In Kyoto, temples and shrines are plenty, yet there’s this one Inari shrine that tourists shouldn’t miss, the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. This famous shrine stands to be special by its path of 10,000 Torii Gates — commonly known as the Japanese iconic arc.
Upon only knowing that this shrine has this majestic sequence of Toriis, I just knew it would be a very photogenic place. Surely, it’s a must-visit attraction for those photography enthusiasts alike. Yet, little did I know it would include a mountain hike!
This attraction is famous and best listed before sundown or a late afternoon on the itinerary. As this is when the miniature shrines and various graveyards scattered on the Mountain of Inari add up to the eerie and mysterious vibe during your climb.
It’s was awarded #1 most popular tourist attraction by Trip Advisor, definitely that award saved a spot on our list of destination that day. So we did go to Fushimi Inari Shrine with rolled up sleeves in excitement after our pleasant visit of the bamboo groves in Arashiyama.
Upon arriving, banners of Trip Advisor awarding the shrine will welcome you. Seeing other shrines earlier, the curiosity on how it gained popularity to be “#1” made my expectations of this place sore. (Check Trip Advisor’s link for rating and reviews at the footnotes.)
The first bunch of toriis you will see – miniatures!
It really did seem like a typical shrine up front. If you’ve seen other shrines or temples before Fushimi Inari-Taisha (which I do recommend) you’ll be able to notice the common attributes. It was just then, when we sighted the the path of Torii gates hidden behind the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, the excitement begins!
Everyone crowds up at the start of the trail. How long the path of Torii Gates were? We didn’t really know. So like everybody else, we looked for the opportunity to take pictures at the initial part of the trail along with excited tourists. However, finding a solo frame for a good shot was the starting tourist challenge on the Path of Toriis.
Tourist Find: Take pictures at the further part of the trail for a good solo or still shots.
Then it goes on further my excitement over those vermilion toriis slowly plunged down as I realize that it’s one epic trail! A bit of frustration did set in as well as we somehow wasted time at the first part of the trail taking picture while I saw that the two mini one way on opposite Torii gates sequence looks way more photogenic than the big ones.(Check out two pictures still photos above.) Surprisingly, the trail still goes on to our amazement but now with steps. Climb we go! Okay… Keep going… taking vids and pics along the way.
After few minutes on the trail, people were pretty much overwhelmed on how many steps they’ve taken and Toriis have they’ve passed already.This is when it seems like a rain cloud drizzled over my bright disposition and clouded my sight of those bright vermilion toriis. Lesser people taking photos at this point.
Until we were stunned by a map that showed us that we are not even halfway there! Across a shrine was an old wooden building, it could be a store or a residence not sure, but more significantly there’s a vending machine there and that marks the first station to do a quick stop. Surely, it was well placed there after the mountain steps.
After minutes of climbing and us having the thought of us getting somewhere— the map stunned us again! The RED DOT that states “You are here” didn’t seem to significantly move! *internal cries* Hahaha! Moreover, there’s no unit of measurement or whatsoever to guide you on how much further you need to go unless you know the path like the locals.
At this point, you can almost hear panting and sighs of surprise. From the enthusiasm of tourists upon seeing the first part of the Torii trail to the drained or persevering aura upon the sight of Toriis ahead is very paradoxical. Most probably the tourists asked themselves the same question as we did “Should I finish off this trail?”
Some want to return at that point, yet thanks to a Japanese man who was able to speak English encouraged us to climb further for 5 minutes to reach a junction that provided a good view of Kyoto. We really wanted to reach somewhere so we went on. Having someone to answer our curiosity on how far we are from the top most shrine, we asked the mister. He told us that the loop towards the top most shrine would take another 40 minutes.
“The trail of Torii is definitely longer than we thought.”
So we did reach the Yotsutsuji intersection!
At the junction or crossroads as referred on the map, chairs are available along with a Japanese vendo machine for drinks. The overlooking view of the beautiful Kyoto from Mt. Inari is definitely a reward for the first phase of the hike. Many hikers just reach this point and not go on further as the trail doesn’t offer much difference beyond this point. Also, the gates gradually lessens towards the summit.
We had to decide as one if we wanted to go on further for another 40 minutes. As it was already 5PM in the afternoon and almost sundown, we were in a rush to climb to the top and then head down before dark. We mentally prepared ourselves to do the 20-minutes climb and 20-minutes trail back to that junction. During this time we noticed there were fewer tourists. Few photographers finally got their chance to capture good photos of a less crowded path of Torii Gates. I would have loved taking many photos there as well, but we’re on a clock, as we didn’t want to be stuck in that trail during the dark. As evidently, there were not much lights.
The atmosphere then felt eerie, it was silent, and contrary to the earlier part of the trail with bustling tourists. The second phase has parts where the Toriis are spaced out and makes you feel vulnerable to the mountain’s forest. It was about sunset and there we were still persevering despite feeling like we were one of the few people on the hike and many are already on their way down. The guardian foxes stone statues near the shrines did a good job in aggravating the mysterious air.
I was leading my team off the trail. If we compare the time we spent reaching the junction, as we remember the illustration on the map, we already accepted that it was nothing to the second phase. Yet, we were already there and we were determined to finish it. I personally know that I’ll just regret it if I didn’t finish off the trail and reminded myself that it’s something you do probably only once. So we rushed up while teasing each other with scary stuff amidst the silence until..
“We successfully made it!”
Somehow we discovered that top of the mountain was nothing much special aside from the main shrine and this fulfilling sign that marks our accomplishment. We spent less than 5 minutes here, for unlike the junction there’s no scenic view, to my disappointment. Nevertheless, I’m reminded that this place of prayer and meant for shrines.
After roaming the main shrine once and taking a snap with this “Top of the Mountain” sign, we needed to go down another 20 minutes trail. The trail going down was more eerie. It was also starting to be dark, as the inner part of the mountain is dimmer because the trees shades some light. I was afraid that we might even get lost, for even though it was a loop that leads to a junction, there are diversions and alternative routes you can take that can make the journey longer or yet lead you to the graveyards.
For those thrill seekers, you may also take the trail during the dark — if you dare brave soul! 🙂
You would then be guided by lanterns consecutively placed at a distance. As even though the closing time is at 6:30 PM, there’s no one guarding the trail and it can be visited on evenings upon visitor’s discretion. I bet, an evening hike would be fun to do with a bunch of friends. Yet, caution is advised on taking those steep steps during the dark. On the lighter note, at least you’ll be able to overlook Kyoto’s evening charm unlike we did.
But as for me, to be honest, I was scared to be still there on the loop trail as the sun sets and somehow so did my team. Not yet knowing how far we were from the junction, we ran! HAHAHA!
“We did a Temple Run!”
“The journey down felt like a maze of Torii we have to escape. “
I still vividly remember the feeling of relief upon running towards the light. After converting much of my potential energy in my body to kinetic, I suddenly slowed down and finally felt I was in safe haven. It was the light from the junction’s sun set view.
At the end, the experience I can say, was really WORTH IT! After that journey I fully understood why it was voted No.1 and couldn’t agree better. As one tourist like me won’t ever forget the experience under those overwhelming Torii gates in Mt. Inari.
“It was an unexpected adventure at a shrine.”
If you’re going to Kyoto, make sure you get to experience this hike. To know more facts about Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine please read my next blog post!
Entrance fee: Free
Time Itinerary allotment: 3-4 hours
Access: 3-minute walk from JR Inari Station along the JR Nara Line
5-minute walk from Keihan Railway Fushimiinari Station
Opening Hours: 7:00-18:30 |8:30-16:30 (Prayer)
Trip Advisor Link: http://bit.ly/1SppQFo