L&A has been to their fair share of places of worship, from cathedrals and country churches to synagogues and Buddhist temples, but there is just something mystical about the Fushimi-Inari Shinto shrine in Kyoto. With its seemingly endless tunnel made of Torii gates and countless stone foxes watching your every move, it’s something you just experience yourself. Some people overlook it because it’s not near the other main sights of Kyoto, but it’s located across the street from the Inari train station, which is just two stops south, five minutes or so, on the JR Nara line. When you get there, walk out of the station and the shrine is right there. Really, you can’t miss it.
The shrine was founded in 711, but the main building you see when you first walk onto the grounds was built in 1499. The shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and all the foxes you see are his messengers. Kindra is a big fan of foxes – her first crush was on Disney’s Robin Hood (yes, the cartoon). Behind the building, the trail with the torii begins. Torii are the large gates you see at Shinto shrines and are places for spirits to attach to. At the Fushimi-Inari shrine, the torii are arranged along a path to form a tunnel you can walk through. This is best visited at dusk because many of the other visitors will be gone and it is more likely you will be alone. Also, the trees and torii block what little sunlight is left, making the paths seem darker, quieter and more mysterious than rest of the shrine.
As soon as you start walking through the torii, you get a magical, otherworldly feeling. The train station may be a few minutes’ walk away, but it may as well be in a different dimension. The 2.5 mile path winds through the woods and slowly climbs Mt. Inari. Along the path, there are little shrines with foxes, candles and altars that offer breaks in the torii path. At the peak (over 700 feet) there is a splendid view of Kyoto that brings you back to reality. As you continue along the path, the view quickly fades and you once again return to the world of Inari. Walking these trails can take a couple of hours, so don’t get here to late or you may get caught in the dark…with all of these torii gates…and the spirits attached to them.
Admission is free and the grounds never close. To get to Inari station from Kyoto, go to Kyoto station, flash your JR pass to the agent near the turnstiles and walk into the station. Look for the trains to Nara and get on the next one that stops at Inari (it should be marked). You can also ask the super-friendly agents in the ticket office. If you don’t have a JR pass, just buy a ticket from the agents or a machine for 140 yen.
Shinto shrines are on everyone’s itinerary when they go to Japan, but make doubly sure the Fushimi-Inari Shrine is on yours; there is no other place like this and is a must-see in Japan.