Growing up, I had always seen pictures of Fushimi Inari Taisha so when I stood at the entrance in real life, I felt instantly inspired.
I arrived around nine in the morning on a Saturday and there were already tourists here. If you can, definitely try to get there even earlier for a more tranquil experience. Also plan at least two or three hours here, as there is so much to see and do.
I chose to talk all the way to the highest point, passing thousands of mini shrines and temples along the way. About three-fourths of the way up, there is a nice view of downtown Kyoto and a few benches perfect for an afternoon picnic.
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1300 orange torii gates greet you at the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine. The gates are placed one after the other creating a tunnel effect that wind around the area. Many gates are falling apart and feral cats weave their way through them. This place kept me in awed silence as I meandered through it. Sincerely zen and exquisite.
Fushimi Inari is well worth the hike. The shrine gates are directly across from the train station and you can spend hours hiking beneath the orange torii. The hike to the top of Inari mountain can take a few hours, but even if you don't make it to the top there's plenty to see along the way.
It should come as no surprise that we all come away with the same photographs of Fushimi-Inari in Kyoto. The tangerine orange toriis dipped in black stand along the mountainside like dominos. In some places the torii are lined so closely together you feel like you are tunneling through a canopy of orange brush. You can’t help but take a picture as it lends itself to being so photogenic.
We went on a cool fall day and saw workers working on one of the torii. The wood had been stripped and they were applying the bright orange laquered paint. I couldn’t help but wonder, irreverently, if there was a special paint code they had to recall at the local hardware store. This is serious business though and you can see in the deliberateness of their efforts the desire to honor the families who have built the torii.
Trails abound Fushimi-Inari and if you work your way two hours upwards you are granted with a view of downtown Kyoto. There’s a small seated area with benches around the lookout and vending machines with drinks, including my favorite electrolytic delight, Pocari Sweat. Take a seat. You might need to. The grade of the trail is more significant than one expects but the views of the city and the oranged countryside are very much worth the effort.
The highlight of our visit to the Fushimi Inari shrine, was the walk through and under the thousands of toriis or gates that lead up from the entrance to the peak of Inari mountain.
There are over ten thousand of these and they make for a spectacular trek. Unfortunately, we turned back halfway, driven by the rain and the impending arrival of our train to Nara. The full trek may have to wait for later.
The flame colored toriis make for a wonderful sight as they wind their way up Inari mountain, and walking through them in the rain was a somewhat surreal experience. The path tends to fork into two sets of tunnels depending on the topography, and comes together again multiple times at several rest stops as you climb the mountain.
The entire structure reminded me of ”The Gates” display by Christo in New York in early 2005. As it turns out, “The Gates” was inspired by the torii-lined pathway in Fushimi Inari. While pilgrims walked through the toriis in Japan praying for success and wealth, visitors in another country and cultural space walked through their version of the orange gates, absorbing the effect of a cultural and artistic import. Art really does inspire art across hundreds of years and thousands of miles and I had come full circle.