My first glimpse of Fushimi Inari was from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Yes, I admit it. I was smitten by the scene of Chiyo running along the Shinto shrine's paths surrounded by vermilion torii, or gates.
I had a chance to visit on a brisk, sunny, winter day in January 2009. The Fushimi Inari shrine is a quick train ride two stops south of Kyoto Station on the JR Nara line. I traveled solo, and my ascent through the shrine's paths and up Inari mountain brought warmth to my fingers and toes, and respite from the crowds at the base. I spent hours exploring and snapping photos of torii and stone foxes.
Despite opportunities to return and visit Fushimi Inari, I have not. I can't bring myself to let go of my first impressions and treasured memories of the winter day I spent there. On my ascent, the unmarked sides of the torii imbued an inward serenity to my walk. On the descent, those same torii, now marked with the names, dates, and wishes of their donors, were a humble reminder that I am only one among many in this world, each of us desiring happiness, love, health, and prosperity.