Complete Guide to Fushimi Inari Shrine
Everything you need to know about the Fushimi Inari Shrine spiritual pilgrimage in Kyoto.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most important spiritual ground dedicated to God Inari, the Shinto God of Grains. Fushimi Inari taisha shrine is famous for its thousand torii gates which form the pilgrimage trails towards the top of Mount Inari. Each of these gates has been donated by a Japanese business and on the way down from the mountain, you can see the name of the donor inscribed in black ink.
Fushimi inari taisha shrine is an ancient Shinto Shrine that sits at the base of Mount Inari in Kyoto. The trails to the top of the mountain take around 2 hours to hike up and approximately 4 kilometres long. Along the route, you will encounter many smaller shrines and resting areas with dozens of statues of kitsune (foxes).
The hiking trail starts with two dense rows of torii gates. You can go through either of them as they both lead to the same place. In my experience, the first part of the trail is always very busy, making it fairly difficult to take any good pictures of the shrine grounds. Don't get disappointed and carry on towards the top of the mountain, and you find many areas with no tourists around.
In this guide, I am going to tell you when it's the best time to visit Fushimi Inari and how to hike to the top to ensure you have a great experience.
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Fushimi inari taisha shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, with the earliest structures built in 711 on the Inariyama hill. However, the shrine was relocated in 816 to the ground we know today. At the bottom of the mountain, you will see the main gate (rōmon) donated in 1589 by the famous leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the main shrine (go-honden). The inner shrine (okumiya) is reachable by hiking the path lined with the thousand torii gates.
At the top of Fushimi inari taisha (233 metres above sea level) there are thousands of tsuka (mounds) for private worship.
A torii gate is said to be the division between the physical and spiritual worlds. You will encounter thousands of torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine known as Senbon Torii.
All torii gates along the path have been donated by Japanese companies in the hopes of receiving prosperity. Donations of torii gates started from Edo period.
The inscription on the back of the gates represents the name of the donor and can be seen as you descend from the mountain back towards the main gate. To be able to donate a gate, the cost is anywhere between 400,000 yen for a smaller gate to over 1,000,000 yen for a large gate.
Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine is dedicated to the Shinto God Inari. Inari is the Japanese kami of agriculture and industry, and generally associated with prosperity and success. Inari appeared to have been worshipped since the founding of this shrine in 711, although some Japanese scholars argue that the worship might have started earlier than that, in the late 6th century.
Inari is a very popular figure seen in Shinto and Buddhism beliefs with over 32000 Shinto Shrines dedicated to this God. Inari's messengers are represented by white kitsune (foxes).
What are the foxes at Fushimi inari taisha
You will see many kitsune statues along the path, and that's because white foxes are Inari's messengers. According to the legend, Inari took the form of a goddess and has descended from Heaven riding a white fox. In her hand, she carried sheaves of cereals and grains.
Because of the association of Inari with the kitsune, some assume that the fox statues are a representation of the God of rice, although the relationship between the two is a lot more complex. According to Inari scholar, Karen A. Smyers, both Shinto and Buddhist priests discourage this association and hold that Inari and the foxes are separate entities.
Some kitsune at the Fushimi Inari Shrine will have a key in their mouth (for the rice granary), others will have more than one tail. The more tails a fox has, the wiser, older and more powerful it is meant to be. The red scarves around foxes' necks are meant to be expelling demons and illness. By wearing red, it's a clear indication these kitsune are Inari followers.
Fushimi Inari Shrine Experience
When you arrive at Fushimi Inari Shrine, you must rinse your mouth and wash your hands first, which symbolises the purification process. This must be done before you go near a kami.
The entrance to Fushimi inari taisha shrine is free of charge and the site is open 24/7.
Admire the total of 10,000 torii gates and stop for some of the most splendid photographs. Along the path you will find small waterfalls, cedar trees, and superb resting spots. There are various rock altars along the route, and you are most encouraged to stop and admire.
It is important to note that while a visit to Fushimi Inari is a major tourist attraction, this is considered a pilgrimage of spiritual prominence. While you can follow the path, there is no fixed route and throughout times, pilgrims have created their own path with certain stops along the way.
The hike to the mountain and back down takes between 2 and 3 hours. You can take as long as you want, as there are no set rules here. I highly recommend a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Bring some snacks and water with you, as you will need it. Avoid carrying a heavy backpack or any type of suitcase with you.
If you run out of water, there are vending machines along the path too, where you can buy water of hot teas.
There are a few restaurants along the way and if you wish to try something local, go for the Kitsune Udon or the Inari Sushi which are celebrated with pieces of fried tofu, a food preferred by Inari's kitsune.
After around 30 minutes of ascend, you will get to the Yotsutsuji intersection, a perfect place with stunning views of Kyoto. This was the highlight of our trip up Fushimi Inari because we caught the sunset over Kyoto and it looked magical.
Most tourists tend to stop here at the Yotsutsuji intersection, but I encourage you to continue to the top. From the Yotsutsuji intersection, the trail splits into a circular route and the torii gates become less dense as you ascend. However, this is also a fantastic place to take great photos as there are fewer tourists around.
Best time to visit Fushimi inari taisha shrine
The best times to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine is either first thing in the morning or late in the evening. Fushimi Inari Taishi gets extremely busy during the cherry blossom festival. I recommend visiting towards the end of November/beginning of December so you can admire the superb colourful autumn leaves, with fewer tourists around.
Please note there are several festivals and events held at Fushimi Inari Shrine, so you might want to avoid visiting during these busy times.
Fushimi Inari during the day
The shrine gets packed by 10 am, so you might want to get to the entrance by 7 - 8 am. Start the hike early, and you will be rewarded with an empty path leading to the top of the mountain. You will have a lot more opportunities to take pictures of the many small shrines along the way.
Don't forget to also take into consideration the season. The sun always rises very early in Japan, however, during winter, it gets dark around 4 pm. Getting to the shrine early allows you more time to discover the area and have it all to yourself.
The only downside to visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine during the day is that you will miss the sunset over Kyoto at Yotsutsuji intersection.
Fushimi Inari at sunset
One of the most beautiful times to visit Fushimi Inari is during sunset. However, that's usually at a time when there are plenty of people around so the trail is fairly busy. You will want to rtime your hike to reach the Yotsutsuji intersection right before sunset.
The Yotsutsuji is roughly halfway up the mountain. Here, you can enjoy some outstanding views over Kyoto. This is also the perfect spot to catch the Fushimi Inari sunset.
Here is how to do it: Type "kyoto sun set" into Google. Time your arrival at the Fushimi Inari Shrine accordingly and remember it takes about 30-45 minutes to reach the Yotsutsuji intersection where you will capture the perfect sunset over Kyoto.
Fushimi inari during the night
Another great option is to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine at night. It's a walk through dark forests, so perhaps not the best option for the pigeon-hearted. We went to Fushimi Inari after 10 pm during winter, and we found our walk to be quiet and very relaxing. Take a couple of flashlights with you and try not to pay attention to the jumbo spiders hanging everywhere on the torii gates.
The trails are lit, but a bit spooky during the night. It is a good idea to have a good quality camera with you so you can snap pictures in low light.
We went there specifically to catch the first snowfall of the year. We only met the furry residents of the Fushimi Inari Shrine at night, the cats, which come out at night hunting and playing between the torii gates.
How to get to Fushimi inari taisha shrine
To get to Fushimi Inari Shrine, take the train along the JR Nara Line and get off at the Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto. Fushimi Inari Shrine is just a short walk away from the train station. Should you visit during daytime, you will find several street food vendors selling delicious treats and matcha sweets. I suggest trying as many local Kyoto foods as you can.
Where to stay close to Fushimi Inari?
If you are interested in accessing the Fushimi Inari Shrine quickly, you might want to consider a hotel which is a few minutes walk away. This is best if you wish to visit Fushimi Inari at night. Here are some recommendations for your ease.
Enjoy a Japanese style room on a budget. This property has several rooms with shared bathroom. Maison Fushimi provides a laundry service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. All units in the guest house are fitted with a coffee machine. Some rooms include a kitchenette with a microwave and a toaster. The units will provide guests with a fridge. Some rooms come with private bathroom for an extra fee. Prices start at £26 per night.Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com
Hotel Anteroom Kyoto
Minimalist design and art works are featured at Hotel Anteroom Kyoto's rooms, restaurant and art gallery. It offers free Wi-Fi, as well as free-use internet PCs and bicycles. Kujo Station on the Karasuma Line is an 8-minute walk away, and JR Kyoto Station is only 1 station away.Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com
Guests at Sakura Terrace will enjoy a complimentary welcome drink at the bar counter. The rooms have neutral colours and come with TV and fridge. All toiletries will be provided. Kyoto Tower is a 10-minute walk from the hotel, while Toji Temple is a 15-minute walk. The property is a 1-minute walk to the bus stop for Kiyomizu-dera Temple/Gion area, and a 3-minute walk to the bus stop for Kinkaku-ji Temple.Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com
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What a thorough article, splendid!
And thank you for the recommendation to visit the shrine at evening or night, or at least to avoid tourists =P
Thanks again, cheers
In Kyoto right now. This was super helpful. Planning to visit this shrine tomorrow morning!
This was such great read. Thanks for sharing