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Fushimi Inari Shrine

  • Although the origins of the tradition remain hazy, across the islands of Japan stand quite literally countless shrines to the deity Inari Okami, a Shinto kami considered a patron of business and guarantor of good harvests. Often identifiable by the presence of elegant fox statues, sometimes rendered in white stone traditionally, messengers of the kami Inari shrines began to spread following the construction of and the imperial patronage of a single shrine in Kyoto in the 8th century: Fushimi Inari Taisha.

    To call it simply a shrine is an understatement, as the complex encompasses thousands of shrines that extend to the peak of Inari Mountain. Visitors first encounter Fushimi Inari Taisha’s mighty tori entrance that leads to the romon, literally “tower gate,” purportedly constructed under the patronage of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler that unified the country in the 16th century.

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Even as Kyoto reaches peak tourism, the main complex of Fushimi Inari Taisha has been able to handle the crowds: it has been a site of pilgrimage for over a thousand years and welcomes millions of visitors during the New Year, making it the second busiest shrine in the country after Meiji Shrine in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. The shrine has always been located around Inari Mountain but the actual location has shifted, and the main shrine and other structures at the base of the mountain date from the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    As Kyoto developed, merchant families fostered relationships with, and battled for control of, the Inari shrine. The relationship between the Kyoto bourgeoisie and Shinto shrines makes for fascinating reading, and it bequeathed the tradition of donating tori.

    These gates have become iconic. Although the tunnel of tori is not unique, it is certainly one the most extensive in the country, with thousands of individual gates, many marked with the name of their corporate donor. Businesses across the country fork out thousands to place a tori with their company name on the mountain trail.

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Many visitors to Fushimi Inari Taisha come expressly for the march up the mountain. From the main shrine buildings, the climb takes about two hours, although many elect to break halfway up, where a lookout spot affords spectacular views of the city. Pilgrims tuckered out on the way up can also stop at several tea houses and restaurants along the trail, many offering the snacks associated with Inari worship, like kitsune udon, a noodle dish featuring wedges of deep fried tofu.

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Along the trail, there are several important shrines to the deity, sought out by pilgrims and visitors. These shrines are often comparatively older, and their setting, nestled in bamboo groves or the lush foliage of the mountain’s forests, gives them a timeless atmosphere.

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

    In dense Kyoto, a walk to the shrine itself is not out of the question it takes under an hour on foot from Kyoto Station but perhaps it’s best to conserve energy for the hike up the mountain. The shrine is a brief walk from the Nara Line's Inari Station or the Keihan Main Line's Fushimi Inari Station. Admission is free; and the shrine is always open, although the best time to make the climb is earlier in the day when the trail is less congested.

    Fushimi Inari Taisha
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Fushimi-ku Fukakusa Yabunouchi cho 68
    Phone
    0756417331
    Kyoto
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Shimogyou-ku Higashishiokoujikamadonochou
    Phone
    Fushiiminari
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Fushimi-ku Fukakusashimoyokonawachou
    Phone
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