You are going to see a lot of torii in this post.
Torii are those ubiquitous vermillion arches you see around Japanese shrines. And they are the most famous feature of Fushimi Inari Taisha.
The first time I even heard of Fushimi Inari was from a video game I was playing, Shadow Hearts: Covenant. It’s a role-playing game, and in one scene you end up in an “otherworld” where you must navigate a maze of torii gates and paths to find a boss and defeat it, thereby rescuing a game character. Despite how frustrating that maze was, I did enjoy the game and realized most of the places they used were real-life locations, albeit altered (Le Havre, Paris, Yokohama, even the lovely Goreme Valley in Turkey). And so I discovered a Japanese shrine of hundreds–no, thousands–of torii.
Don’t let anyone tell you video games teach you nothing useful!
I briefly touched on torii when I described Ueno Park. A few more details as it relates to Fushimi Inari:
- Torii symbolize a transition to a sacred space, hence shrine entrances.
- Torii are often painted vermilion, as it is believed the color keeps away evil spirits.
- In Shinto, Inari is the spirit of rice, foxes, fertility, industry, and prosperity.
- Many shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari; Fushimi Inari is the main one.
- Various individuals and businesses who are worshippers of Inari have donated a torii to Fushimi Inari in gratitude for their success. This is how there came to be thousands of torii at the shrine. Each gate is marked by the name of the donor.
- Since Inari is often represented by a fox, statues of foxes are also common at Inari shrines.
Besides being an otherworldly place, a shrine for worship, and a photographer’s dream, Fushimi Inari is also a great hiking area. The shrine is located on Mount Inari and following the torii paths leads up through the mountain forest.
The shrine is incredibly popular, of course, and can be really crowded… my best suggestion is to go further along the path. Most people stay near the start of the trail, where the two sets of gates diverge. The further from the beginning, the less people you encounter. I’d also recommend following the side paths here and there, since there are many interesting things to see. You might get lucky and find a set of gates with no one else around, giving you a chance to take a great photo! Of course, be respectful and don’t stray into places that are clearly off-track. This is a shrine after all.
Despite the many amazing things we saw in Japan, I would say Fushimi Inari is my favorite. The vermilion gates, laid one after another, are such a sight!