[RELATED] Fushimi Inari Tours by Changi Recommends
Legend has it…
that a fishcake was shot into the sky, where it transformed into a swan. The mystical bird flew off and the mountain on which it landed started to grow rice—an auspicious omen. The deity Inari Okomi (the Japanese God of Rice) was then enshrined, and that is the story of how the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine was born.
Founded in 711, the ancient shrine is one of the most revered in Japan.
Even if you are not of the Shinto faith, you’ll find the place extremely fascinating. Despite the crowds—consisting of both local devotees and international tourists—the sacred site maintains an air of calmness and tranquility. There are main and sub-shrines for different purposes, like the Higashimaru-jinja Shrine which you can identify by the colourful hanging paper cranes. These are put up by those who pray for academic success–it is a Japanese belief that folding 1,000 paper cranes will help your prayers come true.
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You may also notice many fox statues and carvings all over the site. This is because they are believed to be the messengers of the rice deity. Some even have a key in their mouths, symbolising the keys to the rice storehouses from the past.
Of course, there is the senbon torii behind the shrine.
Senbon torii means “thousands of gates”
Which is exactly what it is. Behind the main shrine is a path leading up to the 233m tall Mt Inari, featuring some 5,000 bright vermilion torii gates. This is the highlight of this attraction, and is what thousands of tourists travel to Kyoto to see. It is a truly enchanting experience to walk the path surrounded by the red pillars—after all, it is believed torii gates are where the human world meets the spiritual realm.
However, its known to be notoriously crowded, especially during peak travel seasons.
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Here are some tips for exploring Fushimi Inari Shrine:
- The senbon torii hike is about 5km, and will take about two to three hours to complete.
- If you don’t think you’re up to the whole hike, you can stop at the Yotsutsuji intersection about halfway up.
- If you visit during late evening, the Yotsutsuji intersection is a great place to catch the sunset.
- Weekday mornings are the least busy, so if you want to catch nice photos under the torii gates, go then. The shrine is open 24-7.
- If not, the crowd only gathers at the temple and lower grounds, and will clear up as you ascend the mountain. If you want some quiet time under the gates, you can always just keep walking.
We recommend spending half the day there, just because there’s so much to see and do… Including eat your fill of the local street snacks! Near the main shrine is a street with food stalls and souvenir shops.
Make sure you try the Inari sushi and kitsune noodles. The former is a rice sushi wrapped in fried bean curd skin, and the latter is noodles in sweet soup, topped with fried bean curd. Bean curd is believed to be foxes’ favourite food, which is why it is served here.
Some other street food available there:
Getting there with a Japan Rail Pass:
From Kyoto Station (JR Nara Line), take two stops to the JR Inari Station. Fushimi Inari Shrine is just outside the station.
If you don’t have the JR Pass and have a local transport card (ICOCA, Suica, etc) instead, take the Keihan Main Line and alight at the Fushimi Inari Station.
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