Welcome to the land of the orange gate. Quite iconic isn't it? But what exactly does it symbolize? A torii ( literally translated a bird abode) is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine. It symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred. So if you see a shrine that has thousands of it, what does it make of it then?
That's Fushimi-Inari taisha shrine for you - the head shrine of all the Inari shrines that are scattered along the country. But what or who is Inari? Inari is the god of rice and sake in Japan. During the 8th century when the agriculture business is diminishing, a certain Hata clan put up this shrine to ensure prosperity in business. And Inari shrines usually has a lot of these torii gates because those who have been successful in business often donate a gate painted in vermilion as a token of gratitude. The black markings or characters in lintel are actually the dates and names of the donors written on the backside. On a personal note though, I find it odd that these things had to be announced. Tokens like these are best kept anonymous don't you think? (Of course, Brian and I with our very little Chinese character literacy could only understand the dates as we were studying the figures then. I only found out about their meaning when this post was written :P Oh come on, I was sold for the orange gates. LOL!)
|A water-filled basin for purification before entering the shrine|
But honestly, without the inscriptions I thought the gates lacked character, so I had to be in this picture below with my very awkward pose. Haha!
Fushimi-Inari is actually located in Fushimiku- Kyoto and sits at the base of the mountain named after the god itself - Inari. The gates pictured above are actually entrance torii gates that lead to the hike to the summit of the mountain, 233 meters above sea level and would take about 2 to 3 hours of stroll. WHOA! Obviously, even with my flats on I wasn't prepared much for this hike as I have only one day to spend at Kyoto but I did make it far enough to be able to see mini shrines, a serene pond and this sight that reminded me of another tourist spot in Kyoto - the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. That place is actually out of the way and was not part of my itinerary.
Immersive. I remember that's how Brian would describe the experience of being there at his favorite shrine at midnight For him it was the best time to visit the place which is somehow lit up for exploration at this time. Lonely planet says that the trail makes a very mysterious air at the evening and highly recommends to bring a friend. But he usually does it alone - at midnight. Uhm, I think my Dutch companion is really weird especially if you've read about our Osaka adventure here. Hehe. :) But overall, our hike was a very pleasant experience especially in that spring season.
Another interesting feature of this temple too are the fox statues. You know how temples or shrines would often incorporate an animal statue to symbolize something right? Here it's the foxes. This animal is thought to be Inari's messenger and hence the many presence of statues in the shrine grounds. There's even a prayer area where visitors could draw their very own fox on fox-shaped carved woods and write their wishes at the back. What does the fox say? Haha! How cool! =)
This shrine is very accessible - just outside JR inari station though Brian and I did walk for about an hour to get there. (Don't ask, he's really WEIRD, lol!) Peak season for this place is around the first few days of January where the believers would visit to pray for good fortune. Do prepare as well for the hike as there are some rewarding southern Kyoto view at some junction up the trail. :)