Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Kyoto : The Thousand Torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Kyoto. My favorite city in Japan. Our first visit to Kyoto was in October 2010, a few months after we moved to Japan. Back then we lived in Iwaki in north east Japan, and we had taken a road trip which covered Kyoto, Nara and Hakone. Since we had limited time, we chose to visit the most popular spots and had planned our itinerary with the help of our Japanese friends. Back then, I had written a post covering the places we visited in Kyoto in one single post (Click here to read). Having moved to Nagoya now, Kyoto is closer and we have made several trips to Kyoto since then. Having been to Kyoto several times now, I now have much to share about Kyoto, that I have recently posted individual posts about the various spots in Kyoto that we have visited over the last 6 years.

While Kyoto has so much to offer, there are a few spots that stand out from the rest. Most international visitors make it a point to include these in their itinerary. One such spot is the Shinto shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha. This shrine is famous for its Thousands of Torii gates. The shrine's popularity rose further after it was featured in the Hollywood Film, Memoirs of A Geisha, which is set in Kyoto. 
The Fushimi Inari Taisha, is believed to date back to the early Nara period (710-794). The shrine is the head shrine of about 30,000 Inari shrines. Inari is the patron deity of business and trade. Visitors pray for success in new ventures or for continued prosperity in existing businesses. 
A giant Torii gate and a vermilion colored wooden gate mark the entrance to the shrine.
The main hall is located at the foot of the Inariyama Hill. 
Some of the buildings on the shrine grounds.

On our first visit to the Shrine in 2010, we were lucky to see a dance and music ritual by the Shrine maidens, referred to as "Miko-san". 

Colorful origami Paper crane garlands at one of the smaller shrines
Many statues of foxes can be seen around the shrine buildings. 

 Foxes are considered to be the messengers of the Inari and are a common feature of most Inari shrines.
Some Fox statues can be seen holding a key in their mouths, representing the Key to the Granary. 
While other fox statues can be seen holding some rice grains in their mouth.
Inari is also the Shinto deity of rice, thus the connection to the granary.

A variety of lanterns can be seen at various places at the Shrine.

While there a a lot of interesting sights at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, what attracts most visitors is the Wooden Torii gates. Torii gates usually mark the entrance to Shinto Shrines and some Torii gates are very well known. The Torii gates at Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima and at the Lake Ashi in Hakone are well known. But at Fushimi Inari, its the Thousands of Torii that make it stand out !
The vermilion colored Torii gates line the path leading up to the peak of Mt Inariyama. The tens of thousands of Torii are a sight to behold. 
Collectively they are known as the Senbon Torii, meaning Thousands of Torii. A map of the Mt Inari shows how the entire trail looks
Most of the Torii gates were donated by companies and organizations in gratitude for good business. This was a common practise during the Edo period(1603-1868). The names of the donors and the date of donation are inscribed on the back of these Torii gates. 
Prices start around 400,000 yen and go well above a million yen for larger sized gates !
 These days people donate smaller or even miniature torii gates.
At certain stretches, the trail is divided into two paths both leading to a common point where it merges into a single path. 
The closely placed Torii gates are a sight to see even from outside the trail. 
It takes about 3-4 hours to trek the entire trail. We usually walk for a certain stretch and then walk back to the shrine. But on our last two trips, we walked a little further and reached a small pond near the middle of the trail. 
Several small shrines dot the shores of the pond.

When walking back, we took a different route and came across many interesting sights.

We saw a shrine with lots of fox figurines. Some fox figurines were even dressed like students.
We came across the Hachirei shrine dedicated to the 12 signs/ animals of Chinese Zodiac. 

A shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, the deity of learning, the Japanese equivalent of the Hindu Goddess, Saraswati. 

Another small and pretty shrine was dedicated to Ebisu, another patron of businessmen. 

There are a couple more shrines along this route.

We saw many Japanese people walking back on this route, but we were the only foreigners on this route. The route finally reaches the Shrine grounds. 
The Fushimi Inari Shrine was voted the favorite tourist destination in 2014 by popular travel site Trip Advisor. 
A banner proclaiming this was on display near the entrance to the shrine. On our very first visit to Fushimi Inari in 2010, the number of tourists was far less than the number of visitors we have seen on our subsequent visits. These days it is practically impossible to click a picture in the Torii walking trails without any other person in the backdrop !  

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is a short walk from the JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line.  

Address: Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882, Kyoto, Fushimi Ku, Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa, 68

Phone: 075-641-7331

Time: Open 24 hours/365 days

Entrance Fees: Free

Parking: Free parking available