One of the oldest shrines in Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine was voted the Top Thing To Do In Kyoto in 2016. Its seemingly endless row of vermillion torii gates is a signature photo spot for tourists and a symbol of Kyoto. The shrine venerates Inari, the Shinto god of rice, who farmers prayed to for a good harvest, and is now popularly worshipped by businessmen who hope for a bountiful year. It is believed that foxes are the messengers of the gods, which explains the many fox statues throughout the grounds of the shrine.
The tori gates straddle a network of mountain trails of around 4km in length leading up to Mount Inari, which stands at 233m. The hike takes around 2 hours, and there are a few restaurants along the way offering Inari Sushi and Kitsune Udon, featuring aburaage, or fried tofu, said to be a favorite treat of the fox messengers. Each tori gate represents a donation by an individual or company with the cost starting from 400,000 yen for a small gate and over 1 million for a large gate.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is the head shrine of some 32,000 sub-shrines. Its origins predate the move of Japan’s capital to Kyoto in 794. Even amongst non-worshippers the shrine is popular for its scenic beauty especially during the autumn when the leaves provide an azure background to the gates.