Best known for its endless trail of vermilion torii, Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines. It is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, and has attracted pilgrimages and merchants for centuries. These days visitors from all over the world pour into this place to have a stroll through the beautiful holy gates, as well as to pray to the deity for luck and business success.
Situated at the foot of Mount Inari in the southern part of Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) is the headquarter of more than 32,000 shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. For more than 1300 years, people have come to this sacred place to pray the kami for bountiful crops.
They also wish for luck and worldly prosperity. Since the Tokugawa period and onward, Inari was also enrolled as the patron of business enterprises. It was based on the idea that assuring bountiful crops for farmers is relevant to assuring the success of merchants.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Stepping out of the station, the first thing that captured my sight was the vermillion rōmon (楼門, “tower gate”). Donated by the famous general Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589, this lavishly decorated gate marks the entrance to the Fushimi Inari’s ground.
Behind stands the shrine’s main hall where visitors paid respect to the principal deity. They made some small offerings, such as rice, sake, or fried tofu – the favorite food of Inari’s messengers. The hall was built in 1499 and designated as kanpei-taisha in the 19th century, meaning that it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines.
The Thousands of Torii
At the very back of the main sanctum is the entrance to the famous torii-covered hiking trail. It starts with two dense, parallel rows of vermillion gates called senbon torii (Thousands of torii), and passes through the okumiya (Inner Shrine) in the middle of the mountain. The trail then winds up to the mountaintop.
All torii along the path are donations of individuals and companies, who want to express gratitude regarding the worshiper’s wish that “will come true” or “did come true”. At present, more than 10,000 torii line the main path of Fushimi Inari, and the custom of donating gates is still practiced today. The gate comes with a heavy price tag, ranging from 400,000¥ for a small torii to over 1,000,000¥ for a large one. However, worshippers with smaller budgets can opt for miniature torii.
The Fox Statues
Almost all Inari shrines, no matter how small, will feature at least a couple of fox statues. It is believed that foxes, especially the pure white ones, are Inari’s messengers and guardians. They are supposedly chosen because they are intelligent as they prey on crop-damaging mice. Their tails also resemble ripe rice plants, symbolizing a close relationship with the Shinto god of rice.
As protectors against evil, the fox statues are usually placed at the entrance of shrines and even on some private altars. They are usually adorned with red yodarekake (votive bibs) and often seen holding a symbolic item in the mouth or the right front paw – most common a key (supposedly to open the granaries), a jewel, a scroll, or a sheaf of rice.
Tips for visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station. It’s the second station from Kyoto Station along the local JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140¥ one way). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line.
- The hike to the mountain peak and back takes more than 2 hours. Nevertheless, visitors are free to walk just as far as they wish before turning back.
- The senbon torii is just behind the main shrine. From there, as you walk toward the summit, you will reach the crossroad where you can have a panoramic view of the entire city of Kyoto.
- Though Fushimi Inari is open 24 hours a day, the hiking path has many steep steps and the lighting is limited at night. Therefore, it’s recommended to visit the shrine during the day.