A Visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha

Inari Okami is one of Japan’s most important Shinto deities. As the patron god (sometimes also portrayed as a goddess) of fertility, foxes, rice, sake, merchants, industry, and prosperity (as well several as other things), it’s fair to say Inari gets around.

Many Shinto shrines have sub-shrines dedicated to Inari, like this one at Kyoto’s Ootoyo Jinja:

16E29 Ootoyo Jinja subshrine (Inari)

Estimates place the total number of Inari shrines in Japan at over 10,000 – but the largest and most important is Fushimi Inari Taisha, just south of Kyoto. Over the next few weeks, my Monday blogs (and Tuesday/Thursday photo blogs) will take a closer look at this fantastic shrine–one of my favorites in Japan.

The entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha sits, conveniently, directly across the street from a JR train station. The shrine sits approximately 20 minutes south of Kyoto Eki (Kyoto Central Station) by train. An enormous torii at the entrance leaves no question that you’re leaving the regular world and entering a highly sacred space:

16F20 FI Torii

A hundred yards farther up the path, a second giant torii stands directly in front of the main entrance steps leading up to the shrine.

16F20 FI Torii Entrance

Just past the second torii, a large purification fountain provides a place for visitors to conduct the standard ritual cleansing of their hands and mouths before entering the shrine. (More on this in a future post.) This photo actually shows the much smaller purification basin located slightly farther inside the shrine:

16F20 purification Inari Shrine

The day I visited, the primary purification fountain was being used by a group of visitors, and it’s impolite to photograph strangers engaged in ritual activities, so I opted for a picture of this lesser basin instead. The idea, however, is much the same.

A pair of stone Inari guardians watch over the shrine’s entrance from the top of the steps. One holds a key, which symbolizes the keys to the grain storehouse, while the other holds a  round jewel — both symbols of Inari Okami.

16F20 Inari Guardian

Fushimi Inari Taisha is an enormous shrine which spreads around the base of Mount Inari and also covers much of the mountain. The primary altar for worshippers sits at the mountain’s base, near the entrance, but the holiest spot on the mountain actually lies all the way at the peak — a 2-3 hour journey up winding paths lined with thousands of torii gates. (Tune in next week for the climb…)

Several sub-shrines cluster around the base of the mountain too. Directly to the right of the entry stairs, this torii marks the entrance to the largest of these sub-shrines:

16F20 subshrine

Past the torii, the walls are lined with prayer amulets and strings of origami cranes, folded prayerfully as petitions to the kami:

16F2 Inari Subshrine prayers

(Each of those colorful strings is composed of dozens of carefully-folded cranes.)

Beyond the walls of amulets and prayer chains lies the altar where petitioners stand to present their prayers. Note the red rope hanging down in front of the altar: it’s attached to a bell that hangs from the rafters, which visitors ring before praying to alert the kami to their presence.

16F20 Inari Subshrine Altar

Just outside this first sub-shrine stands a large wooden rack, where important donors’ names are displayed on wooden plaques.

16F20 FI Donor Plaques

Many Shinto shrines have similar displays, arranged according to donation size, with the largest donors’ names appearing on the top-left side of the display.

16F20 Inari Donor Plaques

Next week, we’ll continue our journey around the shrine and start the climb up Mount Inari – I hope you’ll join me for more.

Have you ever been to Fushimi Inari Taisha? Can you fold an origami crane?