The Fushimi Inari Shrine (or Fushimi Inari Taisha) is one of Japan’s finest historical treasures. It is a stunning place of worship belonging to the Shinto religion, Japan’s indigenous religion, and is known for it’s thousands of orange and black gates, or Torii, that literally cover the aptly named, Mount Inari.
What is a Shinto Shrine?
A Shinto shrine is the place of worship for members of the Shinto religion. Shinto shrines consists of a number of different features (including the shrine itself), but the most recognizable feature is the presence of one or more Torii gates; enormous archways made of wood that are typically painted black and orange (or vermillion red). These generally mark the entrance to a shrine.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto
Although large Torii gates are widespread around Japan, few shrines are more famous than the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and it’s for one big reason; there are literally thousands of them lining the entrance to the shrine, creating an intricate maze of orange and black across the mountain.
In fact, there are estimated to be around 32,000 bright orange and black gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Why are there so many Torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine?
In the case of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, local benefactors and businesses are able to donate by purchasing Toriis. The bigger the Torii, the more expensive it is.
At the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Torii’s range from around 400,000 JPY for a small wooden Torii, to 1.3m JPY for the extra large, 20ft ones. In USD that’s a range of roughly $4,000USD to $12,000USD!
While virtually all photos you’ll see of the Torii show a tunnel of plain orange and black gates, if you turn around and look at the back of the gates, you’ll see that each gate is actually etched with the name of it’s benefactor. This is a way for locals and local businesses to show their support for the shrine and purchase a piece of this ancient tradition.
Visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine
Louise and I were keen to visit the shrine on our visit to Kyoto, and had heard that it gets incredibly busy during the day. This is an understatement.
We were staying in the Dontonburi District in Osaka, which is around 1 hour 20 minutes from the Fushimi Inari Shrine by train, so it was going to be an early start.
After navigating several complicated train stops, we eventually ended up on a tiny train that rolled into Fushimi-Inari station at around 9am.
Already, the crowds were starting to build, and it was immediately obvious that using a map wouldn’t be necessary. The crowds all seemed to know where they were going and we simply turned and walked in the same direction; uphill.
Plenty of gift shops and restaurants
As you walk towards the shrine, you’ll see there are dozens of gift shops, restaurants and incredible smelling food stalls. There’s no end of amazing things to eat and try, but we resolved to ignore these until our return journey later. Eventually we ended up having a delicious donburi and matcha ice soft serve.
Nearing the shrine itself, you’ll notice that the road starts to narrow and the food stalls start to close in on you. The crowds are funnelled together and your pace will inevitably slow to a shuffle. Fortunately when we first arrived, the crowds were relatively thin, but we came back later in the day and it was far, far slower and much busier.
1000 Origami Cranes
Once you reach the entrance to the shrine, you’ll notice plenty of beautiful, historic buildings. If you move closer to the buildings, you may notice hundreds of colourful strings hanging from them. On closer inspection, you’ll find that these are strings tied to literally a thousand paper cranes.
1000 origami paper cranes is an ancient Shinto tradition related to the old belief that cranes lived to a thousand years, and that the crane will grant you health and long life if you make 1000 origami cranes.
In Japanese this is called senbazuru 「千羽. These are made at home and often brought to shrines as offerings. Usually they’re made of different coloured paper, creating a beautiful effect when they’re all attached to the temples.
Statues of Foxes
You might also notice statues of foxes all over the place and wonder what they’re about. These are known as Komainu, and are believed to be guardians to the shrine. If you look in the gift shops, you’ll find plenty of small fox souvenirs that represent these Komainu.
Entering the Torii
Once you’ve reached the main entrance to the shrine, walk up the main steps and keep climbing higher. You’ll eventually see the entrance to the first gates on your right hand side.
The route is actually a one way route, and so you’ll have no option but to follow the crowds as you’re all smushed between the gates. The lower part of the mountain is easily the busiest because not everyone is keen to actually climb the entire mountain. Many just want to get photos at the bottom where the gates are densest.
Climbing to the summit
Actually climbing to the top of the mountain was relatively easy for us as the path gradually snaked its way upwards, but be under no illusion that the summit is at the top of a relatively big, steep climb.
Along the way, you’ll see various cafes and gift shops lining the route. You can stop in for a matcha ice cream or tea if you need a break but be warned that they’re a lot more expensive up here than anywhere else.
The home of matcha
Interestingly, Kyoto City is actually the home of matcha, so if you’re going to try it, Kyoto is the place! We tried some matcha soft serve when we got back down and yes, it’s unbelievably rich and tasty. Well worth buying.
But I digress.
How long does it take to summit the Fushimi Inari Shrine and is it worth it?
Mt. Inari is around 233m high, and is estimated to take around 2 hours (more if you’re wearing a kimono) to walk the full 4km trail.
The trail has approximately 12,000 steps!
We walked all the way to the top, and honestly, aside from completing the pilgrimage, there’s nothing particularly notable about the summit. It’s nice to say we’ve done it, but I don’t think going all the way to the top particularly enhanced our experience.
Important things to know about the Fushimi Inari Shrine
Avoiding the crowds
In general the entire mountain is swarming with people, but if you reach the summit you have the option of descending down the back route which is far less crowded.
It is, however far less direct and will shoot you out at a separate exit at the bottom if you take a wrong turn. You’ll have to be careful to keep following the correct signs if you want to make it back down to the main entrance again.
Facilities and Cafes at the Fushimi Inari Shrine
There are a number of facilities at the Fushimi Inari Taisha, including toilets both on the ascent and descent (not particularly nice toilets I might add), and in typical “exit through the gift shop” style, there’s an extortionately expensive cafe that serves traditional matcha just before you reach the exit.
Again, if you’re on a budget, save your money until you’re back in Fushimi-Inari or Osaka again.
Fushimi Inari Shrine Opening hours
The Fushimi Inari Taisha is actually open 24/7, so coming at sunrise or after dark is a great way to get photos (if that’s what you’re after). I can imagine it being a little creepy after dark though, and you won’t be able to rent a Kimono if that’s something you’re after (more on that below).
When should you visit the Inari Shrine?
As we mentioned, the shrine is open 24/7, so early or late is a good idea. We visited on a weekend, so there was a large local contingent there as well as just tourists. This made it extremely busy. I’d recommend visiting on a weekday if at all possible.
Getting to the Fushimi Inari Shrine
The easiest way to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, by far, is by rail. There’s a train station a few hundred metres from the shrine and, of course, Japanese trains are just about the most reliable thing in the world.
To get to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, you want to take the Keihan Main Line to Fushimi-Inari station.
We came from Osaka, so had to take the Midosuji line and transfer from Yodoyabashi station.
Train tickets from Dotonburi (Osaka) to Fushimi Inari cost approximately ¥590 (about $5.50USD)
Use Google Maps
Rather than me giving you specific directions from wherever you’re staying, I highly recommend getting a travel plan for your phone and also downloading offline Google maps for Kyoto and Osaka.
Using Google maps will give you specific train times, platforms and where you need to change at each stop. Unless you speak Japanese you’ll find it quite hard to travel without it.
Where should you stay when visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine?
To be honest, rail connections are so good in Japan that the Fushimi Inari shrine is easily accessible whether you stay in Kyoto or Osaka.
While Kyoto is considered the more culturally significant city of the two, our recommendation would be to actually stay in Osaka and make day trips out to Kyoto.
The food is absolutely unbelievable in Osaka, and our preference was to base ourselves near Dotonburi, where all the great food is, and then jump on the train whenever we needed to visit anything.
Either are great options, and there are no shortage of good hotels in either city. I wouldn’t recommend actually staying near the Fushimi Inari shrine given the option, but instead I’d recommend staying more centrally and making a day trip out there.
Renting a Kimono for the Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kimonos are the traditional Japanese formal wear, and you’ll notice that many visitors are dressed up in them to visit the shrine. It is possible to actually rent a kimono in the Fushimi Inari if you’d like to experience it for yourself.
It seemed like a rare opportunity to have a chance to wear a full kimono and do it respectfully in the appropriate context, so Louise and I decided we’d return later in the day, dress in Kimonos and climb the temple again.
It’s generally accepted that traditional Kimonos are starting to die out in Japan, so renting one is also a great way to support the local businesses.
Where to rent a Kimono in Fushimi Inari
We rented Kimonos from a small shop called Nagomi on the main approach to the temple from the Fushimi Inari train station.
The store is on the 3rd floor of a building that also houses the Neko Cat Cafe. You may not immediately see the sign for the kimono rentals, but you can hardly miss the cat cafe.
- Address: Hisayasu Bld.3F, 12-2, Fukakusa Ichinotsubocho, Fushimi-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 612-0012
- Tel: 075-643-9570
- Opening hours: 9am – 6pm daily
- Click here to fill out the reservations form
It was actually a really good thing that we returned again later, because I am enormous (6’3) and they needed some time to prepare our outfits for us.
Dressing in a kimono itself is a time honoured tradition, and it takes time to be dressed by one of the ladies in the shop (yes actually it took two people to dress me).
There are several layers to the outfit, special socks and shoes, and for ladies, pinning your hair up actually takes a great deal of time and dozens of hairpins.
If you’re visiting during a busy time of year, you can actually make same day reservations as well (which is recommended). When we visited, we walked in earlier and agreed to come back later for our fitting.
If you plan to do this, I recommend keeping your day free so that you can be flexible.
Visiting the Fushimi Inari Taisha in a Kimono
One thing you might not realize, is that the traditional socks and shoes in a kimono are very challenging to walk in. The socks are actually quite slippery and keeping the clogs on is quite a challenge.
Your movements are also severely restricted by the outfit as well. If you’ve ever seen a geisha shuffling along and wondered why it’s so slow, believe me, it’s partly because it’s literally the only way you can move.
This unfortunately made our return journey up the Inari Shrine a lot slower and more arduous. The crowds had also ballooned by the time we returned, and progress was reduced to a snails pace.
I honestly have a whole new respect for anyone wearing a Kimono, both for the patience it takes to dress in one and for how difficult it is to move around.
If you’re planning to rent a Kimono, I would highly recommend giving yourself an extra couple of hours for your visit compared to usual. Everything takes more time.
Also, if you’re a 6’3 white guy wearing a bright blue and gold kimono, expect to become a tourist attraction yourself.
How much does a Kimono rental cost at the Fushimi Inari Shrine
There are several different price packages for Kimonos in Fushimi Inari. The cheapest kimonos don’t have traditional designs and are made of a much cheaper material, the more expensive ones come with much nicer colours, silks and accessories. The more expensive Kimonos also include hair and makeup as well, which you really shouldn’t forego if you’re going to dress up!
Here are the various kimono rental prices from Nagomi:
- A (cheap Kimono): ¥3,000 (approx $28USD)
- B (medium quality Kimono + hair and makeup): ¥5,000 (approx $47USD)
- C (high quality Kimono, longer sleeves + hair and makeup): ¥6,000 (approx $56USD)
- D (Special Kimono with hair and makeup): ¥10,000 (approx $94USD)
- Men’s Kimono: ¥4,000 (approx $37USD)
- Kid’s Kimono: ¥3,000 (approx $28USD)
None of the above prices include tax
We opted for package C for Louise, and felt like it was well worth the effort. We had access to a much nicer design, hair and makeup, which really enhanced our experience.
Note: All rentals have to be returned by 6pm, so seeing as you’re paying for an entire day, the earlier you visit, the better.
Should I still rent a Kimono when it’s cold?
Yes, the kimono rental shops in Fushimi-Inari can also provide you thermal under garments and scarves to keep you warm. It was actually quite chilly when we visited in March, so these really helped.
What happens to your clothes when you rent a Kimono in Fushimi Inari?
The Kimono store will hold onto your valuables and clothes in a locker, so there’s no need to worry about what you’ll do with everything. They also give the ladies purses, which can be used to store valuables.
Other things to note about the Fushimi Inari Shrine
How do I get photos of the gates without people in them?
This place is exceptionally crowded. We had to wait an exceptionally long time to get any of our photos without people in them.
Also, as I mentioned before, many of the gates on the way down are quite quiet compared to the first part of the ascent. The only downside is that they’re a bit more widely spaced.
Is there a dress code at the Fushimi Inari Taisha?
There’s no strict dress code for the shrine, but you’re visiting a place of worship, so dressing respectfully and conservatively is always a good idea.
Entering the shrines
Of course, the Fushimi Inari Shrine isn’t actually there to jut show off the gates. It’s a place of worship and prayer. If you feel inclined, it can be nice to participate in a prayer ritual and enter a shrine.
The first step is to visit a water purification trough, where you use a water ladle to clean your hands and wash your mouth.
Then once you’re inside the shrine, say a silent prayer, or follow the traditional Shinto ritual. We didn’t feel like we knew enough about that to do it with confidence, so we just quietly observed from a distance.
Wait, aren’t Inari those tofu bags filled with rice?
Yes they are! But they’re named that way because Inari is actually the Shinto God of rice (not to mention foxes, household wellbeing, business prosperity, and general prosperity). If you chomping on Inari, don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy them in Fushimi Inari!
This is an absolute must see for any visit to Kyoto, and whether you’re staying in Kyoto or Osaka it’s within easy reach. It’s a cultural icon, a one of a kind experience and an amazing way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. We’re so glad we visited and would probably go again if we ever returned to Kyoto.