Dedicated to Inari, the deity of a good harvest and success in business, Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head of all of Japan's Inari shrines. The seemingly endless path of vibrant orange torii gates leading up Mt. Inari makes for an impressive setting and is one of the most famous images of Japan.
Located in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine is easily accessed from Kyoto Station.
Take the JR Nara Line to Inari Station. The shrine is a five-minute walk from there. Alternatively, take the Keihan Line to Fushimi Inari Station. It's a 10-minute walk from there.
The god that Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine is dedicated to is one of many gods, or kami, worshipped in Shintoism. Over 35,000 shrines across Japan are dedicated to Inari. Most are humble roadside shrines; Fushimi Inari has the designation of taisha, or “grand shrine.” Because of its location, it was patronized by the court, and emperors often made donations here in ancient times.
It is said that the shrine was founded in 711 before Kyoto became Japan's capital. The path leading up the 233-meter Mt. Inari is dotted with many smaller shrines and marked by approximately 10,000 torii gates. This long tunnel of vibrant orange torii gates is an iconic sight in Kyoto.
Because of the connection with success in business, local businesses donate torii gates to the shrine. The path up the mountain is thus named senbon torii, or one thousand torii, although there are now 10 times that number. Some of the torii date back to the Edo Period (1603-1867).
The hike up the mountain takes between two- to three hours. About half-way up, there is a small restaurant that serves light lunches and a souvenir shop that sells beverages and ice cream. The view from here to the city below is impressive and arguably better than the view from the top.
There are Japanese restaurants and shops on the street leading up to the shrine. Here you can find sweet shops selling tsujiura senbei, a type of fortune cookie believed to date back to the 19th century. Some think they are the origin of the Chinese-American fortune cookie.
Inari's fox messengers, known in Japanese as kitsune, are pure white. Statues of white foxes can be seen throughout the shrine complex. In Japanese mythology, foxes like to eat aburaage, or deep-fried tofu. The restaurants leading up to the shrine thus sell inari sushi (rice stuffed into pockets of aburaage) and kitsune udon (wheat noodles in broth topped with aburaage). Both make for delicious light meals.
Since it's practically imperative that you take the hike up the hill to see the whole tunnel of torii gates, set aside a few hours, at least, for a visit. It's recommended to plan the trip from late morning until mid-afternoon, with a light lunch on the hike.
A visit to Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine can be easily combined with a visit to many other Kyoto locations, such as a visit to the Nishiki Market in the morning followed by another temple in the afternoon.