The Torii gates (鳥居) at Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) give me one more reason to love historical Japan. These gates date back to 711 A.D., and as a foreigner with only a 250 year old country, 1300 years old is an age I can’t even fathom.
In addition to age, these grounds are said to hold over 10,000 Torii gates. Experiencing these numerous and well-preserved gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine are like touching a piece of human history; if only we could see all that they have seen over the years.
To give a little background, a Torii gate is seen as an entrance to a sacred shrine in the Shinto religion. They mark the pathway to shrines across Asia, and I’m sure you’ve come to know them as a symbol of Japan.
What is unique about the Torii gates at Inari Fushimi, though, is their background. Each gate has been donated by a company or organization giving thanks for their prosperity and in hope of good fortune in the future. I only wished I could read all of the names engraved on each gate, but for now it remains to be beautiful artwork representing Japan’s past.
The significance of the shrines located at Fushimi Inari is to honor Inari (稲荷), the Shinto god of rice. You will also see foxes places throughout these grounds, as they are said to be messengers for Inari.
But, if you’re more interested in sightseeing than knowing the history, you can still enjoy the Fushimi Inari shrine just as much. As you enter the large main Torii gate you will see multiple shrines and neat shops for souvenirs. Then you will start to make your way up the stairs on the journey through the 10,000 Torii gates. The varying sizes and faded colors surprised me the most. Since pictures don’t do it justice, you have to see all of it for yourself in person.
While taking the long hike through the gates and up the hill, you will see even more shops for souvenirs and food. This is all leading up to the top of the hill, which overlooks beautiful Kyoto. But be warned, this trek up the mountain is longer than you expect. To get to the top and return again to the bottom would take 3-4 hours; if you don’t stop to enjoy the food, that is.
Thankfully, you don’t have to walk the entire path, though. You can enjoy as much or little as you want, then make your way back down through the gates to enjoy the scenery and Torii gates all over again.
As for the crowds, there really were none. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my definition of “crowd” has changed since moving from a town of 2,000 people in Virginia to a Japanese city of 400,000, but it really seemed very pleasant. And as usual, the Japanese visitors were just as much tourists as we were, taking pictures and standing in awe at all the history and sights the grounds had to offer. I’ve heard New Year’s day is a little more crowded, though; with almost 3 million visitors in only 3 days. But hey, one man’s crowd is another man’s adventure, right?
After finishing our hike and picture taking, I noticed a side street to the right as you exit the shrine. I can’t find it on any tourist information websites, but it turned out to be the best place to find souvenirs and food at the shrine. It looks like a permanent market set up along the street, with family-owned shops that have probably been there for years. Just another great reason to see the lovely Fushimi Inari Torii gates.
When you visit Kyoto, don’t forget about this attraction that will give a whole new meaning to “Japanese history and culture.”
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Kyoto Fushimi-ku, Kyoto Prefecture
Via the JR Nara Line, 5 minutes, 140¥
Kyoto Station> Inari Station
As you exit the gate, you can probably just follow the crowd. The main Torii gate will be ahead and to your left.