on July 23, 2003
Fushimi Inari Taisha is probably the best temple experience I had in my whole time in Japan, mainly because the weather was beautiful that day, and I thought the delicate carvings of the foxes, some sly-looking, some evil, big and small and cute and ugly, were just amazing. It gives the whole place such a fantastic energy you walk around feeling like you're being watched from every angle by the cold, beady little fox-eyes. It's beyond compare.
The way to get there is to take to train from either Kyoto or Nara, it'll take about half an hour, and can be a little stop between the two during a daytrip , though you'll probably want to spend at least a couple of hours there.
First there is the temple and all the tourist stuff around it, which is worth a look, but what really intrigued me were the pathways in the hills. Along them you'll find one or two small open tea-houses, where they'll serve you green tea and sweets, (stop if you have the time) and the further up you go, the more foxes you will see. There are a few at the bottom right by the temple, and there you might even catch monks all in white gathering outside as we did, but the best is right at the top, if you just keep walking up the mountain. It is like a graveyard, but instead of gravestones there are foxes. Every shape and size imaginable, carved of stone, and most have a red cloth tied around their neck. They are deeply symbolic in the buddhist faith, and there are many stories as to why they are gathered there. People you meet will be much better able to explain their meaning than I can, so take the time to ask and find out.
If you get tired you can just turn back and walk down the hill, back through the sets of red gates and to the bottom where the temple buildings are, instead of walking all the way round which might take some time, depending on how speedy you are. Every gate is placed there by an individual as a donation to the buddhist faith. If you look closely, you will notice they are all unique; slightly different in colour and shape and with varying foundations, some of stone and some wood.
When heading back from the temple towards the station, there is a street abounding in shops and little stall, where you can purchase any number of delicacies. Amongst the snacks are fried sparrow and other small birds, roasted fish and spine of some kind of small animal. My favourite though, is inari-zushi, and although it is available in every supermarket along with the other sushi, this is the best you'll get it. Don't be fooled, it doens't contain any fish, raw or otherwise, but rice with a few black sesame seeds inside, and a sweet cover of fried tofu. Don't miss out.
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