’s main building (Honden), and various auxiliary buildings.
Its various auxiliary buildings themselves are also beautiful and worth exploring if you have the time. Hiking up the Inari mountain will take you approximately 2 to 3 hours depending on your fitness level. If you for some reason decided to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine near the evening or late afternoon, you can bypass the mountain hike, and just make wishes at the many auxiliary shrines instead. There are many ways to pray for prosperity —ringing the giant bell, writing your wishes in papers, carrying a heavy rock, or buying mini torii gates available for purchases everywhere. We did everything because I seriously need more prosperity and success in my life.
Ema, votive tablets, are very popular in shrines and temples around Japan. Teenagers, expectant mothers, businessmen, and many others who have wishes they want to be fulfilled, will write these wishes on the ema and hang them up at the shrine where the kami (Shinto deities) can receive them. Although ema are usually rectangular, the ones at Fushimi Inari Taisha are in the shape of a fox, the messenger of the god, Inari. When you buy the fox shape ema for 500 yen, write your wish on the back. On the front, draw the face of a fox in any expression that delights you, and hangs it on the ema display racks with the Fox facing you. It’s interesting to peruse the completed ema and see all the creative ways people drew the face of the Fox –adding their own unique personal touches.
If you would like to receive a prediction of the likelihood that you’ll achieve your wishes or dreams, visit the Okushahōhai-sho, a shrine hall where you will find two very special rocks. These ‘omokaru ishi’, or ‘heavy-light rocks’, are said to be able to predict the likelihood that you’ll achieve your dreams. After making a small donation into the donation box, you must then make a wish in front of the rocks before picking one up. If the rock is lighter than you thought it would be, the likelihood of your wish being fulfilled is high, and very soon. However, if the rock is heavier than you thought, your wish might take some time before it is realised.
I would recommend making your souvenir purchases earlier on rather than later. We came around 2 pm, and by the time we trekked all the way atop the mountain and back down, it was already 6 pm, and all the shops were closed. Anyways, once we were done eating, viewing the many beautiful shrines, and cute souvenir shops, we made our way up the stairs through the 10,000 torii gates.
As you travel through the gates and enter the many small shrines, you will come across hundreds of stone foxes. The fox is considered the messenger of Inari, the god of rice, agriculture and industry, and stern bronze foxes (kitsune) can be seen throughout the shrine. The key often seen in the fox’s mouths are for the rice granaries. Inari foxes are generally considered helpful, but the Japanese traditionally see the fox as a sacred figure capable of bewitching humans.
After a 30-45 minute ascent through Inari mountain and a gradual decrease in the density of torii gates, visitors will reach the Yotsutsūji intersection. It is halfway up the mountain. Here, you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view overlooking Kyoto, rest, or like me, take photographs. There is also a cute café called Nishimura-tei, and a few other small restaurants to rest while you enjoy local fares such as inarizushi, matcha ice-cream, tea and other Japanese delights. From here, the trail splits into a circular route to the summit. Many hikers only venture as far as here, but for us, we went all the way.
The main path is about a 2-hour walk to the top, starting at the bottom of the mountain at the main shrine complex. We spent around 3 hours just leisurely exploring the mountain path and enjoying its many small sub-shrines off the main pathway.
It is a long hike if you’re strolling around like us, but thankfully, there are many small shrines and seating areas along the way to rest your weary behind —and also some food and drinks at the small kiosks, and vending machines. Thank you, Japan for all our vending machine needs.
Since we were taking our time to really enjoy Fushimi-Inari Shrine, the sun was slowly setting as we were halfway to the top, creating a mysterious, almost haunting experience, especially if you believe in the spirits of the forest (I do).
People who wish to pray for happiness, success in business or exams, but don’t have a large pocket can buy smaller ornamental sized gate with their name painted on it. These tiny torri can be seen everywhere resting askew on the smaller sub-shrines, or graves, or stacked up on fences. Regretfully, I didn’t buy one, but the next time I go, I will definitely purchase a few to commemorate my visit.
There’s a beautiful view of Kyoto near the top of the trail, and that is where most people end their journey, however, since we wanted to explore the whole of Fushimi Inari Shrine, we went all the way to the top.
Trekking down the mountain when the sun has set, amid the many stone monuments and under the watchful eyes of the kitsune was a truly haunting experience. I wish I could have stayed longer, till dusk, when the tunnels of torii are lit up, but I’m just not brave enough to do an all night exploration.
Etiquette at Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrines
Like many other Asian countries, Japan is very Conservative, no matter what you might think, based on anime or things you’ve heard/seen. Before visiting their many beautiful shrines in Kyoto, please take a look at this pamphlet provided by Kyoto Travel regarding shrine etiquette.
How to Get to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
The shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. It is only 5 minutes away from Kyoto Station. Don’t worry too much if you miss a train, there are many trains leaving per hour.
If you are leaving from Kyoto Station, it’s about 10 – 15 minutes to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine and costs between 1500 and 2000 yen. Address in Japanese: 京都市伏見区深草薮之内町68番地
If you are around the Fushimi Inari Station, you can reach the shrine by walking along the Keihan Main Line. From Kyoto Station to Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, it’s a 45 minutes to an hour walk. Although this is the cheapest option and is quite doable, remember, you will be walking a lot at the shrine.
We took the Kyoto City Bus from the Kyoto station bus stop and was dropped at the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha bus stop.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine Opening Hours, Address and Fee
It is always open. Always.
68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa Fushimi-ku, Kyoto
Entrance Fee: Free
Hours for prayers: 7:00-6:30 / 8:30-4:30