A sea of faces sweep past me as I step off the train at Inari station. People rush from the platform and fly down the steps. I stop to check my map, wondering how far it is to Fushimi-Inari Shrine. Then I see it. Directly across from me, meters from the chaos of the station is a huge orange gate. An entrance to another world.
Entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine
These gates, called torii,
are placed at the entrance of Shinto shrines. They symbolize the transition between the profane and the sacred.
Fushimi-Inari Shrine was built by the Hata family in the eighth century. It is the largest of more than 30,000 Inari shrines in Japan, all dedicated to the god of rice and harvest. Today, Fushimi-Inari still sees a number of people come to pay their respects.
Ring the bell and pay your respects to the god of rice and harvest
School children, tourists and families gather by the large building near the entrance to the shrine. Coins clink against wood as everyone throws in their offering. After tossing in a coin, they pull on a long rope, ringing the bells hanging by the ceiling. Then they clap twice, put their hands together and pray.
Colored material is pinned up against the wall. It hangs there in a beautiful display, jostling in the breeze. Each small piece of fabric is an offering to Inari, now considered the the god of rice, harvest and business.
Offerings to Inari, the god of rice, harvest and business
Further on, there are a number of stalls selling souvenirs. One in particular advertises miniature torii
on a string. It's said that writing your wish or prayer on one of these, and hanging it on the shrine, will help your desire to come true.
Prayers can be seen all over the premises of the shrine. Some are bought from the store, others scrawled on a piece of paper and stuck through the branch of a tree.
Torii gates at Fushimi-Inari Shrine
However, there is much more than just this. Fushimi-Inari Shrine is sprawled across four kilometers of heavy forest. A path winds up the mountain, lined by thousands of orange torii.
Over the years, successful business owners have given back to Inari by donating the gates.
Stone foxes frequent the path as well - gazing down at you as you pass through another torri.
In Japan, foxes are considered the messengers of Inari. They are a sacred animal and often mysterious. It is believed that they have the power to possess humans.
Orange torii at Inari Shrine
Passing through the orange gates, it feels like you're on an inner journey as well. Fushimi-Inari Shrine radiates tranquility, and it begins to rub off on its visitors.
On a clear day the sunlight shatters through the gates, illuminating the forest that creeps in through the cracks. You could not imagine a more perfect place.
Trekking the path at night; however, will have an entirely different affect. The atmosphere feels almost eerie, enhanced by the grave sites and miniature shrines scattered along the path. But this is by no means a bad thing. It adds to the aura of wisdom of the shrine.
Miniature shrines and grave sites
If you're feeling tired, there is a tea-house about an hour up the path. It sells traditional sweets and green tea - a lovely way to immerse yourself in the culture of Japan. The view from the tea-house is especially impressive. Sitting on the edge of the mountain, the building offers plummeting views of the surrounding forest.
View from the tea-house at Fushimi-Inari Shrine
Fushimi-Inari Shrine is a must see of Kyoto. Experience the tranquility of the atmosphere, the lushness of the forest and the wisdom that one feels simply being there.
The walking track is open constantly; however admission to the temple halls and souvenir stores closes at 5:00pm. It's free to visit the shrine and worth doing at least more than once.
Fushimi-Inari Shrine can be accessed on the JR Nara Line, one stop away from Kyoto station.