Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Return to Fushimi Inari

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Fushimi Inari Taisha (shrine) in Fushimi-ku, just south of Kyoto, is one of my favorite places in Japan.

Main Gate, Fushimi Inari Shrine
The mountain's iconic torii - sacred gates that mark the division between the secular and the holy - speak to me, as they do to the thousands of visitors (Japanese as well as foreign) who travel to the mountain every day, throughout the year.

I love the shrine, and its sacred mountain, enough that I took a day out of my scheduled research trip last autumn to visit and re-climb Mount Inari.

As usual, the mountain did not disappoint. Also as usual, I noticed many new and different things this time around.

For example, the Inari fox that watches over the entrance:

Foxes (the magical ones are known as kitsune) are Inari's messengers.

And the shrine cat (a kitsune in disguise?) who greeted me near the start of the climb:  

Waiting for attention. Cats are pretty much cats wherever you go.
The torii were lovely, mysterious, and haunting. It's easy to see why Shintō considers them gateways to a divine space:

Another pilgrim, ahead of me on the trail.

I love the way ancient consistency and constant change intersect on Mount Inari. The shrine and its mountain are simultaneously unchanged and completely different every time.

Visitors inscribe prayers or wishes on the small red torii, which are left as offerings.
Since I'd blocked out an morning for the mountain, I took my time on the ascent (and descent), stopping at each of the many subshrines and stations that dot the mountain's slopes.

A subshrine on Mount Inari.

I also paused for a plate of inarizushi at my favorite little restaurant, about halfway up the mountain, which also offers striking views of Kyoto:

How's that for a lunchtime view? (OK, it was brunch, but who's counting?)

On the way down, the morning mist burned off and the sun appeared, changing the mountain yet again.

Sunshine at the bottom of the mountain.

Since I visited on November 1, the trees in Kyoto had just begun to show the first hints of autumn.

Kitsune guardian with foliage.

(I was a little early for full foliage in this part of Japan, but I'd timed my trip for the foliage farther north, in the mountains, where it was spectacular.)

As I left, I wandered down the secondary approach to the shrine, where vendors line the road selling an amazing (and delicious) variety of treats.

Vendor street at the base of Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Most of the vendors don't allow photographs when the shops are open (I took the photo above when I arrived, knowing I wouldn't be able to photograph the area later on) but there's no ban on capturing the treats you buy.

Spiral potato with flavored salt. (The vendor lets you choose from over a dozen varieties.)

I only wish I hadn't been too full of inarizushi to eat any more.

Me, after too much inarizushi and fried potato.
My visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha took half a day, and I'm glad I made the time to return. It's one of my favorite places in Japan, and one I hope that everyone who visits Kyoto takes the time to see.


  1. Susan, I hope one day to walk there with you.

  2. You always fascinate me with your travels, Susan...and mountain climbing endurance. One question: Why don't the vendors allow photographs when the shops are open?

    1. No clue why they don't, Jeff. Most of them have signs saying "no photograph, thank you," but they don't say why. If I had to guess, I'd say it's to prevent tourists (mostly American, sigh) from standing in front of the stalls taking photos and video and blocking real customers from buying the products. Another reason could be that, in Japan, it's considered extremely rude (and in some places, illegal) to take photos of people you don't know. (This is one reason I try to shoot without people in the frame, and deliberately blur all recognizable images before I post them online.)

      Also, if people are photographing the stands, Japanese people won't approach to buy, even if there's room, because they don't want to be in the photos. (See above.) So photos would definitely have a hugely negative impact on business.

      If I had to guess, I'd say it's a combination of those factors - especially since the alley is so narrow, photographers could really block up the works and impact business in a very negative way.