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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Japan - Day 4 - The Fushimi Inari Shrine, the one with the 10,000 torii gates!

Japan - Day 4 - The Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha Tower Gate, Kyoto, Japan
Fushimi Inari Taisha Tower Gate

Everything I've read about the Fushimi Inari Shrine suggests getting there early to beat the crowds, but unfortunately I'm going with the one-person worse at mornings than me.. Linc. If I need to be up for something, I set my alarm an hour and half early, if not two because otherwise it ain't happening. Linc sets his alarm with five minutes to go and then will be late. In fairness, there were no alarms as at this point as I was already pretty well-adjusted to Japan time and was waking up about 7/8am at the very latest, the nephews on the other hand just don't wake up.. which they may try and blame on me and their old man snoring.. cheeky bastards! With four people in a tiny room, however, and with our schedules for the day splitting for the first time, you're going to be hounded to be up as the other guys have a real set time to be somewhere for their sword forging. Linc still struggled to stir, to the point Marc had been out, got breakfast and went exploring, happened across the Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, got back and told me about it. I then went and did the same to find Linc still in bed when I got back. The Higashi Hongan-ji Temple is very much an active temple, in fact, it's one of the head temples of shin Buddhism. When I was there, there was a session in practice too. The building is well over 100 years old despite fires leading to it being rebuilt prior a few times, and it's the largest wooden building in Kyoto, and one of the largest in the world. For some reason, not trying to be outdone by age, there were a few Dinosaurs scattered around just outside as part of a street market we managed to miss whilst doing other stuff. Check out the images in the below pictorial.

Back at the pocket hotel and fed with breakfast, Linc finally is vaguely awake and ready to go soon after the others have left. It's not late by any means, but it isn't beat the crowds early either. What they do say of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, however, is that the further up the Inari mountain you go through some of the 10,000+ torii gates, the thinner the crowd, so if you want those empty red gate shots, which I did as it was on the bucket list, I'm going to have to test my knees again.. fun! I've also read that for some it's a bit of a let-down and doesn't live up to the hype. I get it, once you've seen one red gate, you've seen them all, right? But outside of that, and despite having watched videos, I didn't know what to expect aside from there being a few stone altars, shops dotted around on the rise up, and a look-out point about half way which has views over Kyoto.

Heading to the metro from the hotel, this will be the first time we all try our IC cards after the uncertainty of Tokyo. They are indeed refused, and we're told they're locked at Tokyo by a helpful and pleasant ticket guard. Maybe we can unlock them there I think, but either way, metro trips are pretty cheap, you're talking a quid or three for short hops of up to 40 odd minutes. It's not something you want to be paying when you have credit on the IC, but it's hardly heartbreaking either. Here, at a super quiet metro station platform on day 4, is the first time someone directly addresses my tattoos! They're Taiwanese tourists and love them. The Japanese are yet to outwardly care in the remotest.

Getting off the at the smaller Fushimi-Inari Station as it's on the metro line, I'm happy about it (unknowingly then) as we're tasked to go up some lovely smaller roads. They are one car wide, and you're on alert not to block them as things protrude out from small shops in to the walk way, even though they're probably more alert of pedestrians as they trundle along. Again, it's another bit of how you may imagine Japan; smaller businesses catering for the passing tourism yet feeling really authentic. We don't have to walk far, but we still cross a small river and a few train lines that aren't gated and just have signals. Big torii gates start to pop up very occasionally over the entirety of the street to let you know you're heading the right way, and there is street food of Kobe beef and the likes.. so far it's not a let-down, and we're not even there.. I'm all in, the vibe is just right.

As you walk up to the main complex, everything is pretty shiny and new feeling. Shrines and temples can vary massively, and I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't a square with various buildings while knowing about the gates up a mountain with some wild stone altars. It was very impressive with the big kitsune (fox) statues, and to the left there are loads of touristy shops selling everything related to Geisha and the red torii gates, which as a tourist and wanting to buy cool stuff, again, is perfect. We check out the shrine buildings, barely missing what looked to be some kind of Geisha ceremony, before heading to the gates. It's pretty easy the first bit, it's more of a flat incline and very spaced steps than a steep climb. We're barely though 50 odd gates when we see some shrine / altars off the beaten path, that, despite being about 20 yards away, no one has bothered to look at. It's pretty cool! These are the things I'd seen online and wanted to see along the way.

Early on the track as you go up, you happen across breaks in the gates which open up in to more touristy small shops surrounded by shrines and more altars. The further up you head, the fewer the shops, but the altars are a plenty, more than I originally conceived. They're pretty cool though, they're not uniformed and all have a different layout, therefore a different route around and a different feel, plus different guardians (animal statues and the like). As small as some are, it's easy to enjoy looking at "more of the same" as they have a different vibe, with some set against wild bamboo (something else I wanted to see). They're clean, and you see the odd person of what must be an army of people, no doubt, keeping it that way, and while there's a wild charm as they are indeed in a middle of a forest up a mountain, there's enough buildings that aren't public that are clearly for the maintenance and retailers. It's hot today, roasting. Climbing up steps with bad knees isn't fun, as established in a previous blog, and despite carrying a massive bottle of water each that was demolished, we made good use of vending machines over and over. Again, these are dotted around next to some altars and of course near retailers. As we approach the halfway point (so I've read), the crowd has thinned out massively. There are plenty of people around, but it's not bustling, and you can easily take photos with a little patience. Arriving at the look-out over Kyoto, there's probably about 5 other people stopped with us. I'm struggling again with the steps, so if this is only half way, it'll be a long day going to the top for people with knees as bad as mine. Despite us both being curious to go higher, Linc agrees, and we head down a different route of gates, happening across more shops, altars and eventually into more civilisation with public houses flanking the gates to the right. There's some really cool and different altars and statues this way too, plus one of the shops had a personal vibe where I got to flex a little Japanese, and we bought some stuff, including my Fushimi flag which is now up in my studio.

Views over Kyoto, Japan from the Fushimi Inari Taisha, about the halfway point of the Inari Climb throught the 10,000 torii gates.
Views over Kyoto, Japan from Inari.

Back at the bottom, we find our way to the square and check out the shops. This is a good few hours' entertainment, even going just halfway. On the way back to the station I managed to find a couple of girls dressed as Geishas, I use the term find lightly as there are loads given people rent kimono as part of enjoying their day out at the Fushimi, so you'll find plenty of Japanese ladies in traditional wear that aren't actual working Geisha - they do still exist in Kyoto, and you're asked not to pull them aside for photos and disrupt them while working. Fortunately, the girls who aren't understood my Japanese enough and agreed to a photo. At the station, even with Linc's now foolproof method of travelling Japan, we know we can get back to the main Kyoto station, but we can't make any sense of how! Remember the "unknowingly then" from earlier, well looking on Google Maps now, apparently two stations feed the shrine, and the names are very similar, so that could be why! The metro Fushimi-Inari Station, and one on a JR line that is just simply called the Inari - I reckon that must have been where our confusion lay! It would make sense for the JR line to head back to Kyoto's main station.

We have no plan for the rest of the day and don't know how long the others will be, and while we were going to look at the shops around Kyoto's main station yet couldn't find a route, we instead decide to head back to our metro station and the hotel. As you can imagine with all the walking these last days, we're feeling it in the feet, so at least then we can get refreshed and maybe drop off camera gear and travel lighters later. However, as mentioned in a previous blog, there are two pocket hotels in Kyoto, and we pick the wrong one on Google Maps while discovering the main shopping street along the way. This one is 15 minutes north of ours and right next to said shopping strip, so we stay out and get some food at Wendy's. I don't know what it is with American places over here, but this is my first time having a Wendy's anywhere, too. It was pretty decent!

We walk up and down the strip looking for shops of interest and find an awesome undercover shopping street, again - Compasso Teramachi. It has loads of cool places we earmark as being of interest to the others, plus it has a micropig cafe - something I really wanted to do, so again, we took note. One shop in particular sold these silk embroidered reversible bomber jackets that Linc took a shine too, but he couldn't make up his mind to pull the trigger on as they weren't cheap. Again, the shop owners were lovely and welcoming, and we told them we'd be back (that old chestnut) after he's had a think and sent a pic to the the others to help persuade him. Just as darkness starts kicking in and we're about to head back, we head to a Family Mart to rehydrate as we hear off the others.. "we'll head to you" - my feet are now screaming at me.. "fun", again, I think. On the plus side, we get to show them the awesome aforementioned street where we do indeed go back and Linc buys one. Dex buys two and a pair of jeans - see, men of our word!

Still mooching around the shops on Teramachi-dori, there's a bunch of western influenced clothing stores, and it's a more market vibe than the high street which is very on (big) brand(s), but here is a more alternative fashion vibe, and it's where I get followed around by a girl working in a crane game arcade thinking she's stealthily taking video - so much for the Japanese way of life of high privacy.. honestly, I don't mind, maybe she thought I was in a band or something - those days are long gone! It's fair to say more people here are curious about my tattoos, but not vocally, just more so because it fits in with their style and interests. It's also by pure coincidence that we notice a sign for the Samurai museum, which happens to be what we're doing tomorrow, and this area is also where we'd be doing our sword cutting experience as part of it too, so we can also do things like the pig cafe then as well - perfect! I'm pretty sure we just finish up our day walking around, amused by the massive animatronic crab above a restaurant and browsing more shops as they're open pretty late in Japan.



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