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April 2, 2007
The Fushimi Inari Shrine can be found just two stops down from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara line. The temple is just a few minutes away from the station exit. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the female spirit of fertility and rice. This shrine is particularly remarkable for the unbelievable amount of large torii, or gates, covering the grounds. These large gates were all donated by worshippers as a way of giving thanks to the spirit. Entrance to this shrine is free.
After entering the main torii gate, you'll come to a large shrine. There's another shrine up the steps. To the side you'll find the start of the seemingly endless procession of orange gates. This path provides a charming walk. The gates stretch on and on, and even go up a mountain. To the sides you'll find small paths that lead to little shrines dotting the mountain. You can keep in climbing and climbing, passing small noodle houses, and eventually you'll reach a fantastic view of the city. By this time you might be sweating a river from the strenuous climbing; this shrine is not for the weak of heart!
The Fushimi-Inari shrine was so large that I couldn't even explore all the grounds. The gates just keep on going! It's an incredible sight and one you shouldn't miss. When I went, near dusk, the shrine was not crowded. It's supposed to close at sunrise but people were wandering around long past. The lanterns along the side are lit but you must be careful at night due to the incredibly amount of steps and the possibility of tripping and falling. Be sure to have a good and safe time at this awe-inspiring shrine!
From journal Kyoto's Imperial Charms
by Foxboro Marmot
December 11, 2003
Inari is the rice god, the spirit who insures an abundant harvest and general prosperity. Inari is particularly popular with entrepreneurs and businessmen, since the god assists in business success and accumulating wealth. In gratitude - or perhaps in anticipation of having something to be grateful for - individuals and corporations have torii gates built at the shrine. The red-orange gates, indicating the sacred ground of Shinto shrines, are one of the classic visual images of Japan: a gate framed by two columns or posts supporting two crossbars, one extending beyond the uprights.
The first gates, at the transition from the town to the shrine, are the largest. This area, just at the base of Mount Inari, is given over mostly to a Buddhist temple. As Johnnie Hillwalker explained during our walking tour of Kyoto, the Buddhas and the Shinto spirits are all very friendly. If a place is sacred to one, others will also find the same ground holy. Neither belief is upset when shrines and temples are built side-by-side, and Japanese people have no difficulty reconciling and practicing the two faiths.
Behind the temple are more torii gates and individual shrines to Inari. Further up the hillside, the torii gates suddenly come together, becoming a tunnel: each gate is built immediately adjacent to the next. At intervals, the gates thin out and there is a collection of individual shrines, some ornate, with a dozen or more small torii gate models, others simpler, all with small carved foxes. At higher levels, there are scenic lookouts over Kyoto and tea houses where a tired visitor can get a snack and a rest. The gates and shrines continue up the hillside for 4 kilometers (2.4 miles)!
I found it exotic and mysterious, but being able to read Japanese could spoil the effect. Each gate is marked with information about the donor. As we walked through, my daughter began pointing out, "This one is from an eyeglass shop and an optometrist... this one is from a department store." I had to tell her to stop because she was removing all the romance and intrigue!
In a somewhat unrelated topic, you may encounter inari sushi. There is no raw fish in inari sushi. It consists of rice and sesame seeds wrapped in fried tofu... and it's tasty!
From journal Adventures in Kyoto
July 23, 2003
From journal A week in Kyoto