If you want a magical taste of Kyoto, cycle to the eastern outskirts of the city and visit Fushimi Inari-taisha. This 1,300 year old shrine is a long-standing testament to the sacred and religious side of Japan. More than 10,000 Torii gates, or red arches, line the pathways leading up the mountain.
The smartest thing we did was to visit the shrine at dusk. As we climbed the hill, hordes of tourists came past going back down the mountain. As the minutes wore on, the crowds disappeared together and we had the place to ourselves.
Fushimi Inari-taisha is a shinto shrine honouring the God Inari, who is the God of rice, sake, and prosperity. As night crept in and the last rays of sun shone in between the gaps of the arches. It was serene but somewhat creepy as we made our way between the graves of loved ones long gone.
The Japanese believe that by donating a gate to the shrine they will be blessed with prosperity and good fortune. So many companies have donated and paid for the upkeep of the Torii gates along the path.
Throughout the shrine you will see statues of foxes. These are thought to be the messengers of the good fortune. You can write your wish on a wooden fox plate for a small donation, and hang it on the wall, hoping it’ll come true.
Like with all shrines in Japan, if you plan on praying to the Gods then you must first clean yourself so you are pure as you stand before them. Here is one of the ancient cleaning stations with water from a nearby spring.
As we made our way higher up the path, the varying colours of red became apparent. The sun reflected shades of deep red, faded red and ruby red. The contrasts and inconsistencies made the journey more mystical.
We spent a good few hours wandering the paths and getting lost. As we journeyed, I imagined all the thousands of people who had walked the trail before me. It felt as though we could’ve been walking the path two hundred years ago and it would’ve been the same. Aside from the vending machines here and there, it felt like nothing had changed.
Visiting the shrine was one of the best things we did on our entire trip to Japan. The photos don’t really do it justice. It’s difficult to describe the eeriness, stillness and spirituality of the place. It got in to your bones and as you left you felt as though you were taking a part of it with you. A truly moving place.
What you need to know about Fushimi Inari-taisha:
When to visit: The shrine is open during daylight hours.
How to get there: The shrine is close to the JR Nara Line Inari Station in Kyoto. We rode our bikes there from our accommodation near Kyoto train station and it took about 20 minutes.
Cost: The shrine is free to visit.
Hot tip: Go at dusk when all the tourists have disappeared and you have the place to yourself.