Fushimi Inari is a free shrine in Kyoto, Japan with vermilion torii gates stretching endlessly. This post details our experience hiking through over 10,000 torii gates, shares photos of the experience, and offers tips for visiting Fushimi Inari, sometimes known as the “Fox Shrine” in Kyoto. We also “review” Fushimi Inari, but there’s not a ton of critique to that review: Fushimi Inari is our favorite thing to do in Kyoto, and we’ve visited countless times since our first trip to Japan. We love Fushimi Inari, and think it’s an unparalleled, bucket-list experience. (Last updated August 27, 2017.)
Before we dig into all of that, a bit of background. Foxes are so prominent at Fushimi Inari because Inari, the Shinto god of rice, is believed to communicate with humans by using foxes as his messengers. Due to this, there are hundreds of fox statues throughout Fushimi Inari.
Originally dedicated to the rice and sake gods by the Hata family in the 8th century, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is now one of Japan’s most popular and distinctive shrines. It is also the head shrine for over 40,000 Inari shrines scattered throughout Japan. The Fushimi Inari Shrine complex consists of five shrines scattered across the wooded mountainside in Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is very easy to reach, as it’s the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. From there, it’s about a 5 minute walk from JR Inari Station to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. All told, you’re looking at about 10-15 minutes of commuting time from the time you get to Kyoto Station until the time you get to the Fox Shrine.
Many visitors go to Fushimi Inari Shrine to explore the mountain trails. This, along with the thousands of torii gates, was our motivation for our initial visit to Fushimi Inari. Since our first visit, we’ve gone back to Kyoto numerous times, and visited Fushimi Inari on every single trip.
In fact, it’s the only place in Kyoto we’ve visited every single time. I’ve since written about my experience touring Fushimi Inari at night, which I highly recommend reading, as the shrine takes on a totally different character once the sun goes down. On one trip to Kyoto, we even rented an Airbnb that was only a block from Fushimi Inari so that we could visit several times. We truly cannot get enough of this stunning shrine.
With that bit of gushing out of the way, let’s turn to some details about Fushimi Inari (also known as 伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha).
At the entrance, there are handwashing stations where visitors should wash their hands and then mouth for purification. There’s a specific custom from this which we tried to glean by watching other visitors, but we didn’t want to creep on them for too long.
If you’ve never been here but it looks familiar, perhaps you’ve seen it in film. Parts of Memoirs of a Geisha were shot here.
How much time you can spend at Fushimi Inari really depends on how thorough of a visit you want to have. If it’s your first visit to Kyoto, we recommend around 2-3 hours, but you could spend anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day here and have a satisfying visit depending upon your agenda.
The main draw is the endless torii gates on the trails, and for many visitors, a sense of redundancy might set in before getting to the top. Conversely, the subtle differences and details–and just general sense of calm–are what constantly draw us to Fushimi Inari.
When you first get going, you’ll see this map and might think, “cool, that doesn’t look too long.” Or, at least that’s what you’d think if you’re like us and aren’t good at judging distances…
The loop to the top of the mountain is deceptively long, but you can turn back after you’ve gotten a taste of Fushimi Inari. If your time in Kyoto is limited, this might be a good idea, although “completing” the loop is rewarding.
As far as when to visit, based on our pre-trip research, there are only a few bad times to go: Hatsumōde (the first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese New Year), national holidays, and the hottest months of summer. The former two are bad options because of crowds, whereas the latter is because the humidity makes the hike unbearable.
Our first time, we went early in the morning in spring. It was a very pleasant, completely uncrowded experience. We visited the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) immediately after Fushimi Inari, and it was a mob scene at the Golden Pavilion.
If you’re looking to avoid crowds, doing something else first and saving Fushimi Inari for later in the day or evening is probably a better approach.
Or, go very early in the morning before everything else is open. You want to find a time outside of the middle of the day to do Fushimi Inari, as it is immersive and best experienced in relative solitude.
Visiting in early morning also provides nice, morning light for your visit, which I think really adds to photos from the shrine.
About halfway up (roughly an hour into the ascent if you’re going at a leisurely pace), visitors will reach the Yotsutsuji intersection. This offers an overlook of Kyoto, which really demonstrates the stark contrast between the urban city and the remote, forested area in which most of the shrine is located.
From here, the trail splits into a loop and continues up.
If you get hungry, there are a few places to eat along the way that serve authentic local themed dishes, like Inari Sushi and Kitsune Udon.
Many dishes include pieces of aburaage (fried tofu), which is said to be a favorite food of foxes. I’ve seen foxes eat roadkill, so I’m guessing they’re not too picky.
According to what we’ve read, the torii gates are “sponsored” by individuals and corporations, with each sponsor that paid for a gate having its name carved onto the back of the gate. Since we can’t read Japanese, we can’t confirm this.
I’d like to think this gate reads, “Sponsored by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Japan’s National Treasures.” 😉
Obviously these torii gates are man-made structures, but for some reason they seem to organically flow from the land.
The whole area has a natural beauty in a way that’s very difficult to articulate.
At this point, you can see the path splitting. This area eerily reminded me of Robert Frost’s famous lines. Maybe he was actually writing about Fushimi Inari, and there’s no deeper meaning at all?!
Actually, this divergent path is where the mountain hiking trail begins. It’s called the Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”).
My understanding is that these smaller gates are purchased in the gift shop, inscribed with family names and other messages, and left at the shrine for Inari.
It’s supposedly bad luck to take these torii gates from the shrine, but maybe that’s just what they tell Americans so we don’t loot the place! 😉
In some places, the torii gates are so dense that scarcely any light illuminates the tunnels they form.
I noticed that most of the fox statues had various sorts of neck-wear, but some did not. Some looked, for lack of a better term, more formal than others. I’m curious as to why this is…
Some areas of the shrine are densely packed with various statues, artifacts, and other things. There’s lots of texture and detail, which makes for rich photos.
Feral cats are incredibly common at Fushimi Inari. We probably saw a couple dozen or so, just chilling in random spots. Perhaps they have mistaken all of the fox statues for cats, and think it’s a shrine to them?
By far, the funniest part of the visit to Fushimi Inari was seeing several cats gather outside of this gift shop door. They were intrigued by it automatically opening and shutting, which it kept doing because they were caught by its sensor…thus perpetuating their intrigue. It was a vicious cycle, and we didn’t stick around to see how long it would last before the shop keeper chased them off.
There are many gift shops where you can purchase mini torii gates, fox statues, and other charms that you can leave at the shrine (or take home). There are also several places to buy souvenirs between the JR station and Fushimi Inari.
Here are some of mini fox statues available for purchase. So, if you ever need to assemble an army of fox statues, now you know where to go…
It’s not all foxes and stray cats! There are statues of other creatures in Fushimi Inari, mostly dragons.
Often, you’ll find that if you get an early start at Fushimi Inari and are on the path no later than 8 a.m. (we usually start by 6 or 7 a.m.), you will beat the wave of people.
Even if you spend several hours hiking Fushimi Inari, you should encounter few people until the end of your visit, as you will be ahead of them. The same applies to starting a hike after 7 p.m. The added strategic bonus to starting later in the evening is that you are not missing out on anything else this way. Kyoto’s main temples will all be closed by this point; Fushimi Inari is one of the only ones that’s open 24/7, meaning you can effectively extend your day by doing it at night.
Since our original visit (which is when we originally wrote this post), we’ve gone back to Fushimi Inari more times than I can count. Probably around a dozen. Almost every visit has been first thing in the morning or late in the evening. Midday is too crowded for our tastes, but we would (and plan to) try it again at sunset.
Visiting around sunset was actually recommended to us, as on the way back down the mountain we’d start to hear animals in the forest and be greeted by the lanterns at the entrance when we exited. That sounds excellent to us, but may not be a good idea if it’s your first visit to Kyoto. Our top pick for sunset is Kiyomizudera Temple, which also ranks among our top 5 things to do in Kyoto, Japan.
Overall, we both absolutely love Fushimi Inari. Along with the above-mentioned Kiyomizudera Temple, and the zany Kyoto Monkey Park, which offers awesome up-close encounters with wild monkeys, we consider this an absolute must-do for anyone traveling to Kyoto, Japan. Fushimi Inari is an authentic, serene experience that can be many different things to different people. If you want a spiritual experience, it’s that. If you want something that will blow you away, the 10,000 torii gates will do the trick. If you’re looking to hike or get away from hordes of people, Fushimi Inari has you covered. For us, Fushimi Inari is the definitive Kyoto experience. It’s a place that oozed cultural significance and was beautiful in its own right. Most people won’t have a ton of time in Kyoto, so this is all about opportunity cost. Fushimi Inari can take a lot of time, and realistically will consume the time of other things that you might choose to visit (unless you do it at night, when every other temple is closed, anyway). With that said, I don’t think you’ll regret for a second allocating a few hours to this wonderful shrine.
If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, Japan, please check out my other posts about Kyoto for ideas of things to do (or not do) while there. Kyoto has a lot of things to see and do, so I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Kyoto Guide to help better develop an efficient plan while there.
Have you been to the Fox Shrine? What did you think of it? How does it compare to other temples and shrines in Kyoto for you? Worth the time or something you’d skip on your next visit to Japan? What time of day did you do Fushimi Inari–and how were crowds? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!