This week marks the final installment in my blogging “trip” to Fushimi Inari Shrine, which means today, we finally reach the summit.
After leaving the mid-mountain station where I stopped for lunch and to wait out a passing rain shower (June is the rainy season in Kyoto) I continued up the mountain.
On the upper slopes of Mount Inari, the torii tend to be farther apart, and the stairs shift between fairly steep:
and gently sloping rises:
Occasionally, you also see older torii, made of stone.
While I don’t know the exact age of these gates, the weathering suggests they’re far older than the others that line the mountain. (Hardly surprising; Fushimi Inari Taisha has existed on this spot since 816, and though the main shrine building was not constructed until the 15th century many of the original structures on Mt. Inari predated it.)
A sign and map marks the mountain’s peak, home of shrine’s most sacred altar.
Beyond it, one final set of stairs leads up to the altar and surrounding shrine:
Behind the roof and altar stands a sacred boulder inscribed with the kami‘s name and hung with sacred ropes. While I’d love to share a photograph, I try not to capture (or share) any images that might hurt or offend practitioners of the Shinto faith, so the “holy of holies” will have to remain in your imagination. Or, if you really want to see it, visit Mount Inari and make the climb.
Like every mountain, a climb up Mt. Inari only gets you halfway to your goal, so after spending some time at the peak I started the climb back down the mountain (taking the other side of the circular path to the summit, so I could see the entire mountain instead of just once side).
It took me a little under 90 minutes to reach the bottom. I found myself moving slowly, and not only because the rain had made some portions of the path a little slick.
Fushimi Inari’s beauty and power moved me in ways I hadn’t anticipated, and I didn’t want my experience on the mountain to be over. I took my time, appreciating the sight and smell of the trees, the beautiful sub-shrines, and the knowing looks on the faces of the statues that line the mountain’s paths, watching over the shrine and every visitor.
By the time I reached the bottom, I really didn’t want to leave–an experience many friends who have climbed the mountain seem to share. However, I took comfort in the knowledge that I would return to Japan, and to Kyoto … and that when I did, Fushimi Inari would be waiting.
As it turns out, I’m planning another trip to the mountain this October, when the leaves are changing colors. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share another side of Inari’s most important shrine when I come home this fall!