Among the thousands of shrines in Japan, Fushimi Inari ( 伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is one of the most well-known and beautiful of them all. Located in southern Kyoto, this shrine covers an entire mountain and is famous for its thousands of torii gates wrapping around the mountain.
Fushimi is very special because it's the only shrine in Japan straddled by networks of trails covered with torii gates behind the main temple complex. It's popular not only as a worshiping center but as a picturesque hiking trail.
The main deity of this shrine is the Inari Okami ( 稲荷大神), typically represented as a Japanese white fox. The fox deity was the god of rice and prosperity and is considered one of the principal kami (god) of Shintoism. However, while the kitsune (fox) is portrayed as the Inari, historically the Inari was depicted as a young female goddess carrying rice in both Shintoism and Buddhism.
As mentioned in my previous post, you can get wooden Ema prayer blocks to write down your wishes at the shrine. While you can get the traditional shaped Ema blocks, at Fushimi you can get special Emas that look like foxes or a mini-torii gates.
So why all the torii gates? Since Fushimi's deity is thought to bring prosperity, businesses started to provide offerings to the shrine in the form of torii gates. Every torii gate is engraved with the date of offering and name of the business. The cost for a torii gate starts at around US$4000 for a very small sized gate and can reach upwards of hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.
As you walk along the Fushimi's many trails, you'll notice that there are dozens of mini-shrines spread all around the mountain. Some of the structures on the mountain date back to 711 AD with the main shrine being built in 1499. Fushimi also became an imperial patronage site around the mid 900's and its popularity continued to grow ever since.
The hike around the mountain takes around 3 hours and there are numerous trails that you can take. At certain times of the year, you can even hike the trails at night which is absolutely amazing. The mystical ambiance and view is simply breath-taking if you are lucky enough to be able to visit the shrine on these special occasions, though slightly eerie when the lanterns light up.
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Nagano is not often spoken of as a primary tourist destination in Japan. But a couple of notable claims-to-fame make Nagano a very interesting place to visit indeed.