It was our first morning in Kyoto as we headed to one of the most important Shinto shrines and one of the top attractions in Japan – Fushimi Inari Taisha! Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is located in the southern part of Kyoto, at the base of 233 meters high Mount Inari.
The shrine is famous for its thousands of red Torii gates and fox statues located across the narrow pathways that lead to the top of the mountain. The sacred Mount and Shrine Inari are dedicated and named after Inari – the Goddess (in Japanese “Kami”) of rice. The fox statues “Kitsune” are considered to be the “messengers” of Inari.
Fushimi Inari Taisha was founded in the year of 711 and was elevated to the highest rank for Shinto shrines in 942. This makes the shrine one of Kyoto’s oldest and most important landmarks in Japan.
More than ten thousand red Torii gates form a Torii tunnel that connects all the trails with the smaller Inari Shrines. The sacred path is more than 4 km long and the hike takes approximately 2 hours to walk up and down.
We visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha in the early morning. We took the train from Kyoto’s main station and arrived at 7:45. I knew the shrine is one of the most visited attractions in Japan, but I didn’t expect to see so many people at 7:45 in the morning. The good news is – people are really lazy! Most of them visit only the main temple at the base of the mountain and the beginning of the Torri trail. Some of them manage to go up to the first stage … but after 20 minutes of hiking, you will have the Toriis just for yourself!
We spent more than 3.5 hours at Fushimi Inari Taisha as we decided to explore off the beaten path – the best decision ever! The shrine is more than just Torii Gates and souvenir shops – the mountain is actually home to numerous ancient and beautiful cemeteries! The atmosphere is out of this world … I can honestly say that I enjoyed visiting a cemetery for the very first time in my life! And to be honest, the hidden shrines and cemeteries are much more interesting than the famous red Toriis.
After hiking up and down the mountain, we finished our visit at the permanent market which is set up along the street. Here you can find some of the best street food in Kyoto and also can visit the numerous family-owned shops that have probably been there for years.
What is a Torii and Why Fushimi Inari Taisha Has So Many of Them?
Torii is a traditional Japanese gate, often found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine in Japan. Very often the Toriis are orange-red (“shuiro” is vermillion in Japanese) – the colour represents the sun in Japan. The Toriis are often made of various materials but most of the Toriis in Fushimi Inari Taisha are made of wood. Some of the oldest Toriis are 1300 years old, but the main Shrine standing today was built in the 15th century.
But why are there so many Toriis? Each one of the over 10.000 main Toriis have been donated by Japanese businessmen, company or organization. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main shrine of Inari, the god of rice and prosperity and is the patron of business and merchants. It is said that donating Toriis brings good luck and is a sign of having a good income and success in business. There is a text written behind each Torii gate, indicating the name of the sponsor which will stay forever along the path!
Kitsune: The Foxes at Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha has not only 10.000 Toriis, but also (at least) 100.000 Foxes (Kitsune)! Kitsune is the Japanese word for fox. There are thousands of fox-statues located across the narrow pathways that lead to the top of the mountain. Foxes are said to be the messengers of Inari and are a common subject of Japanese folklore as they symbolize both benevolence and malevolence.
The fox statues at Fushimi Inari shrines come in pairs – one female and one male. According to Yōkai folklore, all Kitsune have the ability to switch into men or women. Sometimes the foxes have more than one tail (max 30) – more tails mean that the fox is older, wiser, and more powerful. Some of the foxes have keys or jewels in their mouth or under their paws – these are the keys to the rice granaries which they protect.
Opening Hours of Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Taisha is open 24h – it never closes and is open all day and all night!
Duration of Visit
Of course, the time duration of the visit depends on you! As already mentioned, we spend here more than 3.5 hours because we decided to explore off the beaten path and walk to the top of Mount Inari and back down. But if you want to visit just the main shrine and the beginning of the Torii path, you won’t need so much time.
The shrine is located in the southern part of Kyoto (8 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Kyoto Fushimi-ku, Kyoto Prefecture), just outside of Inari Station on the JR Nara Line. You can travel via JR Nara Line for just 5 minutes and 140 ¥. After getting out of the train, just follow the crowd!
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