When you think of Japan, there are a lot of wondrous things that come to mind like sushi, sumo wrestlers, anime, onsens, temples, animal cafes, etc. Many people, like myself, dream of walking through the iconic red gates of Kyoto’s ancient Fushimi Inari Shrine. Today, I was finally able to walk through this popular spot. I felt so lucky to visit the shrine. Every city in Japan has something different to offer, and after visiting the shrine I get the impression that Kyoto is a city that works hard to keep Japan’s traditions alive.
This Shinto shrine was built in the 8th century as a place of worship where Japanese people can pay their respects to Inari, the Shinto god of rice (‘kami’). There are more than 10,000 red gates (‘torii’) in this shrine which lead to a forested area right before the Mt. Inari mountain trail. The red gates are donated by businesses who are able to have their names written in black on the gate that they donated. It takes about 2-3 hours to hike the entire trail, and you can turn back at anytime. However, I would suggest you prepare to complete the entire hike because when you reach the top of the mountain you are rewarded with a great view of Kyoto city.
When you walk in to the shrine, there is a main hall where visitors can make a small monetary offering and pray if they choose. The shrine is free to enter and you can access it 24/7, seven days a week. There are plenty of food and artisan stalls to browse on the grounds and in the surrounding area. I chose to take a walk bright and early in the morning while the sun was still rising and the surrounding forest was calm. I was mesmerized by the scene in Memoirs of a Geisha where young Sayuri runs through the red gates, so I just had to come and experience the feeling myself. I felt like I was in a movie walking through this beautiful trail that would bring peace and clarity into my life. It was a really inspiring hike for me, and I walked extra slow to take it all in.
Since I went in the morning, there weren’t many people around which made the grounds feel totally serene. The path in front of me was clear, and I got to enjoy every moment of my walk with the thoughts in my head alone. I noticed numerous fox statues (‘komainu’) scattered all throughout the area and found out that they are associated with Inari and are considered messengers to the god and guardians of the shrine grounds. The fox statues, made of stone or porcelain, can sometimes be found with symbolic items like a stone or a key in their mouths or beneath their front paws to represent a god’s spirit.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is easily accessible from the JR Inari Station which is the second stop from Kyoto station along the JR Nara Line. You can visit the shrine to take a walk on any day, or you can come during one of the many traditional festivals, such as the Taue-sai rice event in June, that are held on the grounds throughout the year.