Voted top tourist landmark in JAPAN (not just Kyoto!), 3 times in a row. So, I suppose I should stab myself if I didn’t visit while in the neighbourhood.
And this is one place were one gets an overdose of vermillion.
Fushimi Inari shrine is the most important shrine that’s dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. This is the Honden (main building), where religious Shinto rites were conducted by the priests (known as kannushi).
I tugged at the large rope to sound the bell, and made a silent prayer. While I am religion agnostic, I have respect for such traditions that have been older than 10 of my ancestors combined. I contemplated – in my prayer, should I ask for 4D numbers? I pondered, hesitated, and finally, refrained. Might seem disrespectful to ask for lottery numbers, and a torii gate might just fall on me when I’m walking up the mountain.
My silent prayer..will remain a silent one.
Shinto is a Japanese religion that worships ancestors and nature spirits, and believes that there is sacred power in both animate (you, me, the dog) and inanimate beings (rocks, trees). The kannushi is garbed in what is called a joe (pronounced jo-air, not Joe). The kannushi’s attire is quite elaborate – there is the black, peaked hat, an outer tunic, an outer robe, undergarment (with its own special name), pants that look a white palazzo, girdle, and there is even a ceremonial wand. A wand! Stuff of wizards and fairy godmothers! The shoe is not Under Armour. No contemporary brands have penetrated this market segment.
This is a regal-looking fox statue that was standing at the temple ground. Foxes are considered to be Inari’s messengers, and therefore there were plenty of fox statues – of different sizes – at this shrine, as well as the trail up Mount Inari.
The #1 attraction of Fushimi Inari shrine is the thousands of vermillion torii gates that start at a trail behind the shrine buildings, and straddle (almost) the entire network of trails up to Mount Inari. I looked at the map; ok, the trail looks like an adventure..it’s like walking thru a magical forest, and climbing the path that leads to a shrine atop a sacred mountain. And there might even be fox spirits hitching a ride on the floating white clouds.. I was also relieved that there are toilets along the way. Japanese toilets are more than 1st World Country standard.
These are the impressive Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gates). At moments like this, the brain stop ticking, and the senses (especially the sight) get aroused. How not to? I remembered standing transfixed, just taking in what I was seeing ahead of me.
Of course other people re-act differently. Some do selfies, some lightly hug pillars, some walk nonchalantly..
Steps leading up to Mount Inari. Easy climb as the incline was really gentle.
Enroute to the summit, these were what I encoutered:
Japanese inscriptions on the torii gates were given a fresh coat of paint. The inscriptions are the names of the donors (individuals or corporations) and the date of donation, of the torii gates. A small torii costs 400,000 yen (~ US$3,500), and a big one will be over 1M yen (under US$10K). Inari is the god of fertility and industry, so grateful devotees donate in the form of the torii gate.
In case one gets too bored with the torii gates, fear not! The trail is punctuated with a number of smallish shrines. And the shrines would be accompanied by multitude of stone foxes. Some looked friendly, some looked even cute, while some looked so menacing that you hope they stay in stone forever. There were also many stray cats darting around the stone inscriptions in the shrines. I’m not sure why the statues have reddish bibs around their neck. The bibs somewhat enhanced the feel of ferocity..as if the foxes are saying, “I’m really hungry now”. At some of the shrines, I did feel uneasy, and I’d quickly walk away.
I finally reached the top of Mount Inari. I was expecting to feel something magical in the air. I was hoping to see white clouds floating serenely, and the atmosphere is so electrifyingly divine that you could hear the crickets meditating.
Instead, just as I took my last few steps to reach the peak, I saw 2 kids who were more interested in the smartphone. It’s probably Pokemon Go.
This is the abode of Inari, the Shinto god of fertility and business. I must say I was a bit disappointed. Aside the shrine, the summit was just packed with different type of rocks, many more foxes, and plenty of small torii gates. It was like a grey rock garden with pigments of vermillions.
Well, I did visit the #1 most visited site in Japan (according to TripAdvisor). Tick.