Posted by: soniahs | August 27, 2012

Fushimi Inari Taisha

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is located in Inari, a suburb of Kyoto. It’s mainly known for two things: orange torii gates and foxes (kitsune). The shrine complex covers several acres of wooded hills, with lots of paths- and stairs- through the forest. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of shrines and little memorials throughout the area.

Main shrine building. The walk uphill begins near here. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

We spent most of the day at this complex. The torii stretch out over many miles of pathways and trails. All of this is set in the hilly forest so it’s all very idyllic in setting. The multitude of shrines makes it more so. It’s incredible. The site was crowded but  that didn’t really detract from anything, plus we ended up taking a side detour that had few people on it (so few we were a bit concerned about getting lost in the hills). In places the torii are packed so closely together in groups of tens to hundreds that passing through them is like passing through a tunnel. It’s an amazing effect.

Walking in the torii tunnel. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The shrines along the way had many levels of detail and sophistication. Some were small things with basically just stones erected in an appropriate way. These often had two cute little 3″ or so clay white foxes on them (yes, we ended up buying a pair of these, but that was later in Tokyo). The main ones were quite large, with elaborate ropes, red aprons for the foxes, brightly colored platforms and posts, etc. Foxes are traditional guardians of granaries, so this started as an agriculture shrine.

Collection of shrines near a stream.

In various places, the trail was lined with shops- either tea stands, ramen spots, or ice cream stands. Most of these offered a place to sit and relax and contemplate the forest (and incidentally catch your breath). Other than these spots, there were very few places to sit. This sort of mix of commercial and religious aspects was pretty much everywhere- e.g., the Hello Kitty paraphernalia that was Kinkaku-ji and and Fushimi Inari themed. Also the wide variety of little charms that you could pick up everywhere.

Cub scouts and others taking a rest break. You can see Kyoto in the background. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

There are main paths at this complex, but also trails that are basically hiking paths that go off into the forest. We decided to take one of these on the assumption that it would eventually loop us back to the main path. (It did.) So that gave us a great chance to get into the woods, and be away from people. It was really quiet out there. The trail ran downstream along one creek and then upstream another in the next mini-valley over. We had the trail pretty much to ourselves.

A less crowded area on the trail. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

At two stops on the trail, there were a dense clusters of shrines. The shrines were sort of wedged into the hillside on whatever flat part of the streamside there was. Very nice to be able to hang out at such a place for a while and prowl around all the shrines without getting in anyone’s way.

You could buy little torii like these for a few hundred yen at the shops along the way, but the bigger gates cost thousands. Note the bonnets and aprons on the foxes.

At the end of the walk, we had some lunch in the ubiquitous commercial area at the entrance to the shrine, along with some fox-shaped cinnamon cookies. Yum.

Fox guardian holding the key to the granary. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

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