One of the many highlights of my trip to Japan was the time spent in Kyoto. As awesome as Tokyo was, Kyoto definitely stole my heart. Our first order of business was to see the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in southern Kyoto, so off we went. Trip Advisor.com ranks the Fushimi Inari Shrine as #1 of over 300 things to see in Kyoto and Japan-guide.com ranks it at #7. With that in mind, we knew we would not be disappointed.
We got a Kyoto city bus pass for 500 yen (approx. $5) which covers you for all flat fare bus routes in the main city. Travelers with more time can also purchase a Kyoto sightseeing one or two day pass for 1,200 or 2,000 yen (approx. $12 or $20) which covers a larger area and also includes subway transit.
After a very long wait for the #5 bus to the base of Mount Inariyama, we arrived began our hike up the mountain.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is Shinto, one of the main beliefs in Japanese culture along with Buddhism. Shinto is the native faith of the Japanese people and has been around since Japan itself first came into being.
Today Shinto beliefs remain deeply ingrained in Japanese thought and culture. The interesting thing about the Shinto religion is that it doesn’t have a founder or holy scriptures as most religions do. They don’t promote propaganda or preaching either. Since it’s so deeply rooted in their culture already, there is no need. This religion believes in Shinto gods, or sacred spirits, known as “kami.” These gods represent things like wind, trees, water, health and fertility.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is known as the most important of thousands or shrines that pay respects to the Shinto god of rice, known as Inari. Ancient beliefs state that foxes were Inari’s messengers, so you will see dozens of fox-themed statues throughout the sacred grounds. The shrine and it’s foxes are truly ancient, having predated Kyoto becoming the capitol of Japan in 794. (The capitol is now Tokyo, but at that time the capital was wherever the emperor lived, so it was Kyoto back then.)
The entire trail up the mountain is covered with Torii gates, making it seem like you are walking under a canopy of orange the whole way. Torii gates mark the entrance to a shrine and are usually made from wood. Fushimi Inari is famous for it thousands of Torii gates the line the mountain trail. Each gate on the trail was donated to the shrine by people or companies. Each donator’s name and date is written on the back of their respective gate and placed on the trail with the others.
The hike up to Mount Inari’s summit can take up to three hours, but many visitors wander at will and turn back at their leisure. There are also restaurants along the way, so making a day out of Mount Inari is easy to do. Entrance is free although donations are encouraged if you stop by the prayer building and choose to offer your thanks to Inari and say a prayer of your own.