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The Thousand Torii Gates of Kyoto
The old capital of Japan, Kyoto is a fascinating city of old imperial sites and even older temples and shrines. You can easily spend a week exploring all of the important sites, tracking Geishas, and soaking in hot spring water. The shrines and temples range from the spectacular and flamboyant Golden Pavillion to the whimsical and bizarre Otagi Nenbutsu. Arguably, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is probably the most iconic shrine in Kyoto. The bright orange gates winding through a crisp green forest act like a tourist magnet. Travelers and locals alike clamber for a break in the sea of people to try and capture their visit, but don’t let this stop you. It is well worth spending at least half a day wandering the paths and collecting your luck as you pass through the bright orange torii gates.
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The Fushimi Inari is an ancient Shinto shrine that predates Kyoto’s capital status in 794, it is one of thousands that are dedicated to Inari, the Rice God. When you first enter, the main shrine building is right in front of you. Don’t pass this by in a hurry to walk the mountain as it’s quite beautiful with its hard wood carvings and colorful donations and prayer symbols.
Along the way, you will also notice an abundance of fox statues. The fox is considered to carry messages for the Rice God, and this is depicted by the scroll clamped between the fox’s jaws. Each fox is unique.
Pro Tip: The shrine never closes, so try to go early to beat the crowds, and to have a much easier opportunity to get some great photos.
There is plenty to do at and around the shrine’s nature park. For example, you can get your fortune told by inserting a coin in one of the many orange machines. Just remember to find the English one if you want to know what it says. There are also food stands and a few restaurants along the paths that serve themed dishes, such as the abuurage, or fried tofu. This is reportedly the favorite dish of the messenger fox.
For the kids: Have them count how many foxes they’ve found. Can they identify what each is holding in its mouth?
The highlight of a visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine is when you are following the path through the woods, passing by many stone Japanese lanterns, and you come to the Senbon Torii or Thousands of Gates. First, you will notice a couple of stands selling tokens and tiny torii gates or fox heads for you to write your wishes on and hang for them to come true, then you will enter the covered paths. Thousands of donated torii gates were offered to cover the paths, which is what the black painting is on the leg of the gate. Individuals and corporations donate the gates that form the trail in an effort to bring luck and prosperity for the future.
Getting to Senbon Torii – By car: As usual, we drove so we just put in the address to our GPS. The address is 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Kyoto.
By Train: Many shinkansen, fast trains, go to Kyoto. Once in Kyoto take the Nara line t0 Inari station. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is short walk from the station.
Days and Hours: The shrine never closes. I haven’t been at night, but many people say it’s gorgeous. Bring a flashlight with you when you go.
Where to stay: You could try a capsule hotel for a real Japanese experience, or opt for a comfortable, good value budget hotel. Both of these choices are near the main station and well placed for getting around Kyoto, the city of temples and shrines.
Tips for Visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Water: Especially during the summer months, don’t forget to bring water, even though there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a local drink and a snack along the way.
Little ones: The hikes are up and down and around, and depending on the time of day can be quite crowded. Leave the stroller at the hotel and carry the baby.
Photo: You will want to get a good photograph of yourself and your travel partners. In Japan it’s no problem to ask someone to take a photo for you. Just remember to return the favor. However, if you are shy, bring a tripod!
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