Fushimi Inarir Taisha Shrine is perhaps Japan’s most famous and photographed shrine. This beautiful collection of thousands of red torii gates, which wind up and around Kyoto’s Mt. Inari, leads visitors through breathtaking views of the city of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital city, and offers incredible insight into Japanese culture and traditions. Read on to see how to reach the shrine, what to do at the shrine, where to eat near the shrine, and much more.
If you’ve seen the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine is the one little Chiyo runs through, although it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the movie, because she starts out nowhere near the shrine, runs through it, then comes out somewhere completely different, but it’s still such a beautiful shot in the film.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho
Fushimi Ward, Kyoto
Nearest Train Stop: JR Inari Station
Hours: 24 Hours a Day
Admission Fee: No fee
Dress Code: Respectful dress, or kimono
Fushimi Inari Shrine is a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I saw a picture of it in an old National Geographic Magazine and in the Memoirs of a Geisha film. There are several thousand torii gates, the purpose of which is to mark the barrier between the mundane and the sacred. If you’re looking for a place to wear a kimono to, this is it!
Most shrines have one gate at the entrance and one at the exit, with perhaps a few smaller ones around the grounds, however since Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is so important, it has an estimated 10,000 gates. Since there are so many of them, it’s readily apparent that this is one of the most culturally important shrines in all of Japan.
The shrine, which is the main shrine dedicated to the Shinto god Inari, patron of rice, sake, prosperity, and good business, is frequently visited by curious travelers and those who seek the favor of Inari-sama to help with their business efforts or crops. The main temple halls are just as impressive as the thousands of gates, and it’s recommended by signs around the shrine to make an offering of a few yen to pay respect to the inshrined deity. If nothing else, donating money to the shrine helps preserve it so that future generations can continue to enjoy the staggering number of torii gates for themselves.
Each shrine was donated by either individuals or businesses, and on the way up the mountain path the shrines look plain orange-red, but if you look back, you will see the names of the patron who donated them along with the date they were donated. To buy a torii gate in Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine costs between ¥400,000 to more than ¥1,500,000 for larger gates. The smaller gates scattered around the shrine are much less expensive and typically purchased by students or small business owners for good luck.
Typically, torii gates are painted white to symbolize purity, however these and many other torii gates, like the massive one in Hakone, are painted with a mercury based red-orange paint to help them last longer in the rain and fluctuating temperatures. Red is also said to be a color that can protect people from evil, so that anyone who visits will be protected from evil forces and the bad intentions of others.
We had plenty of time in Kyoto to wander the shrine, so we hiked up the path, which was supposed to take about 2-3 hours, but ended up taking most of our day because we got stuck in the rain about halfway up, and had to take shelter under a small shrine in the forest. It was so beautiful, and because most people ran back down the mountain for cover, we had the rest of the hike practically to ourselves when the rain finally let up.
Along the path, there are about half a dozen little restaurants that are perfect for grabbing lunch, and we stopped for about an hour and a half to enjoy the local specialties of Inari Sushi, which are tofu skin pockets stuffed with sweet rice and kitsune udon, which translates to “fox spirit udon”, which is said to be foxes favorite food. Everything was absolutely phenomenal, and the view from the restaurant we chose was beautiful too.
There are no restrooms along the path, aside from those in a couple of the larger restaurants, so be sure to do your business beforehand, as there aren’t any kind of facilities along the way. There are however a few places to sit, and a few souvenir shops along the mountain path, so if you don’t feel hungry enough for a full meal, there’s plenty of opportunities to get a snack and enjoy the view. Keep in mind however, it’s considered rude to eat or drink while walking in Japan, and it’s improper to walk throughout a shrine eating food, so stick close to where you bought your food, sit down and enjoy your snack, then carry on.
Walking throughout Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, there are gaps along the mountain path with multiple smaller shrines, winding paths, and statues of foxes in various sizes. If you can’t read the Japanese signs, just know that these fox statues are meant to represent the messengers of Inari-sama and that while fox spirits are said to be playful, their statues also play a practical role in protecting visitors from the boar that wander Mt. Inari by scaring them off.
The day after we hiked the full mountain path, our thighs were so sore, because there are thousands of steps of varying widths and heights. If you’re not in good shape, this would be very difficult, however you can turn around at any point. Most people only walk to the halfway viewing point and then turn back, so if you’re not a big hiker like we are, don’t feel too bad about turning back.
After the halfway point, the pathway opens up and the torii become more spaced apart, allowing you to see more of the forest. I’d also say about 90% of people turn back at this point, so if you’re interested in photography, push on to get some incredible shots of the gates without the crowds.
At the base of the mountain, before the torii gate path begins, there are always large crowds of souvenir hawkers, lots of food stands (my favorite was the hashimaki pictured below), and some unique souvenir shops. If you’d like, buy a wooden ema tablet and write your wish on it. The shrine staff will pray for you that your wish comes true, and the cost of the wooden tablet helps the shrine continue to host fun and culturally significant events for the community and visitors alike.
Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine was one of the highlights of our trip. For me, it was a dream come true to not only be in Japan, a place I’ve always dreamt of visiting, but to also be in one of the most spectacular cultural landmarks in the nation was such a wonderful experience. If you have time during your visit to Kyoto, be sure to go and make a donation for the shrine’s preservation, take a photo with the beautiful gates, and pick up some unique souvenirs.
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