Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (Kyoto) 伏見稲荷大社
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.
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If you come prepared for a wee hike, you'll have an amazing time! The tori gate tunnel gave welcome shade from the sun during the summer, but we got quite sweaty anyway climbing the many, many, many steps. It's so worth it though. There are many interesting sites to see along the route, including smaller shrines, fox and frog statues and traditional graveyards. (We ended up visiting past sunset, so it got a little bit creepy!)
A truly unique shrine that you shouldn't leave out of your Kyoto itinerary.
Come prepared! Don't make the same mistake I did.. I came here knowing very little of this beautiful shrine yet me and my friends decided to tackle the many, many, MANY steps. Fast forward a couple of hours and (a much more sweaty us) reached the summit. I have to say I found the view at the half-way point much more appealing that the one at the top, which is blocked by trees. I feel you'll get an enjoyable enough experience by not walking all the way to the top. However the ice cream we had on the way made it all worth it!
I probably should have done my research first!
I recommend going for sunset as it becomes so atmospheric and so much quicker to get around after dark. Admittedly I went back on my way out of town in the morning to see it in daylight and visit the vendors but I did not regret showing up at 9pm. I did occasionally get a bit spooked going alone though