Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
I have visited Kyoto once before, back when I was living and working in Japan. But at the time I did not know much about Japan’s history and missed out on seeing a lot of the sights. This time I went back there determined to make a more thorough trip, starting with one of the most iconic shrines in Kyoto. Fushimi Inari Shrine is definitely one of the most photographed because aside from being an old Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of rice and sake from the 8th century, it also features a magnificent path winding up the mountain, featuring over 5000 torii gates. (A torii is a traditional gate commonly found at the entrance of a shrine.)
Also called the fox shrine, it features dozens of statues of foxes. In Shinto religion, Inari is the goddess of rice, and the foxes are considered her messengers. This shrine is the central location for some 40,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan.
I stood behind one of the windows looking into the main shrine to observe a Shinto priest blessing a visitor. I snuck the photograph above and got in trouble for it and had to quickly move on. Shinto visitors come here to pray and receive blessings. They also buy these mini torii gates as an offering.
Which leads me to the explanation of the meaning behind the thousand torii gates. Those who want to make a bigger contribution, usually businesses and companies, sponsor the giant gates that line the famous footpath. The kanji writing on each gate contains the business name and the starting date of their sponsorship. I feel kind of demystified finding out this fact. I think I preferred not knowing. Still, they’re a beautiful feature to the shrine and made for a very scenic trek on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. We never made it up the entire way, not with a tired toddler, but we walked far enough to explore some of the mysterious tombs and smaller shrines and appreciate the tranquility of the forest.
I took this picture of my boys leaving the shrine. It was a quick snapshot but when I looked at it again, I fell in love with the moment that my camera froze. An old man, a woman and the boys are all standing still, looking at something. I love the stillness and the peacefulness of this picture. Just a lucky snap that probably doesn’t mean anything to anyone else, but I like it.
Then we checked out some of the shops around the shrine on our way back to the train station. As expected there are a lot of souvenir shops and quaint little restaurants to feed the hungry pilgrims. The shop on the right has been around since 1540! That’s nearly 500 years old. It sells udon, soba, sushi and some other dishes I can’t remember. We were tempted to go in but opted for a couple of cheap (but delicious!) bowls of kimchi ramen instead.