Fushimi Inari Taisha, considered to be THE most popular tourist destination in Japan amongst foreign visitors, is a shrine exceedingly famous for “Senbon Tori” (literally translating to “Thousands of Gates”), a sight with innumerable vermillion-colored tori (a gateway arch at the entrance of Shinto shrine) lining up one after another. It is the grand head shrine of 30,000 or so “Oinari-san,” found all over Japan, that enshrine the god of the same name known to bring rich harvests and business prosperity. Equipped with other impressive features such as a vermillion-lacquered tower gate donated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, and the main hall designated as a national, important cultural property, as well as other grand halls, it attracts many visitors from abroad who find the place uniquely Japanese and almost dream-like. The entrance path leads into Mount Inari of 233 meters high, where you can come across more tori everywhere and is widely known to be a spiritual place.
The biggest spectacle of the site is “Senbon Torii” (thousands of gates) that cascade up from the main hall. The word thousand is traditionally used rhetorically to mean “countless” in Japanese but the actual number of tori even surpasses a thousand, apparently reaching as many as 10,000. Countless vermillion-colored torii densely aligned one after another look like a tunnel leading into another world and exhibit a dream-like quality. Each tori is financed by a donation and inscribed with the donor’s name. Traditionally, the donation of tori is an act of showing one’s appreciation to the shrine for having his/her wish come true, so it demonstrates how effective the shrine’s divine power has been.
Honden, the main hall, comes into view as you pass under its entrance gate. The majestic building painted in red is registered as a national important cultural property and it has an overpowering presence. The entire building was damaged in the fire in 1468 but was since rebuilt in 1499.
Immediately after the first big tori, which is the entrance to the whole premises, appears a vermillion-lacquered tower gate donated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1589. It is the largest in size among gates leading to a shrine in Japan. The vivid, vermillion observed everywhere in this shrine is known to keep evil spirits away and depicts the divine power of the god residing here.
Ema (small wooden plaques for prayers) available at shrines and temples in Japan typically come with a picture of a horse and the visitor writes his/her wish on the back. However, at Fushimi Inari Taisha, they come in the shape of a fox, an animal known to be the messenger for the deity of Oinari-san. Its face is left blank for you to draw as you like. Make a fun memory of your trip by drawing a nice-looking fox while making your wish.
After passing under Senbon Tori, you will find yourself in front of the inner shrine, where Omokaru-Ishi (Heavy or Light Stone) are placed. Lift up the stone while silently making a wish. It is said that, if you feel the stone is lighter than expected, your wish will come true and vice versa. Test your luck!
Mount Inari, situated in the back of the main hall, is known to be the place where the God of Inari had descended and also the destination of the worshipper’s pilgrimage. They spend almost two hours walking on a path that stretches over 4 kilometers with stone steps going up and down, while stopping by smaller shrines and mounds along the way. Also found along the path are some tori for worshippers to dedicate their offerings and shops that sell souvenirs, beverages and items for offerings, both adding a colorful touch to your walk. The changing scenery is also part of the attraction.
There are numerous tori and stone steps on the trail. Combined with a contrast between the natural green and red of torii, it creates a beautiful path. You will be greeted by a sequence of interesting scenes, both beautiful and unique, thanks to Otsuka (a group of stone monuments), small shrines and mini-tori seen along the way.
Eateries and shops along the way
During the mountain pilgrimage, you will have no problem finding souvenir shops and eateries. Especially the latter offer quite a good selection including light meals such as udon (thick noodles), Japanese-style sweets and beverages, as well as much-appreciated comfort for visitors weary from walking in the mountain.
Feel spiritual at various spots
In the mountain, you will find a space that is otherworldly and mystical here and there – be it miniature tori piled together, small waterfalls and wells, or an enshrined god who protects worshipper’s health such as their eyes, back and throat. Here, you can enjoy a fascinating walk like no other.
Everywhere on the grounds are multitudes of fox statues. They often have an ear of rice, a scroll, a key, or a ball in their mouths, each symbolizing the god of rich harvest, intellect, business prosperity and so on.
Senbon Tori at night
Senbon Tori looks even more surreal at night. During the festival period, which falls in every July, lanterns are hung, coloring the shrine a burning red against the darkness of the summer nights. Nothing gets more otherworldly than this.
Barbeque of sparrows and quails
Fushimi Inari Taisha is also known to serve a barbeque of sparrows and quails, grilled whole. It is said to originate from the local residents’ attempt in the old days to exterminate the sparrows, natural enemies of the rice field during harvest. How about challenging yourself to try one?