It was my second day in Kyoto when I decided to spend it on Mount Inari, by visiting and photographing the famed Fushimi Inari Taisha. I did a little research before embarking on my journey but also discovered a few tricks during my hike, which definitely helped me along the way. I was lucky to have arrived at the Fushimi Inari Taisha just on time for the sunset, although it's worth keeping in mind that I visited Fushimi Inari during December when the sun goes down at a very reasonable time. During Spring and Summer, you might have some serious waiting to do if it's a vanilla sky you are after.
Why visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha
Ever since I saw the Memoirs of a Geisha movie, I wanted to visit Kyoto and the Fushimi Inari shrine. I'm not sure if you have read the book or seen the movie, but it's definitely worth your while. You can buy the book here and the movie here. I must have read the book a billion times, and that's because it's all about an old Japan which was painted so well with words. One of the best parts is the so-called "the coin offering scene" when Chyio (the main character) received a gift from a stranger, by the Fushimi Inari Shrine. For me, that scene was the deceive moment that I want to be there, I want to see the Fushimi Inari torii gates and be part of Chiyo's world.
Beyond fiction and fantasy, Fushimi Inari Taisha is perhaps the most well-known Shrine in Japan, famed for its countless rows of vermilion torii gates, all donated by souls in need of great luck and good fortune.
Having seen the Fushimi Inari Shrine during different times of the day, I can safely say that is one of my favourite places in Kyoto. The trick to enjoying the Fushimi Inari Shrine is knowing when to visit to avoid the tourists and the crowds.
Best time to photograph Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This means you are free to meander around the Shrine at any time you like. Of course, there are some things to consider. First, it's a little scary to visit during the night if you visit the Fushimi Inari alone. Please remember that you are still hiking on a mountain, alone, when it's dark. Although this place is safe, it still has a bit of a spooky, eerie feel to it. Second, if you visit outside of the "official opening times" you won't find any shops open during the hike. I didn't see this as a problem as I brought my own sandwiches and snacks with me. Also, there are plenty of vending machines dotted throughout the path, so if you run out of the water, you can just purchase some on your way up the mountain. Want more of Kyoto photography? Check out this article for a cool Kyoto photo diary.
So when would I recommend you to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine? Well, I have three viable options for you.
Option 1: Fushimi Inari Shrine during sunrise
This option is best if you are in Kyoto during Spring or Summer. Fushimi Inari gets busy at around 8 am and it becomes crowded from 10 am onwards. If you arrive about 1 hour and a bit before the sunrise, you get the chance to enjoy the sound of silence and capture some epic morning photos over Kyoto.
- You will enjoy an epic, fresh and crisp morning hike.
- If you want to capture the sunrise during Autumn and Winter, you can get up a little later, as the sun rises at around 6 am during October for example.
- You can take some epic pictures of Kyoto first thing in the morning.
- There are no people and no crowds meandering around the Fushimi Inari, which means you can take many other epic photos as you want, all around the site.
- You will wake up really early (like in the middle of the night). During June, the sun rises at 4:40 am. You need to start hiking at around 3:20 am, so you need to wake up and leave way earlier than that in order to have time to get to the shrine.
- When you reach the Yotsutsuji intersection (for the best and only good view over Kyoto from the Fushimi Inari) you will realise that you will face West, hence you can't capture the actual sunrise, jut the pretty coloured sky.
- You need to skip a night sleep as you won't have any ways of getting to the Inari mountain unless you pay for a night cab or rent a bike and cycle from your hotel to the Fushimi Inari Taisha... which will take you a while if you are located in the city centre.
Option 2: Fushimi Inari Shrine during nighttime
The option is really good if you have someone to travel with. The eerie feel the Fushimi Inari has during night time is quite epic and if you love horror stories, this is your chance to allow for your imagination to run wild. Sure there are no monsters waiting around the torii gates, but you are still kinda hiking on a mountain surrounded by graves. I can assure you the kitsune (inari foxes) don't look as friendly and cute when it's pitch black. So all in all, this is a great time to visit for adventure lovers.
- There is virtually nobody around, apart from some cats and massive spiders.
- You will have an adventure of a lifetime. If you visit during night time in the winter time when it snows as well, the Fushimi Inari looks splendid.
- Yotsutsuji intersection looks awesome during night time.
- It's difficult to get to Fushimi Inari without a cab or a bike. You need really good wide angle lenses for your camera to be able to take good photos.
-If you are afraid of the dark, this place will spook you too much.
Option 3: Fushimi Inari Shrine during sunset
This is by far my favourite choice because you will be facing West when you reach the Yotsutsuji intersection, which means you can take lovely pictures of the sunset over Kyoto.
- Amazing sunset pictures over Kyoto from the Yotsutsuji intersection.
- You won't have as many people around as the crowds would have already left by then.
- Still, plenty of light on the site so you can take epic pictures of the torii gates as well.
- Not many, apart from the fact that during summer when the sun sets much later than in the winter, you might still bump into a few tourists keen to hike late in the evening. I visited during December and there were still peeps around right before the sunset.
Things to consider when visiting the Fushimi Inari Taisha
Bring food and snacks with you.
Bring plenty of water and hot tea in a thermos if you are venturing up the mountain during night time.
Bring a flashlight with you for a night hike.
The complete hike will take 2-3 hours. It takes less if you stop at the Yotsutsuji intersection and make your way back the same way you came up.
Rent a bike so you won't have to rush and depend on public transport.
Bring a tripod and all your camera gear with you.
Bring a journal if you are waiting for the sunset or the sunrise and write down how this place makes you feel.
I hope you are going to enjoy taking the best pictures of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Please let me know how your visit goes by writing in the comments section below.