The Fushimi Inari Shrine, located at the base of Mount Inari in Kyoto, is one of the most important spiritual sites dedicated to God Inari, the Shinto God of Grains. With its iconic thousand torii gates and beautiful hiking trails up the mountain, Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousand torii gates, which form the pilgrimage trails towards the top of Mount Inari. These gates, which are painted a vibrant orange-red colour, are donated by individuals, families, or companies to express gratitude or to make a wish for success. On the way down from the mountain, you can see the name of the donor inscribed in black ink. The donation ranges between ¥400,000 to ¥1,000,000 depending on the size of the torii.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is an ancient Shinto Shrine that sits at the base of Mount Inari in Kyoto. The trail to the top of the mountain (233 meters high) takes around 2-3 hours to hike up and is 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 fewer people around.
In this guide, I am going to tell everything you need to know about Fushimi Inari Shrine, including when it's the best time to visit and how to hike to the top to ensure you have a great experience.
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What is Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, dedicated to Inari, the Shinto Kami (Deity) of rice, agriculture, fertility, and prosperity. By many, Fushimi Inari Shrine is considered to be an iconic landmark in Japan, and it is known primarily for its iconic “Senbon Torii” or “Thousand Torii Gates.” A torii gate is said to be the division between the physical and spiritual worlds.
All torii gates along the path at Fushimi Inari Shrine 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 when you descend from the mountain top 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.
As you follow the trail behind the shrine's main buildings, these toriis form a dense, almost tunnel-like path that leads up Mount Inari. Small shrines, many dedicated to business prosperity and success, are scattered along the path, as Inari is considered the patron of business in Shinto belief.
The Senbon Torii are painted a vermilion red. In Japan, vermilion is considered a colour that protects against evil and misfortune. The red-orange colour is also associated with the God Inari. As Fushimi Inari is a shrine dedicated to Inari, the vermilion colour is a tribute to this deity.
The vermilion paint used on the wooden gates is a special mixture of mercury and red earth, used since ancient times. This unique blend serves the purpose of safeguarding the gates from the effects of weathering and potential damage caused by insects.
History of Fushimi Inari Shrine
The origins of Fushimi Inari Shrine can be traced back to its establishment in 711 on the Inariyama hill. Over the centuries, the shrine has evolved and gained prominence, eventually being relocated to its present location in 816.
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.
As previously mentioned, Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of foxes, fertility, 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 idolised in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, and Fushimi Inari Shrine serves as a place of worship and pilgrimage for devotees. With over 32,000 Shinto shrines dedicated to Inari throughout Japan, Fushimi Inari Shrine stands as the most famous.
What are the foxes at Fushimi Inari Shrine
You will see many kitsune (fox) statues along the path, and that's because pure 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 an actual representation of Inari itself. This, is, in fact, false. According to Inari scholar, Karen A. Smyers in her book ‘My Own Inari’: Personalization of the Deity in Inari Worship", both Shinto and Buddhist priests discourage this association and hold that Inari and the foxes are separate entities.
Some kitsune are adorned with red yodarekake (votive bibs). These bibs around foxes' necks are meant to expel demons and illness. By wearing red, it's a clear indication these kitsune are indeed Inari followers. You will also notice that kitsune at Fushimi Inari Shrine often hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath a front paw. You may see a key (for the rice granary), a sheaf of rice or even a jewel. Each statue of the kitsune is unique, and no two are the same, despite sharing common characteristics.
It's not uncommon for some kitsune statues to have more than one tail. The more tails a fox has, the wiser, older and more powerful it is meant to be.
What to expect at Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine is open to visitors free of charge. The shrine is open 24/7, allowing you to explore its grounds at your convenience. But picking the right time to visit at this popular attraction can make a huge difference, as the path is typically crowded with tourists from all around the world.
Before you start your visit, please remember that while a visit to Fushimi Inari is a major tourist attraction, this is considered a pilgrimage of spiritual prominence. Therefore, I kindly ask that you adhere to proper etiquette and customs while visiting. This includes rinsing your mouth and washing your hands before entering the shrine complex and observing any rituals or practices taking place around you.
There is no fixed route and throughout times, pilgrims have created their own path with certain stops along the way. As you start your hike you will immediately notice a split there the trail of torii gates divides into two separate paths. Take either, as these paths eventually lead up to the top of the mountain and rejoin each other along the way.
The hiking trails at Fushimi Inari Shrine offer a unique and immersive experience. The main trail to the top of Mount Inari is approximately 4 kilometres long and takes around 2-3 hours to hike.
You can take as long as you need, 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. The trail can be steep at times, and you will need to climb stairs too.
Along the path you will find small waterfalls, cedar trees, and superb resting spots. There are various rock altars along the route, with unique kitsune statues, which I encourage you to stop and admire them.
While there are no specific sacred trees within the grounds of Fushimi Inari Shrine, it is believed that Inari dwells within each of the cedar trees growing on Mount Inari, making them important symbols of the Inari faith. The nature around the path is extraordinary and often time very peaceful and meditative.
After around 30 minutes of ascend, you will get to the Yotsutsuji intersection, a perfect place with stunning views of Kyoto. It's such a beautiful place to catch the sunset over Kyoto if you time your arrival well.
Most tourists tend to stop here at the Yotsutsuji intersection, but if you can, continue to the top. From the Yotsutsuji intersection, the trail splits into a circular route. You might find it intriguing to see that as you ascend the mountain, the spacing between the torii gates progressively widens. But the gates also become a lot larger, and more imposing looking.
There are some simple teahouses along the upper trails of the mountain for a rest and tea break. If you run out of water, there are vending machines along the path too, where you can buy water or hot teas.
When you finish your visit, don't forget to buy a small ema torii prayer plaque at the main Fushimi Inari Taisha complex. Simply write your wishes on the plaque and leave it behind at the temple ground so Inari and its messengers can take care of it. Alternatively, buy the small ema torii as a Japanese souvenir.
If you're hungry, visit one of the restaurants located near Fushimi Inari Shrine. My restaurant recommendations are: Vermillion Cafe, Inarinadai Dohachi, Kyoto Shoryu or Gyukatsu Kyoto Katsugyu.
Try Kitsune Udon which is a noodle soup with seasoned fried tofu in dashi broth and topped with pink-swirl narutomaki fish cake. Or order the Inari Sushi, which is sushi rice wrapped in a pouch of seasoned fried tofu (aburaage), food preferred by Inari's kitsune.
Best time to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine
I visited Fushimi Inari Shrine on three different occasions, in the morning, at sunset and at night. Based on my personal experience, the best times to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine to avoid crowds is either at 7 in the morning or late at night. Your visit in the morning ensures that by the time you finish exploring the shrine and descend from the mountain, most street food stalls around the shrine will be open. Your visit at night will be a more atmospheric and meditative experience.
Fushimi Inari Taisha 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.
Throughout the year, Fushimi Inari Shrine hosts various festivals and events. These events celebrate traditions, offer unique performances, and showcase local arts and crafts. It is advisable to check the shrine's official website or local event calendars to plan your visit accordingly and experience the festivities.
Fushimi Inari Shrine in the morning
The shrine gets packed by 10 am, I advise that you start your visit at 7 am or 8 am at the very latest. When I arrived at 7 am, there were only a handful of people around. 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.
Be mindful that dawn in Kyoto can be anytime between 4 am (summer solstice) and 6:30 am (winter solstice). This means that by the time you start your hike at around 7 am, there will already be light. Depending on when you visit, you might even be there on time for a beautiful sunrise.
If you visit Fushimi Inari Shrine in the summer, mornings are cooler and more bearable, with ideal temperatures for a hike. If you visit in the winter, remember that mornings will be colder and crisp. Pay extra attention on the trail to ensure it's not slippery or icy.
Fushimi Inari Shrine at sunset
One of the most beautiful times to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine is during sunset. However, that's usually at a time when there are plenty of people around, so the trail is fairly busy. If crowds do not bother you, this is an excellent time to visit for photography. You will want to time 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.
I've noticed that many people stop for photos at the beginning of the trail, which is why the initial start of the path might feel a bit suffocating. Don't stop for pictures there, but continue with your hike a little further up the mountain. You'll see that even at the busiest of times, the trails become decreasingly crowded the further up you venture.
Fushimi Inari Shrine at night
The most unusual and atmospheric time to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine is at night. As it is open 24/7 it's possible to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine after dark. The vermilion torii gates that line the path leading to Mount Inari are dimly illuminated after sunset, making the trail quite atmospheric.
Together with my husband, I visited Fushimi Inari Shrine in December, after 10 pm, and we found our walk to be quiet and very relaxing. I did not find it scary or unsafe in any way. I do recommend that you take a couple of flashlights with you. It's a walk through dark forests, after all. We went there specifically to catch the first snowfall of the year and how calm and beautiful it was. There was nobody on the path, making the place feel so magical and spiritual.
The lanterns guided us through the shrine grounds and through the torii gates at night. While the shrine is generally a safe place, I recommend that you stay on the designated trails and be aware of your surroundings. There can be wild boars around Fushimi Inari Shrine at night, so make sure to not venture off trail. Although boar encounters are rare, exercising caution and staying on the designated paths can help ensure a safe visit. There are some deer too, although they are harmless.
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.
Not going to lie, taking pictures of Fushimi Inari Shrine at night is a bit difficult. If that's your aim, have a good quality camera with you so you can snap pictures in low light, and a tripod is a must.
There is sufficient light for you to navigate Fushimi Inari Shrine at night safely while preserving the mystical allure of the nighttime experience. If you love a good adventure, Fushimi Inari at night offers a transformative experience that truly sets it apart from daytime visits.
How to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine
To reach Fushimi Inari Shrine, you can take the train on the JR Nara Line and disembark at Inari Station. This station is the second one from Kyoto station along the line.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is just a short walk away from the train station. Should you visit during the 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.
While Fushimi Inari Shrine is undoubtedly a must-visit attraction in Kyoto, there are other nearby points of interest that you can explore with your visit. Some notable attractions include the serene Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, the historic Gion district, and the iconic Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
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.
For a complete breakdown on all the important areas in Kyoto and reviews of my favourite hotels, read my where to stay in Kyoto article. I discuss different areas and why they are most suitable for your type of travel style and budget. I also recommend my favourite hotels in Kyoto organised by budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long to climb Fushimi Inari?
The Fushimi Inari Shrine trail that leads up to Mount Inari is approximately 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) long and consists of numerous steps and steep inclines. On average, it takes about 2 to 3 hours to climb to the summit of Mount Inari and return to the base of the shrine.
My estimate can vary depending on your pace and how much time you spend at each torii gate and shrine building. Some people may choose to take a leisurely stroll and spend several hours exploring, while others may prefer a quicker ascent.
If you have a limited amount of time, it's recommended to allocate at least 2 hours for the climb.
What is Fushimi Inari shrine famous for?
Fushimi Inari Shrine is a famous landmark in Japan and well known for its thousands of vibrant red torii gates, known as Senbon Torii, which create a breathtaking pathway up the slopes of Mount Inari. Dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice, agriculture, and prosperity, Fushimi Inari attracts visitors seeking blessings and good fortune for their endeavours.
Fushimi Inari shrine is a popular pilgrimage site, where people embark on a spiritual journey, hiking through the torii gate pathways to reach the summit of Mount Inari. With its long history and recognition as an important cultural heritage site, Fushimi Inari showcases traditional Japanese architecture, including shrine buildings and sacred stone fox statues.
What is the myth of Fushimi Inari Taisha?
The origins of this myth can be traced back to the legend of Hata no Irogu, who used sticky rice for target practice. According to the legend, when an arrow pierced the rice, it would transform into a white bird and fly to the peak of Mount Mitsumine, only to change back into rice plants upon arrival.
The myth of Fushimi Inari Taisha revolves around the worship of Inari, a deity associated with foxes, rice, prosperity, and wellbeing. Inari shrines, both Buddhist and Shinto, can be found throughout Japan.
Inari shrines are known for their distinctive architecture, featuring vermilion torii gates and fox imagery. Offerings such as rice, sake, and food are made to appease the kitsune messengers associated with Inari.
Is Fushimi Inari better in the morning or afternoon?
Fushimi Inari Shrine is better in the morning. To avoid crowds, I recommend visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine as early as 7am. Fushimi Inari Shrine is open 24/7, which means you can arrive as early as you wish. Dawn in Kyoto can be anytime between 4 am (summer solstice) and 6:30 am (winter solstice). This means that by the time you start your hike at around 7 am, there will already be light. Depending on when you visit, you might even be there on time for a beautiful sunrise.
Reasons why visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine in the Morning is better:
- Visiting in the morning may offer a quieter and less crowded experience compared to peak hours later in the day.
- During the summer months, mornings can be cooler, providing more comfortable walking conditions.
- The morning light is perfect for serene photography.
- Starting your day with a visit to Fushimi Inari allows you to have more time for your Kyoto itinerary.
What is the dress code for Fushimi Inari?
There is no strict dress code for visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine, although the shrine specifically prohibits walking around the grounds in wedding dresses or other costumes that are inappropriate for worship.
Since this is a hike up a mountain, I recommend wearing modest and comfortable clothing. Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking or hiking, as Fushimi Inari features a 4-kilometre trail up Mount Inari.
Please always be respectful within the shrine grounds, keeping noise levels low, avoiding littering, and following any specific rules or instructions provided. If at all possible, avoid selfie sticks, don't leave strollers unattended apart from in marked areas, and don't prevent worshippers from passing by taking photographs/filming on narrow paths.
How much time is needed at Fushimi Inari?
To get a good experience and explore the main highlights of the shrine, I recommend allocating at least 2 hours for your visit. This should allow you to walk through the iconic torii gate pathway, visit the main shrine buildings, and explore the lower portions of the mountain trail.
If you have more time and wish to hike to the summit of Mount Inari, where you'll find additional sub-shrines and viewpoints, I recommend a total of 3 hours to visit |Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Can you go to Fushimi Inari at night?
Yes, you can visit Fushimi Inari at night. The shrine is open 24/7. If you plan to visit Fushimi Inari at night, be aware that the lighting conditions may be dimmer compared to daytime. I recommend bringing a torch or using the torch feature on your smartphone for better visibility, especially if you plan to explore the mountain trail.
It's important to consider transportation options and ensure you can return to your accommodation safely, as public transportation schedules might be limited during late hours. Just remember to install a taxi app on your phone to have it handy.
How high is the Fushimi Inari hike?
The trail up Fushimi Inari Shrine consists of stone steps and pathways, and the total elevation gain from the base to the summit is approximately 233 meters (764 feet).