We spent yesterday morning climbing the side of a mountain in 28C heat – all to take in the beauty of the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. This is a Shinto shrine featuring hundreds of beautiful Tori gates, all built into a roughly circular route.
Everything we’d read about the site advised us to get there early and so we set off just after breakfast, boosted by some mild jet lag, to walk there from our hotel. We really should have taken the metro, though, as the walk in direct sunlight was a little tiring. It also delayed us a little more than expected and meant we arrived just as several tour groups and school buses were arriving.
The very start of our walk was therefore hampered by crowds and this was made worse by every second person stopping to take selfies, regardless of how many people were queuing behind them.
The first section of Tori gates was therefore crowded and a little difficult to navigate – lots of shuffling forwards. Quite claustrophobic, actually. But after about twenty minutes, the crowds gave way to more space. This was also about the time the route became more…vertical!
Honestly, I don’t think either of us were prepared for the walk! Google and other online reviews mentioned the walk, but my experience is that these are often written by people who’s idea of a walk is from their car to Starbucks and back again. Not so, this time. It was quite the workout!
Also, as it snaked through the mountainside, you couldn’t see too far ahead. This meant we thought we’d reached the summit a few times, only to be slightly disappointed by yet another flight of steps ahead and more, beautifully orange Tori gates stretching up into the sunlight.
It was hard work, but it was also a beautiful experience. As the crowds of shouting Chinese tourists gave way to groups of people in twos and threes, so the noise evaporated until we could only hear our own breathing and the incredible sounds of insects in the trees. A lot like dentists’ drills – a high-pitched grinding noise. The insects, that is – though my breathing wasn’t much better!
As we continued up the mountain, the format of the various shrines remained the same, with interesting carvings and statuettes, but also some warnings about wild boars (I did not expect that!) and the impressively large spiders webs, with impressively large spiders attached. All I could think of was Indiana Jones!
The sunlight shining on the gates and the carvings was really beautiful. The walk took a lot longer than it needed to, as I kept stopping to take in the views, along with countless photos. But what’s the point of somewhere so beautiful, if you’re not going to enjoy what you see?
Getting to the summit was a relief and we took in the impressive views while gathering our breath. I have to say I was pretty wrecked by the walk, given the combination of jet lag and remnants of man-flu. But in hindsight, it was a great idea – the exercise helped me sleep last night and I woke up this morning completely flu-free!
The walk back down was a different kind of difficult, pulling on all kinds of different muscles! The path is quite uneven in parts, so all my concentration as focused on not falling and making a show of myself.
When we reached the ground again, we were both struck by how much busier it was and that an hour or two can make all the difference in terms of tourist numbers. So yes, get there as early as possible if you want to avoid large crowds.
We wandered back into the side streets and recovered over a cold matcha drink, flicking through our photos, while enjoying the air conditioning.
I’d definitely recommend the shrine as somewhere to visit in Kyoto. None of my photos can do it justice – it’s really beautiful and just thinking about its construction makes the mind boggle. But, get there early, don’t forget the insect repellant and wear your most comfortable shoes!