Hike Up at Fushimi-Inari

Carve peace in the heart,
Throbbing crowds trudge up mountain
Red tori gates rise.

Approaching Fushimi-Inari shrine after leaving train station. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker

My little haiku to set your heart and mind in calmness, at Japan’s famous Shinto shrine and pilgrimage gentle hike along Mount Inari.

By front entrance. Fushimi-Inari shrine. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Main shrine building. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

10,000 Tori Gates Through Old Mountain Forest
You might need to cultivate that precious corner of peace.  We joined thousands of other happy visitors pouring through Fushimi-Inari’s 10,000 vermillion orange tori gates up Mount Inari.

Forested tori gate hike starts after passing main shrine. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker

Though the gate-graced hike winds through old shady forest, it was still hot at 28-30  degrees C and humid on an early summer day.  Some people rested on a step during the hike, but still determined to restart a few more steps up.  There were different junctions to shorten your hike and turn around.

Shrine guardian. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
10,000 gates along 2 different ascending routes, merging at summit of sacred Mt. Inari. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

God of Rice and Prosperity Evolves in Meaning -Over Centuries
The first record on establishment of Fushimi-Inari shrine, was in 711 after an imperial order from Empress Genmei.   Since then, priests have had spring and fall festivals in honour of Inari, god of rice, agricultural and later, business prosperity, safety of households and safety in traffic.  Apparently, there is even a coming of age annual ceremony in early winter, for Japanese nationals who turn 20 years old.

Shinto shrine water purification stop near entrance of shrine building. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Note: One does not drink the water.
Showing mountain path choices to top of Mt. Inari. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Fushimi-Inari is the head shrine, but not necessarily the biggest in Japan.

The tori gates are red-orange and can be found in Japan at other Inari shrine sites, big and small. There are 30,000 Inari shrine gates all over Japan.   The colour is to protect from evil…an interpretation, found in other architectural colours (and not related to Shintoism) elsewhere in Asia for also luck, happiness and prosperity.

Mini tori gates at small shrines on rock ledges, purchased by business and individuals. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker.
Fox, messenger to god of rice, prosperity, with key to rice bin. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Gate as Passing Prayers to Inari
A tori gate evolved to signify an offering as “passing” of prayers to the deity, in Edo period (1603-1888). At Fushimi-Inari, there are not only the large gates you walk through, but also mini tori gates where money is paid to buy a tori gate for mini-shrines, created on natural rock ledges and wedged in corners.  It is a happy clutter of prayer wishes at certain points along the hike.  Or a pile of stacked prayer offerings, with fox statutes overlooking the shrines.  Businesses and individuals buy a prayer gate offering for a healthy price.

Several min tori gate prayer offerings on rock ledges by hiking path. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker.
More piles of prayer offerings for abundance, by mountain river. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker.
Shinto priest -1 of 50 all-male priests at Fushimi-Inari. Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker

Foxes are symbolic messengers of Inari, god of rice.  It has nothing to do with real existence of foxes. Foxes are twilight-oriented creatures and hover on the edges of woodland –suitable symbols as mystical messengers.  A fox may have a key to the rice bin in its mouth, or a sheaf of wheat, a scroll.

Walking up while others take rest. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
An Inari shrine. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker

Along the hike, we occasionally saw some mountain small streams trickling through some rocks. There are bamboo trees growing among some pine and other trees we didn’t stop to recognize.  Apparently there are many stray cats hiding or wandering in the area at night.

Fox can also have symbolic sheaf of grain. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

The higher you ascend, the less people there are.  Near the bottom of the path, we settled for a refreshing matcha tea ice cream cone on the back balcony overlooking a lovely cultivated garden.

Garden at back terrace of gathering spot near end of hiking path. Pleasant view for ice cream enjoyment. Fushima-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Near main shrine building, fox has golden wheat sheaf in its mouth. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker

At Fushimi-Inari, the day was more about finding moments of stillness, yet embracing enthusiasm of crowds, happy silliness of people posing with finger peace signs for selfies, because most of us knew we would be there only once in our lifetime.  My wish:

Walk climb, step-up down
Breathing life, happy and still
Under red gates’ glow.

Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
In prayer. Fushimi-Inari, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Becker
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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Pit says:

    Great post! 🙂 Thank you for this insight into a culture I know so little about – way too little. And thanks for the great words at the end:

    Walk climb, step-up down
    Breathing life, happy and still
    Under red gates’ glow.

    Have a wonderful Sunday,
    Pit

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      We can’t go everywhere in the world. However we can find images and words to hold close in our heart and mind to sustain. My wishes for a beautiful autumn this year at your end of the continent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pit says:

        Thanks, and a wonderful autumn to you, too.

        Like

  2. Peter Klopp says:

    Being unfamiliar with Japanese culture and customs I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and viewing the amazing photos.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      One can learn even from some photos. Glad you enjoyed this post. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean I felt as though I was walking with you. Often I have seen a single photo of this famous shrine but with your narrative and accompanying photos I felt as though I had a bit of the experience of hiking along. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      You would enjoy Japan, Sue…it’s a perfect blend of Western modernity and heritage preserved sites and cultural activities. Lots of visual learning.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Jean. It took me right back there. And I love your photos! You got some beauties. I hiked up a way, but not to the top. I was trying to cram too much into the day.
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      I know, the temptation to do lots in a foreign country is great. Like you, I’m so glad I went there!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I always thought fox was an evil spirit! That’s interesting!
    And the pictures are beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jean says:

      Perhaps we naturally tend to associate fox with a sneaky, clever animal. You would enjoy Japan, Paulina, if you haven’t been there yet. I chose not to go to Shanghai while my partner did for 3.5 days. I went back to work in Canada.

      Like

      1. I would never choose Shanghai over Japan – I could meet Momzilla’s family, not risking that! Lucky enough I went to three different places in Japan and I loved it! Wouldn’t be able to live there I think, I feel more relax in HK (as crazy at it sounds, I don’t feel like I’m offending anyone in HK while in Japan I always worry if I do something ‘inappropriate’) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          I agree that Chinese culture can be abit looser… A Chinese-Canadian friend lived and worked in Japan for a year. She found it a little annoying that the Japanese were always continuously polite to point one didn’t really know what their real opinion was at times. Of course, I think the Chinese culture goes into the other direction to the extreme at times.

          Like

  6. Lani says:

    Thanks for the tour up such an iconic Japanese landmark. One day, yes, I sound like a broken record. One day!

    My hear though goes out to Japan as they’ve seen so many incredibly devastating natural disasters this year. I suppose you must look back and count your lucky stars. Here’s hoping for a quieter rest of the year for the Land of the Rising Sun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I agree. We went to Kyoto just a few days after Osaka had their earthquake. Then a few days after we left for Seoul, the Kyoto prefecture had some major landslides/flooding.

      And now, that earthquake in northern part, in Hokkaido. 😮

      Like

  7. Fascinating culture! And as one of your readers says we know so little about it. Love the photos and the scenery. What a trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hi Evelyn…something most definitely not seen much in North America, meaning Shinto shrines. Special when there are 10,000 tori gates.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This post is fascinating on many levels. I loved reading it a lot. So unusual.

        Like

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