On a wonderful adventure to Kyoto for the holiday season, my friends and I took a trip to Fushimi Inari Shrine, most iconic for the series of bright Torii, or gates, fixated continuously along the path leading up to the top of the mountain.
According to Wikipedia, “Inari is known for being the patron of business a place where merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii that line the way to the shrine is donated by a Japanese business. Additionally, Inari is the god of rice.”
First and foremost, I did not expect the hike to be as rigorous as it was. It hadn’t quite dawned on me that I would be climbing up a mountain that is 233 meters above sea level. At least I wore sneakers.
Our group included myself, Dynasty our guide, Elysa our photographer, and Isabella - a friend from my home university. Side note – she had just completed her semester abroad in China and had spent a great deal of it hiking all over the place, so she was probably the most physically fit out of all in regards to this hiking challenge.
When we first arrived, we were all caught a little off-guard by the amount of people present. Either sides of the walkway leading up to the side entrance of the shrine were lined with food and souvenir vendors. Dynasty, having been here before, suggested that we all eat something beforehand. She could not have been more right. Our journey up the mountain required more energy than we originally thought.
As always, we performed our ceremonial cleansing before heading up. Going through the series of smaller toriis wasn’t too bad. It was a slow ascension at first, but then quickly became steep and rigorous. I was amazed at the women who climbed with infants in their hands and tall, thin heels strapped to their feet. Incredible.
By the time I reached a clearing, I was able to look out over Kyoto and see the puffy clouds and sunshine that peaked though it. It was a clear day, perfect for climbing up a mountain as notorious as this one. Unfortunately, I was surprised to know that I had only made it 1/3 of the way up. “No way,” I thought. All that work and I still had a ways to go. And so, off I continued.
Once you get up 1/3 of the way though, the path splits into three different directions. “This mountain is kind-of a find-your-own-adventure mountain,” Dynasty had informed us. Only now did I realize what she meant. I took the path towards the right. By now, all four of us had broken off and went at our own pace. On my way up, there were several smaller shrines that looked like they had been frequented by other hikers. Briefly, I wondered how many people visited Fushimi Inari – probably hundreds on average, I thought.
Once I got to the top, I was overwhelmed. Not because there was a breathless view or some grand shrine, but because I had actually made it to the top. There was a small shrine enclosed with, what I believe to have been, funeral pillars of some sort. I didn’t inquire. I was more concerned with praying and thanking God for having allowed me to come this far. To be honest, it was a very spiritual moment, which is the great thing about shrines and temples overall, I believe.
My way back down – I decided to take “the road less traveled by.” In other words, I went off the trail and into the woods. That was the best part of my adventure! The hike down had me shrouded by woods and greenery. I was super cautious going down the steep rocks that looked like they were part of the original path. I also met a few local travelers along the way – Elderly folk who were trekking it up with walking sticks and backpacks – they were the sweetest! The path took a lot longer than going up, and I almost got lost at some point. However, I wound up walking through stalks of bamboo that reminded me of Arashiyama’s bamboo forest, past river streams and small cottage rest stops and then all the way back to the original hiking trail where the toriis stood. The way down may have taken me 45-minutes to an hour or so.
Nevertheless, it was worth it. It was invigorating and breathtaking, and even meditative. Especially when you hike your way down alone – it can be quite peaceful.