Japan is a truly beautiful place. I know it may sound a bit odd but the very air of the Kyoto prefecture is different. There’s a quiet and sweetness in the air that whispers to your soul. Talking about Ryokans with the last post rekindled fond memories of Fushimi Inari Taisha.
You may not be familiar with its name but I’m pretty darn sure you’ve seen in it several films, TV, and game appearances. Personally, my favorite is in Memoirs of a Geisha–seeing Chiyo Sakamoto run through the Torii Gates is always a cinematography treasure. That scene, incidentally, is the reason why I wanted to see Fushimi Inari Taisha to begin with.
The Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine of Inari. For those unfamiliar with their Japanese Deities, Inari is the Japanese God of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, agriculture and industry, of worldly success, and is one of the principal Gods of Shinto. This shrine takes quite a bit of exertion to get to. Its seat is at the base of Mt. Inari–233 meters above sea level–and it would take approximately around 2 hours to walk to.
Truly though, it is worth it. Depending on the time of year, crowds can be pretty thin or crazy heavy. This shrine apparently draws in several millions of worshipers and tourists per year. The busiest would be during the Japanese New Year which clocks in a minimum of around 2.70 million people over a three day period.
When the team and I were there, we were lucky enough to catch the place when crowds were pretty thin on the grounds. We were all able to truly bask in the quiet serenity of the shrine. You have to try it. When you get there, just close your eyes and listen. There is something utterly other worldly about the place that it’s pretty seductive.
While there, I got to talk to one of the locals and I learned a lot more about the place. Turns out the Fushimi Inari Taisha was the focus of imperial patronage during the early Heian period–when Emperor Murakami was in power. He had ordered messengers to carry written accounts of important events to the guardian deity of Japan.
In the years of 1871 to 1946, this shrine was declared as one of the Kanpei Taisha (官幣大社). This meant that the Fushimi Inari Taisha had the proud claim of being in the first rank of government supported shrines.
One of the features I particularly enjoyed were all the fixtures of foxes on the ground. Foxes are generally considered to be messengers to deities, particularly Inari’s.
Do you see how lovely those red orange gates are? Those structures are called the Torii gates. They date back to 711 AD and there’s over 10,000 of them. What’s really lovely about these gates is that each and every single one is donated by a company or an organization. It symbolizes their prayers for good fortune in the future and their way of giving thanks and reverence for their prosperity.
Here’s a bonus tip for you all. When you exit the shine, find a little side street nearby (to the right, specifically). There isn’t any information about this online but this street is the best place to buy food and souvenirs. It’s a sort of local market put together by the family-owned shops to help the shrine guests and their way of keeping the place alive. So not only is it quite industrious but it also reflects the inherent respect and love the Japanese have for their shrines and history.