Visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha and Hiking Mt Inari – Kyoto, Japan
So what exactly makes this location so popular? The picture perfect thousands of vermilion torii gates that line this entire trail up to the top of Mt Inari. There are approximately 10,000 torii gates and many stone altars (otsuka) that make the journey incredibly scenic and peaceful. Stone foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers and they are seen throughout Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is a sacred place where each torii is a shrine dedicated to Inari – the Shinto god of rice – so this was so a place of importance to ensure good harvest. The founding is dated to 711 – this predates Kyoto being the capital of Japan!
We arrived around 7AM on a rainy morning to a very light crowd so I was hopeful that was a good sign. We explored the shrine itself and found a map to orient ourselves. To be honest, I did not even know there was this area when researching since all everyone ever talks about are the gates themselves. Everything was so still and quiet this early in the morning. But where were the gates? The map indicated the gates were up and around away from the shrine and indeed lined the entire path up and around Mt Inari.
Most people go along the trail for a few feet, take their social media photo, then leave and this is what makes the area so crowded. Majority of people do not even complete the trail to the summit of Mt Inari at 233 meters. So if you do not come early and still want to experience a bit of quiet, consider completing the loop and it may be less crowded towards the top and just as scenic.
For our visit, we were by ourselves for most of the start of the path and were able to take so many photos completely unobstructed which I was definitely not expecting. The torii gates all have writing on one side of them and we learned that they signify who the donated that particular gate. From companies to individuals, the price of the donation dictates how large the torii gate you get – smaller gates are in the 400,000 yen range while the large, prominent ones are over one million yen. I have to say, I was very impressed with the photos I was able to get. The path was very easy in the beginning and then the stairs began to emerge, but the climb was gradual.
Eventually, we made it half way up to the Yotsutsuji intersection where there was a beautiful view of Kyoto below. At this point, the circular trail goes up and around the top of Mt Inari. We journeyed along the trail climbing up and while I would not classify it as intense, we certainly worked up a bit of a sweat. Once at the top, we enjoyed a really cool otsuka. It was too early for the shops we passed but I read they have some enjoyable snacks, treats – including the possible first fortune cookie – and souvenirs. The way down was a change in scenery as the gates were further apart and the trees and shrubs were more dense so it really made for this beautiful contrast of the orange paint against this lush green. And gliding down the path was much faster as well.
When we made it to the Yotsutsuji intersection, the crowds were considerably higher – I would almost say mobbed. I was so happy to have gotten here early when we did as the pressure to take more photos was non-existent. I can see how this experience would be much less fun with all these people and I was very pleased with our morning.
In total, the entire trail from start to finish is 4 kilometers long going to 233 meters in elevation to the Mt Inari summit and it took us exactly two hours which includes lots of time stopping for photos. This is a must stop when visiting Kyoto and I would advise that if you are not a morning person to get there at or before 7AM, then go later in the evening. You can also plan on continuing past the Yotsutsuji intersection to the summit to distance yourself from the crowds but if you are a photographer, you are going to want the torii gates towards the entrance for those pictures.