Fushimi Inari is the world-famous Shinto shrine in Kyoto made up 10,000 vermillion Torii gates. If you have ever looked up Japan on the Internet or Instagram, you would’ve no doubt seen pictures of Fushimi Inari. Of the over one thousands shrines dedicated to the Shinto God of Rice, Inari, this is the biggest and most important. It is believed that the first Torii gates to appear on Mount Inari date back to 711AD.
The gates cover 4km of meandering trails which lead up to the top of Mount Inari, passing through thick woodland. The gates are of varying sizes but all painted in identical vibrant vermillion with black characters. Initially, and naively, I had thought the black characters must have been prayers but in fact, the reality is quite different and unique. The gates have a starting price of 400,000 yen and many cost much, much more.
Making offerings to Inari is thought to bring prosperity so each Torii gate lining the mountain is a donation from a Japanese business. The gates have been donated over many hundreds of years as a thanks for prosperity and a wish for continued prosperity to come. The black painted characters on the gates state which business donated the gate to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The Torii gates are still being donated to this day, therefore making a visit to Fushimi Inari feel like experiencing a long and ever-evolving history.
The main entrance to Fushimi Inari is Romon Gate
When you first get to Fushimi Inari, there is a large shrine at the entrance. The large gate, pictured above, is called Romon Gate and was offered to the Fushimi Inari shring in 1589. Continuing just metres behind is the honden or main hall of the shrine. Naturally, this first part is packed with people.
The first part of the Torii gate trail is reached by walking up behind the honden. But don’t worry, you will not get lost, just follow the crowds. It all starts with Senbon Torii, two parallel rows of gates. This is the most densely packed section of torii gates and is visually stunning.
As this is the first part of the trail, it is usually very busy. These crowds dissipate more with each metre further up the hill to the point where entire sections of Torii trail are empty. Senbon Torii is incredibly beautiful so do spend time soaking up the excited atmosphere here.
Ladies dressed in summer kimonos walking through Senbon Torii
The trails cover 4 km of Mount Inari and the routes vary, although all will eventually lead to the same points. The density of the Torii gates waxes and wanes quite often opening up enough to get fantastic views of valleys and woodland. The pathways are lined with shrines and teahouses which adds pleasant variety to the walk.
After 30 minutes of ascent, you will reach Yotsutsuji intersection which has panoramic views over Kyoto and several places to stop for tea. This is where most people stop their hike, but I urge you to keep going from here. After Yotsutsuji is where the walk becomes truly peaceful and you can be alone with your thoughts, feeling the significance of Fushimi Inari. With birds chirping in the background, locals going about their prayers at the shrines, and the cool mountain air, this is the part of the walk that is most special.
After just over an hour, you will reach the summit of Mount Inari. Here is a large stone shrine covered in mini hand-painted Torii gates. It is a beautiful and peaceful way to mark the end of the hardest part of the walk.
The density of the vermillion Torii gates changes throughout the walk
Looking down upon the walkway from a nearby shrine
The further you walk up, the fewer people there are and the closer you can feel with nature
Many shrines line the sides of the trail
With every turn, the light changes through the Torii gates
The walkways stand out against the greenery of the woodland
Once you have reached the top of Mount Inari, the walk gets even easier and is all downhill. If you don’t feel like walking down through the really busy Torii gate paths again, around two thirds down you can peel off and walk down through streets instead. This is decidedly quicker and a lot more peaceful!
Although the signs say to allow 4 hours for the walk, this is very generous. For us the walk was easily done in less than 2 hours including many stops for photography (my bad). As the shrine is open 24 hours of the day, you can choose when you want to visit. Visiting at sunrise and sunset provides stunning light and is eerily quiet.
The walk down through the streets rather than the dense gates is much quicker (and quieter)
Walking down the side streets at sunrise
THE NEED-TO-KNOW STUFF
Name: Fushimi Inari, Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Location: 68 Yabunouchi-chō, Fukakusa, Fushimi-ku
Entry Fee: Free of charge
Length of Hike: 4 km / 2-3 hours
Opening Hours: 24 hours
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