Trekking Through 10,000 Torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto
One of our most memorable hikes was through the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan last summer. This was our last stop after a busy day with the temples and strolling the city’s history district. This shrine is well-known for its trail and tunnels of 10,000 red/orange torii or traditional Japanese gates that led to sacred Mount Inari. See why this hike was unforgettable.
This Shinto shrine was founded in 711 AD. It was dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of sake (rice wine), rice and prosperity. There are about 40,000 shrines dedicated to Inari in Japan and this was the headquarters and so named due to its location in “Fushimi. This shrine is visited worshippers, pilgrims and businessmen seeking luck and blessings for their business ventures since it signifies success and prosperity.
The two-storied Romon Gate dominates the shrine’s entrance with its stunning and bright architecture. A famous Japanese leader donated this structure in 1589.
The courtyard behind the gate was expansive with many structures that included gift shops, offices and worship halls. But, the Honden which is the shrine’s main hall dominated the area. The Honden was built in 1499.
The cleansing ritual is common at shrine and temple entrances and one my kids always enjoy doing. We liked that this one actually had instructions with colorful pictures.
Foxes were everywhere here. They were said to be Inari’s messengers. They were usually in pairs with ceremonial red bibs. One had a jewel that was supposed to represent the gods’ spirit while the other held keys to the rice storehouse.
The kids tried to play how many foxes can you spot here but lost count along the way. I won’t deny that somewhere along the trail the kids and my husband were singing that wildly popular “What does the fox say…” song. (I’m sorry if you can’t get it out of your head now). Sometimes, you’ve got to make some of these hikes more entertaining.
We were here late in the day so most of the restaurants were already closed. But, some of the restaurants along the trail had local dishes like Inari sushi (fried tofu around sweetened rice) and Kitsune Udon (Fox Udon). No fox was harmed with that dish. It’s actually a noodle soup with aburaage (fried tofu) toppings. Aburaage is supposed to be the foxes’ favorite treat.
The ema votive tablets, which are wooden plaques that worshippers write their wishes and prayers on, were also shaped like foxes.
The torii gate trails were towards the back of the shrine’s complex. The thousands of torii that seem to overlap each other really are quite a sight to behold and seem to endlessly go on. They cover the trails and forest that lead to the 999 feet (233 meters), sacred Mount Inari. No wonder it’s become such an important and iconic attraction in Kyoto.
How did these thousands of torii gates end up here? Various local and national businesses, organizations and individuals, who were grateful for their luck and prosperity and hoping for more good fortune, donated them. Each gate is inscribed with the donor’s name and donation date in black lettering.
The donors actually have to pay to put a torii up. The torii gate cost varies depending on size and location. It starts at 200,000 yen ($1,681 US) for a small gate and over a million yen ($8,405 US) for the large gate. Some of them in damper areas have to be replace every 5 years due to deterioration. I guess in a way it’s also a form of advertising for the businesses (if you can read Japanese).
The first set of torii gates we saw were the parallel rows called Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gates). They were so closely placed together with lanterns hung above them. These bright tunnels were so remarkable to walk through.
It looked like the torii at the start of the trail were much bigger than the ones higher up the trail. Some of them were massive.
We had no intentions of hiking to the top of the mountain in the heat and humidity. Despite our protests, my husband had a bright idea that hiking and seeing what’s at the top will be a worthwhile adventure. He promised the kids cold drinks and treats and enticed me with the possibility of what I’d be missing out if I didn’t do this climb. So, off we went.
The mountaintop hike takes about 2-3 hours round trip. We did it in a little over two hours simply because we started running down once it started getting dark. It seemed that the higher we went up, we saw less people on the trail.
After awhile, I had a case of déjà vu. The trails, paths and all those torii started to look the same. If it weren’t for the numbered stations along the way, I was convinced we were going in circles.
We found small shrines along the way with foxes, food and wine offerings and many miniature torii gates. This was for people and businesses that have a limited budget. These smaller torii ranged from 2,000 yen ($17 US )to 10,000 yen ($84 US). Some of them were scattered around shrines while some were grouped and stacked together.
Halfway through the mountaintop trail is the Yotsu-tsuji (four-way) intersection. There was a clearing with lovely views of Kyoto here as well as an eatery with refreshing drinks. This was the stopping point for many visitors. We really should have gone back down after this but we kept going and followed the circular trail to Mount Inari’s summit. The torii gates decreased from here on and the trail was filled with more brush and trees.
We were expecting some sort of large monument or big sign saying we were at the top of the mountain. This was the only sign we found and by accident. .
This was the shrine at the summit with offerings and more foxes. As tourists, it was a bit disappointing. I’m sure the pilgrims would think otherwise. Pilgrims and serious devotees pray at each shrine along the way as they trek to the top of Mount Inari. They also toss coins, buy candles or miniature torii gates on the shrines. Tea breaks may be scheduled along the hike.
At times, we were the only ones in some areas and felt the solitude this special place offers for pilgrims. The forest was beautiful with patches of clearings including this pond. I’m sure this is more colorful during Autumn and Spring.
We came back down the trail near dusk. It almost felt magical with the lanterns lighting the way for us through the torii tunnels.
While Kyoto has numerous shrines and temples, this shrine shouldn’t be missed for its uniqueness, importance, easy accessibility and it was free. Despite the lack of fanfare at the summit, the hike was worth it to truly experience what this shrine embodied. It was a great and interesting place to explore. It wasn’t an easy hike with kids especially during the summer but we will never forget our trek through tunnels of thousands of torii.
Visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine Basics and Tips
- The shrine is always open and is Free.
- It is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station (main station) along the JR Nara Line and takes 5 minutes one way. It is also a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
- There are restaurants, snack shops and restrooms (called WC) along the trails.
- April and October are festival times at the shrine and is a popular time to visit but also crowded.
- Come early or late to minimize running with the crowd.
- We saw many vending machines along the way which was a relief. Buy from the lower level ones. Prices increase as we ascended to the top.
Have you visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine?