Destination of the Week: Fushimi Inari Shrine

When you learn about Japan, you may see this as one of the country’s “trademark” images…. a seemingly endless stretch of bright red and orange gates going down a path and through the mountains. This is Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine), which I had the chance to visit on my first trip to Japan in 2004.

Torii gates of Fushimi Inari. Photo by Paul Vlaar (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

About Fushimi Inari: Located in the ancient capital city of Kyoto in central Japan, Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of the kami, or deity, called Inari. Inari is a commonly-used phrase to refer to foxes. But this kami is known in the Shinto religion as the one for industry, agriculture, fertility, sake and rice… which explains the name behind inari sushi – a type of sushi that uses cooked tofu wrapped around rice.

There are many thousands of Inari shrines spread all over Japan, but the main one in Kyoto is the one that you see in photos and travel guides with thousands of Shinto torii gates donated by Japanese businesses as a tribute to the deity.

Did you know: The foxes are said to be the messengers of the Inari deity, which is why foxes are referred to as such.

Costs: There are no admission charges to visit Fushimi Inari, and you can go whenever you want. The grounds are open every day, day and night. Though you’ll probably have better luck when the trains run. 🙂

While I highly recommend that you stroll out to Fushimi Inari on your own, there are paid guided tours out there that combine trips to the shrine with visits to other nearby shrines/temples, or with a trip to a sake brewery. Information on these tours can be found by doing an Internet search.

How to get there: The closest train station to Fushimi Inari shrine is JR Inari station. It is only 2 stops and 5 minutes away from Kyoto station by JR Nara Line local at a cost of 140 yen. It is also served by the private Keihan railway at nearby Fushimi-Inari station; it is possible to take Keihan here from either the eastern part of Kyoto, or cheaply from central Osaka (About 50 minutes and 400 yen).

Once you’ve made your way to the main entrance and start up the path, you can turn around and go back whenever you wish, but on my trip I decided to take the entire trip around the path and shrine grounds. Eventually the torii gates will come to an end and you will find yourself on residential streets a bit from where you started. Back in 2004, I used the sounds of trains running in the distance to help guide me back to where I started. Obviously with smartphones and GPS in today’s day and age, returning to your point of origin is a cinch.

What’s nearby: The stop between Kyoto Station and Fushimi Inari on the JR line is Tofukuji, a 10-minute walk to the famous Zen Buddhist temple of the same name. It is well worth a visit, but during the autumn it can get crowded for fall foliage viewing.