[S-series] Autumn in Osaka-Kyoto-Nara, Japan Day 4 Pt 1: Fushimi-Inari Taisha and Climbing Mt Inari

Hi Guys

Welcome to the forth installation of the ‘Autumn in Osaka-Kyoto-Nara’ series.

We woke up in the break of dawn. But during this time of the year in Japan, sunrises at 5am. So.. even though we woke up at 6.00am, the sun is already shining on our tummies through our ryokan’s tiny window.

After washing up and dressing up, we left our Ryokan around 7.30am, which was super late if we wanna visit Fushimi-Inari Taisha. I guess there’s no way we’re gonna escape the crowd today.

Travelling to Fushimi-Inari

Our Ryokan; the Matsubaya Ryokan, is about 5-10mins walk from Kyoto Station. So it’s quite convenient for us. Kyoto is full of old town vibe, at least that’s how I feel around the area we stayed. The high number of temples and shrines in the city adds to the peace and tranquility in the air.

Anyways we walked to the station, took a train on the Nara line which will bring us directly to Inari station, which is right next to Fushimi-Inari Taisha.. Or so we thought..

What happened to us was.. I saw a train on the Nara line going to leave, so we ran head first into it. Then while we’re in the train, I heard an announcement in Japanese. With my limited ability with Japanese, I could only catch something like kyuko (express train) and the names of the stations. I noticed it didn’t name ‘Inari’, so I was a little worried. But with only seconds to decide whether to alight or stay on the train, I settle for the latter.

Boy was it a wrong move. The train skipped Inari station and skipped a further 2 more station before it stopped. We had to backtrack to Inari station, wasting precious time. I made sure I checked before hopping onto the next train going back to Inari station.

Lesson learned: Made sure you did your homework before hopping onto trains bound for places you’re not sure of and risk being stranded in a foreign place. Luckily we’re in a popular area of Kyoto where the trains were aplenty.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社): There were a great many shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of fertility, rice and sake. But this is the most important shrine. Inari’s messengers were foxes, so you’ll see many fox (kitsune) statues in the shrine grounds. It is said that Fushimi Inari Shrine exists before Kyoto became the capital in 8th century.

So here we are, at around 8.20am.. that explains the crowd swarming into the shrine like ants to a sugar-coated-donut-crumb. Well no matter what, these people were here for similar reasons as us, so that made us comrades of sorts, so I’m not hating them, I’m just resigned to the fact that we failed to elude them and thus, have to accept having them in my photos… If we’re here at 7.00am, I’m sure there will only be max a couple of them in my photo of the shrine entrance.

See what I mean? this place is super popular: the Senbon Torii or Thousand Torii Gates. Its 2 paths splitting from the main path lined with brightly coloured torii gates. The gates were planted so close to each other, the path looked like a tunnel. When we arrived, there were about 20 people snapping photos of the place, and a queue to snap the above photo, which wasn’t exactly ideal, as I’m shooting strangers’ backsides.

And after some waiting, getting impatient and decided to stand in other people’s frame… This is the best shot I could manage at the time. As I was framing the shot, somebody decided to stand beside Claire. Damn it. So I improvised by blocking that bugger out with some torii gates..

Exploring Beyond Senbon Torii

Many people came to Fushimi-Inari Taisha, took a few photos at Senbon Torii and start to leave the place. Not for us.

The Fushimi-Inari Taisha is built at the foot of Mt. Inari, the sacred mountain where it was thought that the Deity Inari resides. The whole mountain is part of the shrine, the trails were lined with vermilion torii gates and the occasional fox statues, typical of Inari shrines. Walking along these trails, I feel like we were walking into a mythical realm of the Kami. The cool, fresh mountain air and the silence, made it seems like we’re really far away from any human civilization when we’re actually in the middle of Kyoto.

This is the magic of this place, as we walk through these torii gates in silence, it felt as if our troubles were slowly removed from our being; our troubles were like noise, diffused/absorb by the silence of this mystic realm. This must be why the people here believed that a God resides here.

You guys have to be there to fully appreciate what I mean, words ain’t enough.

Torii Continues

We took the pilgrim’s path, well I think it is the pilgrim’s path because the signage were only in Japanese around this part of the mountain. Along the way, there were small shrines dedicated to deities whose names I cannot read, and there are also little villages with souvenir shops and/or tea houses to rest of weary feet. Although Mt Inari was only about 233m tall, walking around it’s hills still requires considerable effort. Its like going on a pilgrimage.

There were mini-shrines along the way and they were all well-maintained by devout worshipers. The devotion of the believers were commendable, assuming they were mostly from the older population and yet still climbing these stairs to reach the places of worship.

Nearing the Summit

As we get closer to the summit, the air gets chillier, the silence was deafening and spiders increases in size too. Gonna cut my crappy talk and just show the thousand words.

Descending and Coffee Break at a Tea House

After reaching the top and visiting the shrine, we decided to hurry down because we’ve an appointment for a Kimono rental! But not before we stop for a short break at one of the tea houses that… serves coffee. LOL. Sorry, I’m kinda addicted to coffee you know. So I go to a mountain tea house… for coffee. This place is like a little souvenir shop that sells sweet things and a large pot of boiling eggs that doubles as a heat radiator in the cool mountain air.

Coffee in a cute mug on a cute tray. Truly Japanese, the presentation matters as much as the taste yeah? It also taste absolutely awesome in this weather. The coffee taste like Japanese charcoal roasted coffee, but it gets cold really really fast unfortunately.

After which we head straight down and back to Inari Station, and straight to kimono rental place. and… that’s for Part 2 of Day 4!

Cheers peeps,

Simon Tey

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