- Marina Tsuji
A Complete Guide to the Top 20 Must-See Sights in and Around Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha boasts enormous popularity as a tourist destination, having been ranked as the most popular tourist destination in Japan for six consecutive years by TripAdvisor. Open for worship 24 hours a day, it is a spot that you would want to visit several times to enjoy the unique scenery and atmosphere that are different if you come early in the morning, during the day and at night. And so with that, here are some of the top attractions at Fushimi Inari Taisha!
What is Fushimi Inari Taisha?
Inari shrines are relatively familiar to Japanese people out of all the different kinds of shrines. It is said that there are around 30,000 Inari shrines scattered throughout Japan, and Fushimi Inari Taisha is their head shrine that is dedicated to the deity Inari Okami-sama. The Imperial Court apparently prayed for rain, abundant harvest, and peace and security of the nation at this shrine in ancient times, and there are many records about this shrine from that time that remain intact today. Worshipers shifted to praying for good matches and cures for illnesses by the Middle Ages, and today, the shrine has come to be known for granting wishes for thriving business, road safety, and peaceful household, among other things. Fushimi Inari Taisha is overflowing with famous spots such as the Senbon Torii (literally meaning “a thousand gates”), making it a very popular destination for visitors from within Japan and overseas.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and visitors can enter for free. If you want to get the goshuin (red stamp) seal and o-mamori (lucky charm), though, note that the shrine office is only open from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.
A short walk from Inari Station on the JR Nara Line
5-minute walk to the east from Fushimi-inari Station on the Keihan Main Line of the Keihan Electric Railway
7-minute walk to the east from Inari Taisha-mae bus stop on the Minami 5 Line of Kyoto Bus
When Fushimi Inari Taisha is mentioned, the first thing that pops in a lot of people’s minds may be the Senbon Torii, a long corridor of vermilion torii gates (※). However, there are plenty of other fascinating spots scattered around Mt. Inari, which has an elevation of about 233m, that is found at the back of Fushimi Inari Taisha. The shrine spans about 4km and going around it takes approximately 2 hours, so it is also recommended as a hiking trail! Even if you do not intend to cover the entire shrine, you still need to remember that there are hilly roads and mountain passes, so it would be best to come wearing comfortable shoes.
※These gates are a symbolic structure standing at the boundary that separates the interior and exterior spaces of the shrine. There is a custom in which worshipers, upon passing through the torii gates, bow to express their gratitude for being allowed to enter such a sacred place.
The Romon is a two-storied gate at the entrance of the shrine that is generally regarded as the face of the shrine. It is said that the Romon at Fushimi Inari Taisha was built in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a military commander who would later unify Japan) as a token of gratitude for curing his sick mother after he offered a prayer at the shrine. When the gate was dismantled for repair in 1973, the petition written by Toyotomi at that time was discovered. Representing the largest of all Romon gates in Japan, this impressive Romon gate at Fushimi Inari Taisha has been designated as a national important cultural property of Japan.
The Honden (main hall) of Fushimi Inari Taisha was built in the nagare-zukuri style, the most common architectural design of main halls in Japanese shrines, which is characterized by cypress bark roof that stretches outward to a point near the stairs in front of the Honden. It partially incorporates Buddhist architectural elements, so it has also come to be called the Inari-zukuri, as it is a unique design adopted by Fushimi Inari Taisha. The Honden was completely burned down in 1468 during a rebellion, and a temporary shrine was built within less than a year after that incident. However, the Honden was only rebuilt in 1499 due to the poor state of affairs in Japan at that time. Today, this Honden has been designated as a national important cultural property.
The Senbon Torii located behind the main shrine is a very popular feature of Fushimi Inari Taisha. The seemingly endless stream of vivid vermilion gates is truly stunning. Tourists and sightseers also love these gates as a great spot for taking photos. The culture of dedicating or donating torii gates as an expression of prayer and gratitude for wishes to “pass” (“tooru” in Japanese, which means “to come true”) or “having passed” (“tootta” in Japanese, which means “came true”) began in the Edo period (1603 - 1868), and the gates were said to have been erected at the entrance to Mt. Inari. There are currently around 10,000 torii gates straddled throughout the road approaching the shrine. You can donate a torii to the shrine for about 170,000 - 1.3 million JPY, depending on the size.
Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine has statues of foxes everywhere. These foxes are said to be servants of Inari Okami-sama, the deity enshrined at this shrine, and they cannot be seen by human eyes just like gods. Hence, they are called “byakko”, which means “transparent fox”. Inside the shrine precincts, there are statues of byakko holding treasures from the deity. These are origins and meanings of the treasures held by the byakko at the shrine.
Ear of rice: From the deity of good harvest (bountiful harvest of crops)
Ball: Symbolizes the miraculous virtue (excellent virtue that will almost make you feel the mysteriousness of the shrine) of Fushimi Inari Taisha
Key: Symbolizes the wish to have wondrous virtue
Scroll: Symbolizes wisdom
The Omokaru Ishi (Heavy or Light Stone) is a fortune stone found on the right-hand side at the back of Okusha Hohaisho (prayer building) after passing through Senbon Torii. There, you will find two stone lanterns. The first thing you need to do is make a wish in front of the lantern and lift the so-called omokaru ishi (the top part that is called the “lantern wheel”). They say that if you find the stone to be lighter than you expected, then your wish will be granted, but if you felt it was heavier, then your wish will not come true. This is a famous spot that has often been featured by the media of late, so be prepared to line up when you visit during the day on national holidays!
View from Yotsutsuji
Yotsutsuji, which is about a 40-minute uphill walk from the Honden, is the best spot along the shrine approach that will give you a panoramic view of Kyoto from an altitude of about 165m! The scenery at the summit of Mt. Inari is actually not that beautiful, so try to drop by Yotsutsuji for a better view. You can rest on the bench at the square, but if you happen to have spare time, then you must check out Nishimura-tei, a teahouse that has been in business for around 150 years now. Located in a 100-year-old traditional Japanese-style house, this spot will let you marvel at the gorgeous view while dining on Inari Zushi (sushi wrapped in fried tofu skin) (850 JPY (incl. tax)) (850 JPY (incl. tax)), Nabeyaki Udon (udon soup) (1,100 JPY (incl. tax)) and Hiyashi Ame (sweet ginger drink) (450 JPY (incl. tax)). There are two routes going to the mountain’s summit from Yotsutsuji, comprising the clockwise and counterclockwise trails, and the clockwise route offers gentler slopes.
Mt. Inari has a total of seven hokora shrines (a small wayside shrine dedicated to deities that is relatively small compared to usual shrines) that enshrine the deity called Shinseki. Visiting all Shinseki spots is called Inari Oyama Meguri. Ninomine is also known as Nakasha Shinseki and together with Ichinomine (Kamisha Shinseki) and Sannomine (Shimosha Shinseki), it is especially revered as the spot where the deities are said to have descended to earth. The deity Aoki Okami is enshrined in Ninomine. Aoki Okami is said to be Sarutahiko Okami. He is called the god of “michihiraki (opening a way),” so this shrine is believed to be especially beneficial to those who are facing difficulties in life and those who want to try new things.
Located at the summit of Mt. Inari that has an elevation of around 233m, Ichinomine is said to be the place where Inari Daimyojin came down to earth more than 1,300 years ago. That actually makes this shrine the very beginning of Fushimi Inari Taisha. Ichinomine enshrines Suehiro Okami, who is said to be Omiyanomeno Okami that is believed to grant wishes for brisk business. This shrine is also famous among sightseers as a power spot, with many worshippers trekking long hours just to worship here. There is a self-serve omikuji (fortune telling paper) at the back of the place of worship that you can draw for free and visitors claim that the fortunes often come true! The contents of the omikuji will probably resonate more since you had come all the way up to the summit.
Mitsurugisha, located just before Ichinomine, enshrines Tamayorihime no Mikoto that is one of the seven Shinseki in Mt. Inari. Standing right next to Mitsurugisha is the Tsurugi Ishi, a large stone shaped like a sword and stands at an overwhelming height of about 3m. It is also called the Kaminari Ishi as it has been hit by lightning several times. Legend has it that the repeated lightning strikes were caused by the meeting of Kamowakeikazuchi no Okami, the god of lightning, and his mother (Tamayorihime no Mikoto) that is enshrined in Mitsurugisha. Further, there is a well called Yaiba no Mizu at this shrine and it is said that bringing home water from this well will boost your fortune.
Gozendani Hohaisho is a place where worshipers in olden times would offer sake, food, and other items to the deities of the three peaks (Ichinomine, Ninomine and Sannomine). In ancient times, worshipers gave offerings to each of the three peaks. Such custom still remains today, with worshipers leaving offerings on top of the Mikeishi stone in the prayer hall in the morning and at night. During the Oyamasai festival that is held at the shrine every January 5th, a ceremony called Sanjonogi is held wherein sake is poured in 70 earthenware containers that are later put on top of the Mikeishi as offering. Further, it has the only shrine office between Yotsutsuji and the summit, so you can get a lucky charm and the goshuin stamp here!
Fox Ema (Votive Tablets)
An ema is a wooden plaque where you write your wish or which you dedicate to a shrine to express gratitude for an answered prayer. The term “ema” comes from the plaque bearing a drawing of a horse that came to be hung in shrines instead of live horses that were dedicated to shrines when making wishes in ancient times. At Fushimi Inari Taisha, you will find Kitsune no Ema (fox votive tablets) that are inspired by byakko that are said to be the messengers of Inari Okami-sama. On the front of the ema, only the slanted eyes of a fox are drawn, and you can freely add your desired expression. There are many unique ema plaques hanging at this shrine, so if you have time, try to check out the expressions of the byakko in the other ema! The fox ema costs 500 JPY apiece.
Torii ema is the kind of votive tablet that is recommended to those who want to donate their own torii gate to the Senbon Torii but find it difficult to do so due to financial constraints. This ema, which is vermilion in color and shaped like the Senbon Torii gates, can be purchased at the prayer reception office beside the Honden for 800 JPY each. Unlike the usual ema tablets, though, it does not have space where you can write your wishes, so can write your name and wish on the pillars of the torii gate and then offer your ema to the rack for hanging ema (a dedicated place for ema plaques that have been written on). The sight of the torii ema bearing the wishes of worshippers will surely remind you of the Senbon Torii.
At the shrine office that is located right next to the Honden, you can buy a lucky charm and receive the goshuin stamp of Fushimi Inari Taisha. There are various kinds of lucky charms available, such as the staple amulets for a thriving business, peace in the home, warding of evil and road safety, as well as amulets inspired by the byakko such as the Tassei no Kagi Mamori (achievement key) (1,000 JPY) and the Tassei no Makimono Mamori (achievement scroll) (800 JPY), and the Senbon Torii Mamori (800 JPY). The goshuin stamp can be obtained not just at the shrine office but also at the Okusha Hohaisho and Gozendani Hohaisho, with each spot offering a different stamp. Fushimi Inari Taisha is open for worship 24 hours a day throughout the year, but note that the shrine office is only open from 7:00 am to around 6:00 pm and the goshuin stamps can only be requested from 9:00 am to around 3:30 pm. There are also limited omamori at Okusha Hohaisho.
Visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha is definitely fun during the day, but its atmosphere is another level when you come at time and see it all lit up! The illumination hours are not clearly set, as the shrine starts to get illuminated as soon as it becomes dark every day. You have to see the Romon and Senbon Torii, in particular. The Romon, which is the first thing that you will see at the shrine, exudes a magical vibe when it is lit up at night. Meanwhile, the Senbon Torii will have you walking through a dark tunnel that is only lit by lanterns, so you need to be careful if you hate dark places.
Nearby Tourist Attractions
The area around Fushimi Inari Taisha is filled with sightseeing spots such as shrines and temples. Here are three recommended spots in the area that you should check out!
There are two approaches heading to Fushimi Inari Taisha: the Omotesando (front approach) and Shinkomichi (rear approach). The Shinkomichi is also called the Urasando and along this street, you will find rows of souvenir shops, variety stores, restaurants and lodging facilities. Try Fushimi Inari Sando Chaya, a Japanese-style restaurant that is located right in the middle of the Urasando approach, and sample old-fashioned Amazake (sweet sake) (350 JPY) made from koji (malted rice), and a set meal (550 JPY) of Uji matcha green tea and freshly-made flaky Monaka (wafer cake with red bean jam inside). You must also visit Terakoya Honpo that specializes in senbei (rice crackers), Shogoin Yatsuhashi Sohonten Inari Branch where you can purchase yatsuhashi (a type of confectionery made with bean paste) that is considered as a staple Kyoto souvenir, and many other stores and restaurants!
Tofukuji is a temple that was completed in 1255 after 19 long years of construction. The name Tofukuji is a combination of one character from Todaiji and Kofukuji temples in Nara in hopes that it will become like those temples. The best season to visit Tofukuji is autumn. Known as the best spot for autumn leaves in Kyoto, this temple is painted in vivid autumn colors by about 2,000 maple trees. The view from Tsutenbashi bridge is truly spectacular. Meanwhile, the Engetsukyo bridge that has been designated as an important cultural property and one of the Top 100 bridges in Japan is also a recommended spot that will make you feel the history of the temple.
Built around 1,800 years ago, Fujinomori Jinja is a shrine dedicated to 12 deities that is extremely famous among people involved in the world of horse racing for being the deity of good luck and horses. On May 1st to 5th each year, the traditional Fujinomori Festival is held at this shrine. On the last day of the festival, two rituals are held: the Kakeuma Shinji wherein horseback riders perform tricks such as barreling through on a horse while pretending to be hit by enemy arrow or performing a handstand on a horse, and the Musha Gyoretsu wherein riders clad in samurai garb parade through the streets. May 5th is currently celebrated as Children’s Day in Japan, but it is said that Musha Gyoretsu is the origin of such holiday.
Reminders When Worshipping
Fushimi Inari Shrine is a sacred place, so please refrain from doing the following:
・Entering areas closed to unauthorized people and taking photos or videos of areas where photography is prohibited
・ Disturbing other worshipers by making loud noises or sitting in the shrine grounds
・ Walking around the precincts with unusual clothing such as cosplay costume
・ Drinking or eating while walking, and littering
・ Smoking or using flames
・ Flying drones and radio controlled airplanes
・ Take photos using a tripod in narrow paths
・ Approaching wild animals
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a place that is packed with attractions, from the popular spots such as the Senbon Torii and Omokaru Ishi, up to the unique ema tablets! It will take around 2 hours to go around this shrine, including Mt. Inari, so it would be best to narrow down the places you want to see in advance or allot plenty of time for the shrine so you can visit many of its attractions!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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