Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kyoto See: Fushimi Inari Shrine - An Unexpected 4 Kilometre Trek

Kyoto is like one gigantic outdoor museum with reportedly about 20% of Japan's national treasures and 14% of Important Cultural Properties in the city itself. As the Japanese capital from 794AD to 1868, it has a mind-boggling 2000+ shrines and temples and numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not surprisingly, it was an absolute PAIN for me to plan what we were going to see and do during our 4 pathetic days in Kyoto. I spent a lot of time poring over the Internet to read up on the so-called "Top Sights" - and there were still TOO MANY to choose from and I had to decide which places we had to forego. Again, I repeat, an absolute pain. (Of course, my friend said this gives me an excuse to revisit Kyoto again in the future - but STILL!!)

The main shrine building - and first warning signs of an uphill climb

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is usually not among the TOP TIER sights (like Ginkakuji aka Golden Pavilion or Njo Castle or Kiyomizudera) recommended by travel guide books or travel sites but for me it ranks as one of the "Must Visit" places. Situated at the southern part of Kyoto city, Fushimi Inari (founded in AD711) is one of the oldest and most revered Shinto shrines in the country. Besides being the headquarters of over 40,000 (!!!) Inari-dedicated shinto shrines in Japan, Fushimi Inari is famous for its 10,000 orange Torii gates built across the shrine's enormous compound stretching all the way up the Inari mountain. These shrines are actually built from donations by individuals and corporations thanking the Inari god for its blessings over the year and the pillars of the gates are all carefully inscribed with the name of the donor, year, nature of blessing, etc.

At the start of the Torii gates, and an exhausting 4 km walk - on an incline!!

I realise I did not have a "human-less" pic of the "interior" of the gates so this is taken from WikiTravel.

Just how far does 10,000 Torii go? Samurai T and I went in blind and ended up treking over 4 kilometres via an uphill slope in a space of 2 hours. The only place I did not research in detail, thinking it was JUST LIKE ANY OTHER SHRINE and we paid a heavy price with aching legs and perspiration (in AUTUMN!!). And I finally understood why the site is not as highly recommended by travel guides - if you have only a limited time in Kyoto, you cannot really afford to spend more than 2 hours in one place. The shrine is also slightly out of the way and not really close to other sights except Tokufuji (which is considered "near" but is actually a 30 - 45 minute WALK away). The upside of being out of the way, and not a so-called "Top Kyoto Sight"? Significantly less tourists!!

The fastest way to reach the shrine is to take a train from Kyoto Station via the JR Nara Line (one way: 140 yen) to the Fushimi Inari Station, from which it is apparently only a 3 minute walk to the shrine. However, we had already purchased full day bus passes (a more common way of travelling around) and being the cheapskates we are, we took a much longer bus ride from the Kyoto Station bus terminal and ended up walking about 15 minutes from the bus stop to the shrine (yes, we really, REALLY walked a lot on this trip).

Besides the torii gates, the main temple grounds are also peppered with many fox statues. Inari, being a god of rice, was believed to have foxes as his messengers. In the beginning I kept calling it a "fox shrine" because of the numerous fox statues, but Samurai T corrected me. On the day of our visit the shrine was relatively peaceful and quiet except for a group of young female devotees in traditional wear. It was nice to observe local religious rites taking place without jostling for space with a zillion other tourists.

One of the many fox statues standing guard

Teenage girls in kimono praying for ??

In all fairness, the trek along the torii trail was like a lovely nature walk, with lots of greenery and THANK GOD a cool weather. While on an incline, it was not very steep and we were able to enjoy our trek until the last quarter when we had to stagger up a steep section. Only until we ascended to the top and saw Kyoto City laid out in all its glory did we finally realise how far and how high we had climbed. Of course by now, we had both taken off our coats and were panting like mad. The funny thing was, it was not until we descended back down and were on our way out that we saw a huge board with a map of the trail stating that the whole course was 4 kilometres. Like - duh!!

Maybe it was a good thing we did not realise the length of the trail because we might have decided to walk halfway and not be rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. Tired as I was, I chalked it up to a good weight loss regime, because I definitely lost A LOT of calories!! (And then put them ALL back on eating those delicious Japanese food. Sigh.)

Smaller shrines at the halfway point of the trek

A beautiful neko to distract us for awhile. There were many cats on the grounds.

Our reward - a Kyoto City view from the top

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