History Podcasts

Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine

Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine


South of Kyoto, the torii of Fushimi Inari Taisha, traditional gates at the entrance to Shinto shrines, lined up in their thousands on the mountainside. This is a must-visit place in Kyoto and Japan, for any visitor.

Fushimi Inari Shinto shrine and its spellbinding red torii paths attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The image of the vermilion "tunnels" created by the aligned torii is a classic Japanese image. Tourists to Kyoto should not miss visiting this very special shrine.

The History of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine, was built in 711 by the Hata clan (of Korean origin) and relocated to its current location in 817. It is dedicated to the goddess (kami) Inari, related to rice, and therefore more widely to prosperity and wealth. Inari is the patron saint of traders: this is why the majority of torii are paid by businessmen, traders and companies. Their names are engraved in Japanese on the uprights of the red torii.

Fushimi Inari Taisha is well known because it is quite rare that the torii are together and aligned in one place. A torii is a gate, marks the entrance to a Shinto shrine, and symbolically separates the physical world from the spiritual world of the kami.

The shrine, which is very important in Japan, was placed under imperial patronage during the Heian period. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was designated as a national treasure, today a significant cultural property. It is the largest shrine dedicated to Inari in the whole country.

Visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha

The shrine extends over a large area on the side of a small mountain Inari (220 meters). From the foot of the mountain, it is possible to reach the summit by various paths. This short hike lasts about 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes, following some steep slopes and many stairs. This walk is a unique experience in the middle of a sometimes almost exotic forest. Along the way, you will come across numerous shrines scattered here and there, as well as large bamboo forests. From the top, the view of the city is exceptional and especially recommended at sunset.

Take the time to stroll, shop around the entrance, hesitating between two lanes when the path splits two rows of torii are available to you, you can turn around when you like if you do not wish to walk to the summit. Stone statuettes of Kitsune - mythical foxes- decorate the shrine here and there, throughout your walk. They lend a heightened sense of spirituality to this place. The Inari, the deity of rice growth, business, and trade, reigns in this place via his earthly messenger, the cunning animal who stares at you with his prying eyes, holds the key to the rice granary in his mouth.


Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is a popular shrine visited by many tourists from both Japan and abroad. It is dedicated to Inari, one of the Japanese kami, or deities. Inari is the god of rice and a patron of business. There are roughly 30,000 shrines in Japan dedicated to Inari, but Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is the head shrine (the principal shrine dedicated to a particular kami).

Worshiping at Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is said to bring prosperity in business and bountiful harvests. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is most famous for the Senbon Torii, or thousand gates. This beautiful tunnel of vermilion torii gates has an air of mystery and provides an impressive sight as you pass through. There are over 10,000 of these torii gates arranged in rows on the shrine grounds. An audio guide that can be used with your smartphone or mobile phone is also provided to help overseas visitors enjoy the experience more. The guide supports English, Chinese, and Korea and you can listen to the commentary about different areas of the shrine by scanning the QR codes around the grounds.

The nearest station to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is Inari station, which is just a 5-minute train ride from Kyoto Station. The entrance to the shrine is right outside the station, making it super convenient to get to. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the spots you absolutely must visit when sightseeing around in Kyoto.


Walking Tour

Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular and beautiful shrines. Thousands of people visit it every day to see the 1,000 magnificent torii gates. But most do not get the full story behind the pretty pictures they take. Join me as we delve into the history behind the Shinto rituals and beliefs linked to this amazing shrine. We’ll take an easy stroll among the tranquil forest scenery. The tour starts from the steps at the first gate and ends at a lovely pond deep in the shrine’s complex. You'll be one of a few who will discover the real power of this shrine that has been influencing people's lives over 1,300 years.

• The unique fox statues dotted across the shrine
• An unmatched vista of the thousand bright red torii gates
• The Heavy-Light Stone where you can test a wish

You’ll find some surprising links too, between:

• The architecture of the shrine’s Main Hall and the life lessons it provides
• The roof and the highest aesthetic value in Japanese culture
• A rice cake bird and Japanese villagers in an ancient story

Let’s take a stroll and found out why this ancient shrine has lessons that can still be learned today.


Red Torii Gates

The most instagrammed image is of a winding tunnel of seemingly endless red torii gates. The Senbon Torii (a thousand torii) actually consists of over ten thousand vermilion-lacquered toriis, winding through the mountainous forest. This impressive and unique scene has seen Fushimi Inari Taisha become most popular sightseeing spot for foreign tourists in recent years.

The entire Mount Inari is sacred land with various shrines and sacred spots surrounding Senbon Torii. The overall length of the gateway path is about 4 kilometers so the return trip can be completed in a few hours. As a guide, many visitors don hiking gear for the journey, so leave the thongs at home if you plan to do the full climb.

You need to pass through the main shrine to find the entrance to the Senbon Torii. For the first ten minutes of the path, there will be a lot of photo traffic. Fear not, it does thin out.

Not far along the path, you’ll find a teahouse for a short break.

From the top of mountain, you can enjoy the view of Kyoto city. This is particularly beautiful at sunset time. It takes about 30 – 45 minutes to reach this point, so be sure to time your walk with the day’s forecasted sunset.

Inari Mountain is a fantastic place to take a therapeutic walk in the woods, where you can feel mystical energy from offering your prayers in the sacred shrines. Ideally, after your pilgrimage you will feel a residual spiritual power which can bring you good fortune.


Photos of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha’s Main Torii and Romon.

This amazing mountain shrine complex is characterised by the thousands of vermillion coloured gates that line the 4.2km main path.

Closely packed together, some of the torii are brand new, some are falling apart.

The main suggested path is about a 2 hour walk, starting at the bottom of the mountain at the main shrine complex. We spent over 3 hours, taking our time exploring the mountain and also the shrine complex at the main entrance.

One of the entrances to the mountain path.

Smaller sub-shrines are found along the mountain path – making for a good rest stop on your hike up the mountain.

HDR photo of a sub-shrine in the mountain.

Fushimi Inari’s name comes from: Fushimi-ku, the name of the area where the shrine is located and Inari, a Japanese deity. The Inari deity is most well know as the god of agriculture and business. As such, Fushimi Inari Shrine is frequented by businesses and businessmen praying for success. Over the new year period, millions of Japanese come to pray for happiness.

Statues of foxes are found all over the shrine. You’ll first come across them in pairs at the main gates of the shrine at the bottom of the mountain. One of the pair is holding a rice granary key in its mouth, and together the foxes stand guard and protect the shrine from evil and bad luck. Foxes have always been closely associated with the Inari god.

The Inari god and his foxes have a fascinating history, read more about the Shinto God of rice and his foxes at the Japanese Buddhist Statuary site.

The magical shape shifting fox “kitsune”.

The torii are sponsored by companies or business people. The inscriptions on the gates themselves show the business name (on the left) and the date their sponsorship started (on the right). The largest gates cost 1.3million yen – about $15,000.

The thousands of torii are paid for by business, praying for success (HDR Photo)

Individuals who wish to pray for happiness and success – but don’t have thousands of dollars to pay for a large gate to be installed on the mountain path – can buy a smaller ornamental sized gate, and have their name painted on it. They are then placed in the smaller sub-shrines and graves on the mountain.

The ritual of praying for happiness and success includes leaving your own mini-torii at the mountain shrines.

Mini-torii offerings at one of the sub-shrines on Mount Fushimi.

Looking through the torii…

As well as the smaller shrines of Fushimi Inari, a handy rest point is found on your journey up the mountain. A lookout and rest area are located here, giving you a great view of Kyoto city.

Kyoto city from a lookout on Mount Inari.

One thing you’ll notice about the torii is that some are very old and in poor condition. We happened upon this old man who was either performing some maintenance on one of the gates, or perhaps working on the installation of a new sponsored gate.

Fushimi Inari Shrine’s torii maintenance.

Maintenance must be a never ending job…

The bigger the gate, the bigger the payment = more success in business and happiness.

Located at the bottom of the mountain is the main shrine, across from Inari station. The photo below shows the lower shrine complex when coming down from the mountain.

Many large shrines and souvenir stores can be found in the main complex.

The main shrine complex contains the large main tower gate, main shrine, halls and souvenir shops.

The main hall – behind it is the go-honden (main shrine).

The main tower gate (romon). HDR Photo

One of the best free things to do in Kyoto

The ancient, UNESCO World Heritage site of Fushimi Inari Taisha is a “must-do” for anyone visiting Kyoto.

Just be sure to wear some good walking shoes – there are plenty of places to buy food and drink along the track, so don’t worry about packing supplies for a hike. Signs say the track length is 4.2km (2.6miles) which reaches the top of the mountain where a shrine is located, but if you wanted to explore all the tracks, there could be about 10km of track to explore. If you’re feeling unfit, there are much shorter routes along the path – for example, you can get to the lookout in 30 minutes and then take an alternative route back down the mountain to the main complex.

How to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine


The easiest way to get to Fushimi Inari is by train – a bit unusual as most sites in Kyoto are accessed by bus.

From JR Kyoto train station, find the JR Nara Line Local service to Inari station. The ticket is 140 yen and it’s only a 5 minute train ride. You’ll go through only one station (Tofukuji) before arriving at Inari station.

The entrance to the shrine is literally directly across the road (to the east) from Inari station, you’ll see the familiar red torii guarded by a fox statue.

Entry is free and the shrine is always open, you can even visit at nigh-time and experience the eerily-lantern-lit paths of the mountain!

Where to stay

I’m not really the conventional traveller and don’t like to stay at hotels in Japan. But I’m a big fan of capsule hotels… You should try Kyoto’s modern designer capsule hotel 9hours near the Gion district, which is an amazing experience in itself!

Read about more things to do in Kyoto

Your man in Japan, online since 2009. I used to live in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, and travel to Japan at least once a year for three weeks.


About Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari is a complex of Shinto shrines, located on a mountain in Kyoto. It is the head shrine to over 32,000 Inari shrines across Japan, making it one of the most important religious centers in the country.

Most tourists are drawn to Fushimi Inari by the long columns of torii gates (there are at least 10,000 on the mountain) or the foxes that they see in anime films, but miss out on what locals regard as Fushimi Inari’s treasures — its rock altars and sacred waterfalls.

Hear the stories of shrine caretakers, shamans, and devotees by going way off the beaten track on this online experience.


The First Lady’s Travel Journal: Experiencing Kyoto’s Beauty and History

Tucked into a valley and surrounded by mountains on three sides, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years. Because of its majestic mountain scenery, some people called the Japanese nobility who lived there &ldquocloud dwellers.&rdquo

First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a centennial tree planting ceremony during the National Cherry Blossom Festival at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., March 27, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Today, Kyoto is full of history and culture and color &mdash the pink plum blossoms here are stunning&hellip and in a few weeks, the cherry blossoms will bloom, just like they do in Washington, D.C. In fact, the trees that surround the tidal basin and the National Mall in Washington were a gift from Japan in 1912 &mdash so our countries have been linked by these beautiful trees for more than a century.

During our visit to Kyoto, we stopped at two historic sites &mdash the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Individually, these shrines are majestic feats of design and engineering. Together, they represent the vital role that religions like Shinto and Buddhism have played throughout Japan&rsquos history.

Our first stop was the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple which was founded more than 1,200 years ago. Buddhism is focused on helping its followers reach enlightenment through meditation and teachings on morality and wisdom &mdash and for centuries, Buddhism and Shinto have coexisted alongside each other in Japan. Hundreds of years ago, as Buddhism spread across Asia and into Japan, magnificent temples were built in cities and mountainsides all over the country &mdash and Kiyomizu is one of the greatest.

This temple&rsquos name means &ldquoclear water,&rdquo a reference to the water that flows from the nearby hills. It is known for its large veranda which juts out from the mountain&rsquos face and is held in balance by huge wooden beams. There is a famous Japanese saying that to take a great risk or go on a dangerous adventure is like &ldquotaking a leap from the veranda of Kiyomizu.&rdquo I definitely saw what they were talking about &mdash it&rsquos almost a 30 foot drop!

During our visit, we saw a waterfall called &ldquoOtowa&rdquo which is said to bring good luck and grant wishes to visitors who drink from it. We were also treated to a noh performance. Noh is a traditional form of Japanese theater involving music and dance and using all kinds of costumes, props, and masks. Finally, I got to watch &mdash and participate in &mdash a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in which tea is prepared and served through an elaborate series of graceful movements. It was magnificent.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Jack Schlossberg and Eigen Onishi, senior monk, watch local Noah dancers perform at Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Jack Schlossberg visit Buddha’s Footprints Stone in Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Jack Schlossberg and Eigen Onishi, senior monk, participate in the ritual of cleaning hands and drinking from Otowa Waterfall at Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Jack Schlossberg participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, while visiting Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Our next stop of the day was a Shinto shrine called the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Shinto is a religious tradition that began in about 500 BC and is rooted in rituals designed to bring people closer to the spirits of nature, or &ldquoKami.&rdquo Every year, millions of people visit the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine, which is the headquarters for all of Japan&rsquos 40,000 Inari Shinto shrines.

This shrine was built roughly 1,300 years ago as a tribute to Inari, the Shinto Kami of rice. And for miles all around the shrine, a long, winding path of thousands of orange shrine gates called &ldquotorii&rdquo line the mountain. I hiked up through these gates during my visit. Parts of the &ldquotorii tunnel&rdquo are also lined with sculptures of foxes. The fox (&ldquokitsune&rdquo in Japanese) often serves as Inari&rsquos messenger, and that&rsquos reflected here at the shrine to Inari where the kitsune is a vital presence throughout the grounds.

One tradition at Shinto shrines, especially shrines to Inari, is to write down a wish. Here at this shrine, wishes are written on one side of a wooden fox ornament, and on the other side, you can draw the fox&rsquos face. I filled out both sides of my fox.

During our visit, we were also treated to a lively taiko drumming performance by students who are part of the taiko club at their high school. This style of drumming is done in a group and involves large drums and lots of energetic movement by the drummers. I got to try some drumming myself &mdash and I loved it!

First Lady Michelle Obama is greeted by Taiko drummers during a tour of Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama joins Taiko drummers in performing a song during a tour of Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Taiko drummers during a tour of Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

The crowd waves as First Lady Michelle Obama departs the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan on March 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

I feel so lucky to have experienced the beauty and history of two of the tens of thousands of Shinto and Buddhist shrines throughout Japan.


Review of Fushimi Inari Shrine- Thoughts on Our Visit

I had high expectations about our visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine. So many other bloggers had written posts saying this was their favourite place in Kyoto, if not Japan. My guidebook even called it mesmerizing.

With all that praise, Fushimi Inari Shrine quickly became one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting in Kyoto.

So, why then was I a little frustrated during our visit? The masses of people stopping to take selfies in the middle of the path had something to do with it. But beyond that, I felt like something was missing.

Here I was in this unique, culturally important place and I wasn’t feeling anything. I wanted to feel something. Just what exactly, I’m not sure, but something more…special.

Instead, I just felt like we were going through the motions. On and on we walked up this path for no real reason, but to just walk. There was no scenic view until we got to the halfway point. The torii, while interesting at first, quickly started to seem ordinary, even though this place is anything but ordinary.

As for the inscriptions on the gates, I had just assumed they were some sort of spiritual message to Inari. Finding out they were really the names of businesses and donors left me a little disappointed.

I don’t know why I was disappointed- it wasn’t like I could read the inscriptions anyways. I guess it’s because if I could have read them, I would have felt like I was walking through a giant advertisement tunnel! But hey, if I paid 40,000 yen for a gate, I’d want my name on it too!

Fushimi Inari Shrine was beautiful and the path of torii gates was truly unique- definitely a sight worth seeing on a trip to Japan! Yet, overall I’d say our visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine was just okay.

Even though the sheer number of gates was impressive, I felt a little let down by the actual experience of walking through them. I blame my high expectations and preconceived notions (I thought it would feel more spiritual, be more peaceful). The time of year we visited also probably had something to do with it (cherry blossom season in Kyoto= a lot of tourists!)

The shrine may not have made as big of an impression as I was hoping for, but I don’t regret visiting at all. There were just other places I connected more with during our three days in Kyoto.


Fushimi Inari Taisha: Kyoto’s Most Visited Shrine by Foreign Visitors!

Do you know which shrine in Japan is visited most by foreigners?? Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto was chosen as the best tourist destinations by foreign visitors in 2014,2015 and 2016 according to TripAdvisor! It is famous for the countless red torii gates and fox statues. This unique and mysterious shrine has been fascinating many tourists to Japan in the last decade. This must be added to your bucket list for sure!!

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of Inari located in Kyoto prefecture. The shrine is at the base of a mountain 233 m above sea level and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span 4 kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.

The shrine is famous for &ldquoSenbon Torii&rdquo which is formed with over 5,000 red torii gates looks like a tunnel. The torii gates made an appearance on the famous movie: Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005, and became hugely known worldwide. It&rsquos now Japan&rsquos one of most popular tourist attractions and famous photo spots, attracting photographers and Instagrammers from all over the world.

Inari was seen as the patron of business and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii gate is donated by a Japanese business. Foxes are regarded as the messengers which are often found in every Inari shrines.

Fushimi Inari Taisha might be the busiest tourist site in Kyoto, and it seems almost impossible to avoid a big crowds while visiting there today. However, there is a hidden path in the shrine site that not many people know. This guided tour allows you to explore the shrine via the secret route and the different side that most of tourists see at the main entrance of the shrine. Click the link below for more details about the tour!

Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku,Kyoto

1 min walk from JR Nara Line &ldquoInari station&rdquo

5 mins walk from Keihan Main Line &ldquoFushimi Inari station&rdquo