When we decided to visit Kyoto, the first thing that came in mind was “yes we can finally see these tori gates for real!” and it proved to be much more than that. The movie “memoirs of a geisha” only showed a glimpse of the magnificent sight.This was one of the most surreal experiences we had in Japan. Fushimi Inari, famous for it’s thousands red gates, tori, is a splendid way to enjoy the culture and take a walk through one of Kyoto’s famous sites. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion tori gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine of the god Inari, located in Fushimi Ward in Kyoto, Japan.
First and foremost, Inari is the god of rice, but merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshiped Inari as the patron of business. Each of the tori at Fushimi Inari Taisha has been donated by a Japanese business. I also really appreciated the fact that this is a growing shrine. Individuals or a business has donated each gate. I assume that continues and the shrine will continue to grow. The most famous part of the tori gates where memoirs of geisha was shot and also most photos are taken is where the gates are smaller and much closer together is pretty much at the start of the path. The path further up the hill is still surrounded by the torri gates and the mountain is beautiful. It can be strenuous if you’re unfit.
You can spend an entire afternoon in this place. The walk from the station to the temple is pretty interesting too as the streets are full of shops. Lots of photo opportunities as the colours are absolutely vibrant and the architecture simply speaks for itself.
Finally we loved the many red-bibbed foxes that guard the shrines. At first we thought they were dogs, but learned they are foxes or kitsune, who are also messengers for Inari.
The Japanese see shrines as both restful places filled with a sense of the sacred, and as the source of their spiritual vitality – they regard them as their spiritual home, and often attend the same shrine regularly throughout their lives. Shrines need not be buildings – rocks, trees, and mountains can all act as shrines, if they are special to kami.
The seemingly endless string of red torii gates surrounded by a beautiful forest is simply stunning. The shrine is beautiful and fascinating. Certainly worth a visit, especially since it’s so easy to get to from Kyoto. Its easy to see why this attraction is consistently in the top 5 for Kyoto.
The best explanation I can offer is that the Shinto shrine is a visible and ever-active expression of the factual kinship – in the most literal sense of the word – which exists between individual man and the whole earth, celestial bodies and deities, whatever name they be given.
When entering it, one inevitably becomes more or less conscious of that blood-relation, and the realisation of it throws into the background all feelings of anxiety, antagonism, loneliness, discouragement, as when a child comes to rest on its mother’s lap.
A feeling of almost palpable peace and security falls upon the visitor as he proceeds further into the holy enclosure, and to those unready for it, it comes as a shock. Epithets such as kogoshi (god-like) and kami-sabi (divinely serene) seem fully justified.
Jean Herbert, Shinto, At the Fountain-Head of Japan, 1967