The hike to the summit of 233m Mt. Inari-san, and the pilgrimage circle around the shrines near the top is one of Kyoto’s most interesting short walks. It’s also the best way to see all of the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine.
Time: about 3 hours
Distance: about 5km
Start point: Fushimi-Inari Station on the Keihan Line or Inari Station on the JR Nara Line
Finish point: Fushimi-Inari Station on the Keihan Line or Inari Station on the JR Nara Line
If you’re looking for an easy hike in the hills around Kyoto and don’t want to spend too much energy or time getting there, this Fushimi-Inari pilgrimage hike is a great choice. It starts at Keihan Fushimi-Inari Station or JR Inari Station, both a few minutes south of central Kyoto by train. The hike involves a bit of stair climbing, but it’s not too strenuous if you take it slow. For much of the walk, you’ll be passing through hypnotic arcades of vermillion torii (Shinto shrine gates). And you’ll pass various shrines and sub-shrines along the route. And, at one point, you’ll be treated to an incredible view across all of southern Kyoto.
One of the most famous sights in Kyoto
Just be warned: Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is one of the most famous sights in Kyoto. It’s especially popular with large groups of mainland Chinese tourists. This means that the area around the main hall and the lower trails can be very crowded. If you’re averse to crowds, go early on a weekday morning. But, whenever you go, rest assured that you’ll leave most of the groups behind as you ascend the mountain.
First, before describing the hike, here’s some information on the torii (Shinto shrine gates) that you’ll be seeing so much of on the mountain.On the front of the torii, you will see the name of the person or company who donated the torii (given using the Japanese imperial year) on the left side. On the right side, you will see the date that it was donated. For example, this one was donated by Kansai Television (関西テレビ放送 ) in March of 2012 (平成二十四年三月).
On the reverse side of the torii, you will see two kanji: 奉納. These mean “donated” or “offered” and are pronounced “hounou.” They’re read right to the left. Oh, and one more thing: Fushimi-Inari-Taisha enshrines the god Inari, the god of the rice harvest, commerce, and business. The messenger of the god Inari is the fox. You will see fox images all over the shrine. They sometimes have a key in their mouth, representing the key to the rice storehouse in ancient times.
1,000 origami cranes
This shrine is where people come to pray for academic success. Students hoping to pass an entrance exam sometimes fold 1,000 origami cranes. A belief in Japan is that your wish will be granted if you fold 1,000 origami cranes. Cynical people might wonder if the time might not be better spent actually studying. Whatever the case, the cranes are beautiful.
Behind and to the right of the main hall of the inner shrine, you will see two stone lanterns holding round rocks. These rocks are the Omokaru Ishi. There is often a line in front of each rock. These rocks are an unusual way of making a wish. People make a wish and then try to lift one of the rocks. If the rock is lighter than you expect, your wish will come true.