If you are travelling to Kyoto on a budget, you don’t like spending money or you just like hiking, then Fushimi Inari is for you. Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto that is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. It is free to visit and is open 24/7.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is ancient – it was dedicated in 711. This is even before Kyoto became the capital in 794. Unfortunately, the original shrine was lost to a fire during a rebellion. However the modern buildings at the bottom of the mountain date from between 1499 and 1589.
The money for these funds was given by leaders and influential people from Japanese history. They were often built in memory of someone or to pray for something, such as the Romon (main gate to the complex) donated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a regent. His mother was gravely ill when he said he would donate 10,000 goku (units of rice used as currency at the time) if she recovered. She did and his contribution led to the Romon.
What should I expect at Fushimi Inari?
Fushimi Inari is not a single place but rather an area that is dedicated to the Shinto god Inari. At the bottom, you have Fushimi Inari Taisha, the shrine and main place of worship.
Behind this complex of buildings is the ascent to the top of the mountain. As you climb, you will find Shinto shrines all the way up the mountain. Most people only stay at the Fushimi Inari Taisha or may climb up to the first set of gates, which is not far. The farther you go up Mt Inari, the fewer people you will see. The path up is a relatively easy one. I will come to that in more detail shortly.
For all of Fushimi Inari, you are free to wander wherever you want without a time limit. You can take as much or as little time as you want/need. There are a few one way paths but they will not lead you away before you are ready to go.
At the bottom of Mt Inari (Fushimi Inari Taisha)
When you arrive at the site, you are greeted by a giant vermillion torii (gate). This is the Great Torii of Fushimi Inari Shrine (大鳥居). You will walk through the gate and along the pedestrian area towards the second gate. Along this area, there are places to purify various modes of transport (car purification, bicycle purification, and another place for your hands – use is optional). You will then go up some shallow steps to arrive at a higher level, going under the second gate. At this point, you’ll have definitely noticed the large building in front of you: this is the Romon, the main gate of the shrine.
Once you walk through the Romon, you will notice buildings all around you. These are Shinto shrines dedicated to various gods. The Honden (main building) is behind the building immediately in front of you. You will notice most people moving immediately to it. This is to pay respect to the shrine complex at the main building. Find out about how to make an offering below.
You may also make offerings at the other shrines to call upon those deities specifically.
You can also buy prayers in the building to the left of the Honden. There are signs with the types of prayers offered. Alternatively, you can also write your own to take up the mountain with you.
How to make an offering:
If you would like to make an offering, you start by tossing the coin (usually ¥50 or ¥100) into the offering box. If there is a small shrine that has a bell, ring the bell. This gets the attention of the god, who is a very busy person. If there is room, bow twice to about 90°. If there are many people (e.g. at a large shrine like Fushimi Inari Taisha), a smaller bow (or bowing of the head) will suffice. After the two bows, clap your hands twice. Now is the time to pray if you would like. When you finish (praying or not), bow once more to the same level as before.
Note: What you pray for at a shrine is important in Japan. The Japanese pray for happiness and success at shrines. You also pray to wash away any of your impurities. At Buddhist temples, the Japanese pray for a place in the afterlife and you also reflect on your conduct/behaviour and vow to improve it.
Note 2: this way of making an offering is NOT the same way you make an offering at a Buddhist temple, so do not do this at any of the Buddhist temples in Kyoto, including the 5 great temples.
Starting the ascent
Behind the shrines is the way up the mountain. Only about half of the people at the Fushimi Inari Taisha will even climb this first set of stairs. There are a couple more shrines at the top of this short but wide staircase. Another staircase of equal length continues upwards to two more shrines and then the Senbon Torii (1,000 gates) begin.
The Torii gates are wooden gates that are painted in a vermillion colour. In Japanese, you can write this word with many different Kanji characters. Each combination signifies something different, including light, dawn and this shade of red. All of these serve to give a new start or new hope to pilgrims and those traversing the gates. All Inari shrines use this colour as it is strongly associated with the god Inari.
The Senbon Torii lead you higher up the mountain on a single path. You will notice that the path is almost completely surrounded by torii, so much so that the surrounding forest is difficult to see. This is why it is called “1,000 gates” – there are approximately that many on this path over the mountain. After walking for a few minutes, the path will split into two with gates on both paths. You will be directed to the right path. This is the only one-way path on Fushimi Inari and helps the flow of people. The other path is for people coming down the mountain and in parallel to your path.
This path then opens onto another shrine (Okusha Hohaisho) with stone lanterns (Omokaruishi). Here, you make a wish and pick up the stone on the top of the lantern. If the stone is lighter than you expected, your wish will come true. If it is heavier than expected, your wish will most likely not come true.
Continuing the climb
This is another point where people stop going up. They think they have seen everything and don’t need to continue. I would recommend going up. Apart from the nice walk, there are more shrines of different types to see.
Leaving the shrine with stone lanterns, your climb continues up the mountain. This is a two-way path, so you may also see people coming down. Don’t worry! You are going the right way!
Eventually you will come to an intersection. This is where the path becomes circular. Most people will take the larger way (to the right) but it is up to you how you would like to do the path. You will encounter people going both ways.
The circular path
The circular path is not flat but has some ups and downs. However don’t worry about doing all of this in one go. There are rest stops with shrines, small shops and even restaurants with food at various points along the route. At this point you will notice that there are definitely fewer people than you saw at Fushimi Inari Taisha. Depending on the time of day, you may walk for several minutes without seeing people. Many people also only do a small portion near the original entrance, so especially if you are away from that part (which is in the southwest part of the route), you may be alone for a while.
It took me about 2.5 hours to complete the entire circle, but I went to every single shrine and even to the top of the mountain, which is just off the circular route. You do not have to do this.
There are 3 ways to get off the mountain: back down the same way you came, down a long alternative path with more shrines that eventually leads back to the Fushimi Inari Taisha, and a nature path that puts you near Tofukuji. All can be good paths to take, depending on what you are doing afterwards.
Here are some more photos from Fushimi Inari and Mt Inari:
How can I get there? How much is it to enter? When can I enter?
Kyoto has two main forms of transport within the city: buses and the subway. There are also regional trains that connect Kyoto with nearby villages and cities. While buses and subways are usually the best way to travel in Kyoto, in this case, the train would be easier. To get to Fushimi Inari from Kyoto Station (the main station where the Shinkansen – bullet train – stops), take the Nara line. You only need it for two stations and then you get off at Inari station (convenient name!). This trip will cost you ¥150. Buses do run through this area but do not stop very close to Fushimi Inari, so you will have to walk. Taxis are also an option but the price will vary based on the company and how far you travel.
Right across the street from the train station is Fushimi Inari Taisha. Very convenient! What’s even more convenient is that Fushimi Inari is completely free to enter and is open 24/7. You can go at any time of the year and any time of the day or night for free. While it is free, it is customary to make a small offering to the shrine. Today the offering is money (coins). How much you offer is up to you but it is a good idea to offer something. Otherwise, you will stand out.
Can I buy a torii?
The answer is yes! People have been donating torii to Mt Unari since at least the Edo period (starting in 1603). You can still donate torii today as well. A small one costs about ¥400,000 and goes upward of ¥1,000,000. Individuals, as well as business, can donate torii. If you are interested, speak with the management office located at Fushimi Inari Taisha.
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