If you google places to see in Japan, I guarantee that Fushimi Inari is at the top of the list. It is majestic, magnificent, full of awe and tranquility, albeit a bit eerie. Fushimi Inari is famous for its seemingly unending thousands of vermilion torii gates that wind through the hills behind the shrine.
But first! You may be wondering what is a torii gate. A torii gate signal that you are about to enter sacred grounds and is commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine. A vermilion torri gate is usually associated with Inari – the god of rice, agriculture, industry, and prosperity among other things. There are many shrines dedicated to Inari, with Fushimi Inari being the head shrine.
Fushimi Inari sits at the base of Mount Inari in Kyoto. Upon entering the shrine, you’ll begin to see many fox statues throughout the grounds. The foxes, kitsune, are thought to be Inari’s messengers.
Go early to get the most out of your visit. Around 9 or 10 a.m., the shrine is swarm in crowds. We arrived at the shrine around 8 a.m. and were happy to see that there were only a few people. We explored the shrine grounds and then made our way to the entrance of the Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gates). Senbon Torii is the set of two parallel rows that you see in many images. It is said that there are about 10,000 torii gates lining the mountain road to the summit.
Walking through the Senbon Torii felt unreal. The bright vermilion hue mix with rays of light peeking through green trees and crisp air add to the calming, yet exhilarating nature of the whole thing.
After a 30 – 40 minutes hike uphill, you’ll reach Yotsutsuji Intersection where you’ll be rewarded with a nice view of Kyoto and where the trail splits into a circular route to the summit.
Many visitors end their hike at the intersection but we continued to hike for another 30 – 40 minutes. The higher we hiked, the more serene, quiet, and eerie the place became. You become surrounded by nature, torii gates, kitsune statues, and the many sub-shrines located on the mountain path.
As we made our descent back, we began to encounter many people. When we reached Senbon Torri, we felt like sardines, squished among the crowd as we wiggled our way to the exit. It pays to start early!
The experience at Fushimi Inari felt outerworldy. If there were to be entrances to another world, this would be one of them.