When the moon slowly rises… And the lights begin to reverberate with the rhythm of a poem… And the foxes sing to themselves over five octaves… There, there! That’s where you’ll really appreciate the intoxicating atmosphere of Fushimi Inari shrine.
Buy some cheap sake at the combini store, warm it in the microwave (the staff will do it for you) and follow me on a night’s ramble. Even in winter we won’t feel the cold!
There’s no Chinese with their selfie sticks or French sweating under the weight of their huge backpacks. The sky glows and gives way to the stars. My friend Masumi attracts admiring glances, but only until the beauty of Fushimi Inari takes over!
So what is Fushimi Inari? Well, it’s the most important shrine dedicated to Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit. The little fox (below) is her messenger and protects your rice, tea, sake, not to mention your fertility. In other words if you happen to be a Japanese farmer, it’s better to have him on your side!
So our fox is everywhere – two-thirds (32,000!) of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari.
Admission to Fushimi Inari is free and it’s open 24/7, just the thing if you’re a hard-up romantic. Strangely enough there aren’t many around.
The shrine precinct starts at the foot of Inari mountain, where the Inari cult first appeared in the year 711. The mountain is only 233m high but it takes a few hours to get right round it.
As the sky darkens, look back once again as the sun sinks. Then on towards the famous long rows of votive torii of Fushimi Inari!
These torii, the traditional vermilion post-and-lintel gateways that will lead you right around the mountain, are the speciality of this site – there’s supposed to be about 10,000 of them! (it might be actually less but I wasn’t brave enough to count them)
Each torii has been donated by a company or organization. The donor’s names are marked on the posts (with date) so if you have any basic Japanese you can entertain yourself identifying them.
The value of a torii (and therefore the donation) depends on its size, starting at 400,000 yen (3,000 euros) and can easily exceed 1 million yen (8,000 euros). Now you’ve got an idea of the value of this shrine – it’s a big deal 🙂 Here we are at Yotsutsuji crossroads, with a stupendous view over Kyoto city.
I love the surprises along the way, especially all the little shrines you come across (not always that small as it happens). A feast for the eyes…
…with the little foxes to discover each time. But don’t expect to spot any live ones – there was a time when foxes lived in certain shrines, but no longer. With any luck, you’ll bump into the odd cat (there are a few around).
Another peculiarity is all these alternative paths. Who knows where they lead? If you have the whole night to spare (and maybe the day after) you could venture along them.
This is what it’s like when you’re almost at the top…
…there’s no stunning view over Kyoto (except at the start of the route) but there are crazy places like this.
Or this! You can go back down the other side of the mountain. There’s a low barrier across the path but, well…
The descent is comparatively quick. Climbing up, taking these pictures, took me about an hour and a half (and I walk pretty fast). On the other hand going down only took 30 minutes.
Ta-dah, all these little torii begging for attention!
Obviously at this hour everything’s closed. But by day you can enjoy sushi-inari or udon-inari – but at night there’s only the automatic drinks dispensers. Remember that they’re more expensive 😉 In Japan, the price of drinks rises with the altitude!
Some visitors to this website know plenty about Japan (more than me anyway) so here’s a question for you: why does Inari have a bamboo cane between his teeth?
On the way down, I pass through the best-known torii of Fushimi Inari.
Senbon Torii has a double row of gateways (there’s about 1,000), where everyone takes photos or strolls around in a yukata (light kimono).
We’re back down again. I know, one sake wasn’t enough, next time we’ll need to set off with a thermos filled to the brim! Good thinking!
Over to you now. Are there corners of Kyoto that you loved (or just heard about) that open up a whole new dimension at any particular time?
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