Fushimi Inari Shrine or the Kyoto Fox Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, pronounced Fushimi Inari Taisha in Japanese) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto and one of the most popular tourist sites in the whole of Japan. After my visit to the Kyoto Fox Shrine, inspired by Memoirs of a Geisha and a yearning to learn more this ancient places quirky history, I can’t say that I am surprised by its popularity even given the ridiculous amount of competition it faces in this ancient island nation.
Thousands of vivid orange (correction – vermilion to be specific) torii gates line the well trodden path, wrapping you up and protecting you from the outside world in a network of trails leading into a wooded forest sanctuary… When there is a gap in the gates you are treated to vision of lush green forest and a feeling of magic as you make your way up the sacred Mount Inari. This truly is one place you need to go in Japan, and I’m glad I did (even though it’s not a UNESCO site!)
To really enjoy the experience be sure to venture to the top of the mountain – as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait and apparently in this case many people just are not willing to. The bottom of the shrine complex is overflowing with markets stalls, overpriced souvenir shops and girls living out their geisha fantasies – trust me, no real geisha is hanging out in full get up at TripAdvisor #1 “tourist destination in Japan”!….But after the quick tour bus type who just want a picture thin out you will be treated to a tranquil quiet space to reflect, the cool wind blowing through the forest and babbling brooks.
A sense of calm infuses this place (well from about half way up the mountain) … Glorious views over Kyoto, ancient shrines and rituals, and shaded groves. I was often alone, no one else around just sitting in wonder at this fusion of nature and culture that is done so well in East Asia, and particularly well in Japan thanks to its zen Buddhist roots.
As I said for me my first glimpse of the Kyoto Fox Shrine – Fushimi Inari – was from Memoirs of a Geisha long, long before I was even interested in travel. Yes, I admit it….I was smitten by the scene of Chiyo running along the path in a whirlwind of orange but upon further research what really sold it to me was the association with foxes, which are one of my spirits animals. Sadly there are no real foxes here, but statues of them are a dime a dozen!
Foxes (kitsune), regarded as the messengers, are often found in Inari shrines and at the Kyoto Fox Shrine – as the name would suggest – they are almost everywhere you look! One notable thing here is a key (for the rice granary) in their mouths, but my favourite are the ones with little knitted beanies on! Must got cold sitting their century after century!
The Kyoto Fox Shrine is the most important of the several thousand shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan, the Shinto god of rice. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins and even predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794! Since early Japan, Inari was seen as the patron of business, and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha is donated by a Japanese business explaining why there are so, so, SO many but you will notice they thin out more near the top so is room for plenty more!
There are also a few restaurants along the way, which offer locally themed dishes such as Inari Sushi and Kitsune Udon (“Fox Udon”), both featuring pieces of aburaage (fried tofu), said to be a favorite food of foxes! How cute is that – And the setting is often overlooking a gorgeous patch of forest makes it even more worthwhile to eat here!
Fushimi Inari Shrine or the Kyoto Fox Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.