on… Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社

Posted: 19/09/2014 in Architecture, Asia, Religion, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

Inari Entrance

If you are in Kyoto for more than a couple of days, you should find some time to get to Fushimi Inari-taisha. There is a temple complex near the station, but as you wind your way up one of the mountain park paths you can see an amazing Shinto Shrine – the head shrine of Inari. The shrine, or shrines, which span about 4 kilometers, are an eye catching introduction to Shintoism. I found the whole area quite confusing and I have been trying to make sense of it ever since. What struck me the most was how current and relevant to contemporary life the whole place seems to be. This is possibly due to the importance of the Inari.

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The Kami

Inari is the Japanese kami (spirit) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and business in general. This spirit seems to relate to a general sense of prosperity in various fields. In the past I imagine the rice harvest was the most important reason to visit the shrine, but these days many modern businesses also place great importance on this magical fox spirit. Inari may have been worshipped since the founding of this shrine at the mountain of the same name. Some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century, but most agree that it began in the early eighth century. It’s such an important kami that more than one-third of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari.

Inari Main Temple

I was confused because I am used to the single shrine structures of Catholicism. In some cases I have also found the Stations of the Cross ascending sanctuary hills or several different chapels devoted to different saints in a cathedral. The Inari area contains numerous structures from the main shrine structure, main gate, tower gate –  located at the foot of the mountain, through to the more spiritual altars towards the top. I use the word spiritual because there are fewer people at the top and there is a peaceful lake. As people often remind me ‘life is a journey; not a destination’. This statement is never truer than at Inari shrine. The most impressive aspect of the visit is the fact that the top of the mountain is only reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii. The torii are the brightly painted arches which are planted next to each other like a bamboo forest. The reason there are so many here relates to the function of the kami – business. This means that those who have been successful in the business world often attribute their success to the shrine, they subsequently donate the torii archways to the shrine.

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The walk to the top is a beautiful experience once the crowds thin out. The sunlight often glimmers through the numerous gaps of the arches and illumintes the shady pathway. The forested mountain on either side of the pathway provides peaceful noises to contemplate the new harvest or business venture. The more I read about it the more it seemed like some kind of inpenetrable animistic place, almost like the native American totems you might find on the pacific coast. However, as is always the case, the longer you contemplate something the more familiar it becomes. If a Catholic wanted to pray for a successful harvest or business venture, or in fact any number of different concerns, thay could turn to the wide array of saints on offer.

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After living in Korea for a few years I have never seen anything quite like the Inari shrine, although beneath the Buddhism of Korean mountain temples, there always seems to be some kind of mountain god. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the religious or animistic rituals of the Far East but it will be great fun trying.

Inari Lake

Shrine Shops

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To get to this shrine I recommend taking the train from Kyoto station. There are two stations at Fushimi: JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station) and there is also Fushimi Inari Station on  the Keihan main line.

As you can see from the map, Inari station is very close to the entrance of the main temple.

Inari Map

I would plan this trip carefully because there are a bewildering number of passes and lines. 

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