Carve peace in the heart,
Throbbing crowds trudge up mountain
Red tori gates rise.
My little haiku to set your heart and mind in calmness, at Japan’s famous Shinto shrine and pilgrimage gentle hike along Mount Inari.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.