While visiting Japan last autumn to research the next installments in my Hiro Hattori mystery series, I deliberately left an “empty” day in Kyoto to visit one of my favorite sites: Fushimi Inari Taisha – a Shintō shrine dedicated to Inari Ōkami, the god of foxes, tea, rice, prosperity, fertility, and swordsmiths (among other things).
Many Shintō shrines in Japan have subshrines dedicated to Inari. In fact, the country has more than 10,000 Inari shrines of various sizes. However, Fushimi Inari Taisha, just south of Kyoto, is the largest and most spectacular.
A visit to Fushimi Inari begins at the massive entrance torii, which stands across the street from the rail station:
A short walk up a sloping hill brings visitors to the purification fountain (one of many, though this one is the shrine’s primary fountain) and the massive two-story entry gate:
To the left of the gate is a second, older approach to the shrine, this one lined with vendors selling dozens of different edible treats. (More on the vendors and their offerings here.) I avoided the temptation of the vendor stalls when I arrived . . . but only because I reached the shrine so early in the morning that they hadn’t opened yet.
(Fushimi Inari is busy almost every day of the year, so if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy a quieter climb, go early–7am or so.)
Guardian foxes–Inari’s messengers–stand guard in statuary form outside the gate. By tradition, they hold symbolic items in their mouths. The one on the left holds a granary key:
While the one on the right has a jewel:
Traditionally, when entering the two-story gate, visitors bow to show respect.
(The photo above shows the back side of the gate.)
Directly inside the gate lies Fushimi Inari’s main worship hall, hung with folded papers to ward against evil. Shintō priests still conduct rituals and worship activities in this hall on a daily basis.
The shrine was established during the seventh century, and has functioned as an active (and popular) center of worship since that day. Today, it’s also a popular spot for foreign and Japanese tourists.
(A visit to Fushimi Inari involves far more than I can share in a single post, so I’ll add the link to the next installment at the bottom of every post as I share them–click here to follow along in order).