On our second and last day in Kyoto, we intend to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha & Nanzen-ji temples and also walk the philosopher’s path. This turned out to be quite an ambitious plan and we did have to cut short some of the trips, especially the first one to fit everything in. I’d love to return in the autumn and spend more time in the hills and temples.
Tomorrow we are going on to Nara and we started today’s trip by practising the first part of tomorrow’s journey, taking the Nara Express from Kyoto station. We got off after only a few stops at Inari station. The entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha is directly opposite the station exit so there is no chance of missing it. There is of course a helpful map outside the station to help you if you need it.
This place is famous for 2 things: hundreds of bright red torii gates lining the paths up the hill so closely spaced as to form tunnels; and fox spirits (Kitsune) which are messengers and guardians. There are hundreds of shrines within this area, some large and some small, all incorporating some aspects of the torii gate and the fox in their design. The foxes often carry keys to the rice granary in their mouths as they are servants or Inari, the shinto god of rice.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the scale of this place. I was expecting one path covered by gates leading to a up to single large shrine. There are in fact many paths enclosed by gates leading up the hillside to multiple large shrines and innumerable smaller ones. There were lots and lots of people there walking up and down the paths and in some places it was as crowded as Tokyo stations in rush hour. Of course everyone wants to get pictures of the famous gates and walking up the paths becomes a delicate balance of not getting in the way of other people and actually making some progress up the hill. I spent a while taking pictures for other tourists posing in front of the gates while we waited for a lull in the traffic to try to get a picture with no people in the way.
Part way up, you can leave the path and find yourself amid a bewildering array of small shrines decorated with miniature gates and fox statues. Paths wind maze-like between the shrines which are all numbered but we didn’t find any sign to explain the numbers. This is a welcome break from the paths beneath the gates packed with people processing up to the main shrines. In fact there are thankfully many opportunities to get out from under the gates and explore small shrines and woods to the sides. Some of my favourite views were of the line of gates snaking away through the trees. The only downside of leaving the main paths is that the maps provided for tourists are terrible, most of the paths are not on the maps and the labels are obscure and confusing. The worst/best example being a straight section of a single path labelled “T-Junction”.
When we realised that we were only half way up the hill and it was almost midday, we decided we were going to have to cut this visit short if we were going to make it to the rest of our destinations. So we bought some fox related souvenirs and headed back down to the station and back towards Kyoto to see Nanzen-ji.
I’m splitting this post here before it becomes far too long! Check back for the next part in a day or two…