(You can find Part 1 of this series here.)
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of Kyoto’s loveliest, and most famous, Shintō shrines. The primary worship halls lie around the base of Mount Inari, but the shrine continues all the way to the peak of Mount Inari – a climb that takes between 2 and 4 hours round trip, depending on your pace and how much time you spend at the many subshrines (and restaurants) that dot the mountain’s slopes.
Maps of the shrine posted on the grounds reveal the scope of the shrine, but don’t do justice to its size. This one makes the base of the mountain look far larger than it actually is, when compared with the route that leads to the mountain’s summit:
Just inside the two-story gate, to the right of the worship hall, lie a number of sub-shrines and a stage for traditional Nō drama. Beyond them, and behind the worship hall, lies the hondo, or main shrine:
Near the hondo, visitors can purchase religious amulets and obtain goshuin–sacred stamps and calligraphy placed in a book designed for that purpose–as well as fortunes. Good fortunes go home with the recipient, while fortunes predicting bad luck are traditionally tied to a wire rack so Inari can take the bad luck away:
A set of stairs to the right of the hondo leads up to the shrine’s next level.
Like many of the shrine’s larger torii, this one is flanked by a pair of guardian foxes. One holds a scroll:
While the other keeps a vigilant watch over everyone who passes:
Tamayama Inarisha, the shrine where Inari Ōkami is actually enshrined, sits directly at the top of the stairs:
As do a number of other, smaller subshrines, each of which is designated an important cultural property of Japan.
Just beyond these subshrines, another set of stairs leads up to a building that houses a statue of a horse.
Traditionally, Shintō shrines sacrificed horses to ensure good crops and other blessings. Today, the role of the sacrificial horse is played by these statues, which are carefully preserved in places of honor at many Shintō shrines. (For more on this tradition, click here.)
After passing the horse, visitors turn left and climb another short flight of stairs, at the top of which lies the start of one of Japan’s most iconic sights: the “path of 1000 gates.”
Here, the sacred torii stand so close together that they create a passage. The path leads to the first and largest of the sub-shrine areas – but that’s a journey for another day.
(To continue to part 3, and walk the famous path, click here.)