Why You Should Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine at Night

Fushimi Inari Taisha is an incredibly popular shrine in Kyoto, Japan that’s open 24/7. It’s especially beautiful at night, and this post features photos & tips of making the most of it. Visiting after sunset is one of the best travel hacks, as you can avoid crowds and have a unique experience. (Updated December 22, 2023.)

In the latest update to this guide for nighttime at Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), I wanted to share a couple of things. First, it’s now even more important than ever that you visit Fushimi Inari either before 9 a.m. or at sunset (staying until nightfall so you get a day/night experience) if you want low crowds.

We returned to Fushimi Inari after Japan’s border reopened for the first time in a few years, staying in an Airbnb 5 minutes from the shrine. Suffice to say, “revenge travel” is in full force in Kyoto. There were complaints about overtourism for a couple of years pre-closure, but it’s somehow even worse now.

Pent-up demand won’t last forever, thankfully, but between the weak yen and the border reopening only around a year ago, there’s still a lot of it in Kyoto. And this is largely without the huge tour groups that frequently descended upon Fushimi Inari in the past. We’ve stayed in roughly the same spot for several years–right by a parking lot–and there were noticeably fewer tour buses than in the past. Despite this, there were larger overall crowds.

Suffice to say, even once pent-up demand fizzles out among individual tourists or the yen rebounds, it’s likely there will be a resurgence in tour groups from China and elsewhere. Meaning that crowds are not likely to die down at Fushimi Inari in 2024 or even 2025. Accordingly, you should absolutely plan around them.

If you visit Fushimi Inari between late morning and early afternoon, there’s a very good chance you’ll be underwhelmed. It might strike you as an over-commercialized tourist trap with wall-to-wall people. It certainly won’t have the same vibe as many temples and shrines in Japan. I know we wouldn’t have fallen in love with Fushimi Inari if our first visit was at 2 p.m. during peak tourist season.

The other important thing we need to share is that wildlife has become more active at Fushimi Inari Shrine. You’ll see signs warning of this at a number of temples throughout Kyoto–but you probably won’t see animal activity because the critters keep away during the daytime. As such, you might be lulled into a false sense of security or assume that the signs at Fushimi Inari are overly cautious.

Do not disregard them. We have now encountered wild boars at Fushimi Inari on several occasions over the course of multiple years. Granted, we’re staying near Fushimi Inari and doing regular night hikes–not just once per trip. Nevertheless, I’d hazard a guess that we have seen or heard wild boars at least 25% of the time.

This is not enough to discourage us from returning to Fushimi Inari Shrine at night, nor is it enough for me to not recommend it. To the contrary, night remains my favorite time to experience Fushimi Inari. Just be cognizant of your surroundings and do not go off-trail at night.

It should go without saying, but do not approach these wild boars–they might be cute (if you can even see them), but they are not friendly. Many of the ones we’ve encountered are piglets or boarlets. Yes, they are adorable. But they are also with their mothers, who we can only assume are–like all other animals–fiercely protective of their kids.

(The photo above was taken from incredibly far away with a telephoto wildlife lens–even then it’s low quality. You’re not going to get worthwhile pics with a phone, so don’t even take the risk. It’s not worth ending up in the hospital.)

Every time we’ve seen or heard wild boars, it’s been outside of the Senbon Torii area or the path directly after that, all below Mitsu-Tsuji Corner. So long as you’re staying on the torii-lined paths, you’re highly unlikely to encounter boars or other wildlife.

One other tip we’d add is that, at night, you should exit back through Senbon Torii (the way you came) rather than taking the shortcut path that cuts straight down back to the main road. You should do this, regardless, as there’s nothing to see on the shortcut path. It mostly serves as a way to reduce crowds on the Senbon Torii area, but that’s not necessary at night when no one is around.

With that said, we’ll resume the original post of my first time experiencing the magic of Fushimi Inari at night, with some new photos added…

One thing I really enjoy about traveling is taking time by myself in new places to just wander, absorb, and think. Even when I travel with others, I always make sure to take some time by myself.

It’s usually pretty easy, as I can typically “outlast” most other people in terms of getting up early and staying out late. This alone time is one of my favorite things about traveling, and while I also enjoy the collective travel experience, I feel like I slow down and appreciate things more when it’s just me.

One approach to visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine is hiking up just before sunset, and watching that from the crossroads overlook, which offers a beautiful view of Kyoto.

After that, do the mountain loop while the crowds dissipate, taking your time as you go. Once you’re done with that upper loop, you can head back down to the popular Senbon Torii area, which should be largely devoid of crowds by an hour or so after sunset. (This does vary seasonally based upon how early sunset occurs.)

I’ve already covered this location in my post Is Fushimi Inari Shrine Worth Visiting? You can probably guess the answer to that question since I have revisited it many times. In fact, Fushimi Inari isn’t just “worth visiting,” it’s worth making a special trip to Kyoto to experience.

In our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan we ranked it as our favorite thing to do in the city. We took that a step further in “Our 10 Favorite Things We’ve Experienced in Japan (So Far)” it’s tied for our #1 thing to do in all of Japan.

You may not get this feeling if you’re elbow-to-elbow with tour groups wielding selfie sticks during the middle of the day, but I doubt anyone who has visited in the solitude of night has found it to be anything less than an enchanting experience.

For some “contemplative solitude,” Fushimi Inari is the perfect place. One thing that I like about shrines, and any house of worship, really, is that most of the time I don’t feel like you need to be a practitioner of the underlying religion to derive your own bit of spirituality from the shrines.

Those who actually worship at these locations and hold them in sincere reverence might disagree with me there (and I’m certainly not contending that these places have as much of a profound impact on me as they do the religious), but I typically feel reflective at these places.

I think this partly because shrines typically offer a respite from the chaos of day to day life, and partly a result of the second-hand contact of others’ spirituality. Whatever the case, I find visiting these places of worship to be an impacting experience that triggers some sort of reflection in me.

Visiting late in the evening on a rainy night definitely lent itself to this. While I lost that feeling of ‘communal spirituality’ due to being the only person around, this was easily made up for by being truly alone with my thoughts. It was a great experience that led to me thinking deeply about various things (assuming that I’m actually capable of deep thought).

All of this is basically a rambling and round-about way of saying: if you have the chance to visit Fushimi Inari alone at night, I highly recommend taking it. The atmosphere was excellent, and conducive to a fuller appreciation of the shrine. However, that’s just one reason why you should visit Fushimi Inari at night–albeit a big one.

It’s illuminated at night with just enough light that it’s not too dangerous to walk, but it’s also not so bright that the atmosphere is spoiled. In some places, it’s actually a bit moody, as you can probably tell from the shadow-y photos above.

The other reason why you should do Fushimi Inari at night is because it’s one of the few things to do in Kyoto after 6 pm (it’s open 24/7/365). In a city with literally dozens of must-dos, you’ll never feel like you have enough time to see and experience it all. Trust us, we’ve spent months in Kyoto and still feel like there are things we’ve missed.

Unfortunately, many of Kyoto’s highlights close at sunset. Being able to take one of the biggest points of interest–and one that’ll take the longest to fully experience–and shifting that to the evening when almost everything else has closed can be hugely advantageous from a strategic perspective. With a limited number of mornings in Kyoto and lots of other crowded spots where you’ll also want to beat the crowds, you can allocate that time to Kiyomizudera or the Golden Pavilion or Arashiyama, etc.

If you’re looking for another unique experience (albeit probably not one you should do at night), read our Secret Bamboo Forest at Fushimi Inari post. That details how to find a hidden bamboo grove and have a serene, away-from-crowds experience during even the busiest time of the day at Fushimi Inari Taisha.

There’s really nothing more profound to say about being at Fushimi Inari at night. Words and photos don’t even begin to convey the experience.

Overall, there are few experiences we love in Kyoto (which, again, is our favorite city in the world) than the serene and tranquil experience of visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine after the hordes and clusters of tour groups have left for the evening. Having the shrine nearly empty is an experience most visitors never have, as this tends to be one of the most crowded spots in Kyoto. It’s, quite literally, a night and day difference.

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit! 

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Fushimi Inari at night? What did you think of it? Do you enjoy solo time when traveling? Like the experience of temples and shrines? Have you been to Fushimi Inari? Any questions about when to visit, wild animals, or anything else? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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22 replies
  1. Charis
    Charis says:

    Hi!
    Wanted to check i read there are many steps in this shrine. Is it okay for my mum who have some problems with climbing stairs to go? Or is there anywhere she can sit and wait for us?would like to visit this shrine since it is an iconic landmark of kyoto

    Reply
  2. castlescout
    castlescout says:

    We’re planning to visit the shrine in July for sunset views, but will be coming from Osaka as a day trip. Do you have any tips or comments for families taking the train back to Osaka after our hike(ie. last train departure times, safety, residential area, etc,?) Thank you Tom!

    Reply
  3. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Found myself alone, at night, at Fushimi Inari shrine, and it was one of the peak experiences of my life. Spiritual, indeed. I love traveling alone.

    Reply
  4. Sarah pope
    Sarah pope says:

    I wanted to thank you so much for this. I lived in kyoto 15 years ago and Fushimi was by far my favourite place to visit. I would grab a book, wander up, get soba and green tea from a little tea house… it was peaceful and breathtaking all wrapped up in green and red.
    So imagine my surprise when i visited for the first time again last year, to find it over run by people and noise. It was still beautiful, but the atmosphere completely altered.
    Thanks to your blog, last night my kids and and i wandered up around 6pm and i was able to show them one of my favourite spots on earth, with no crowds, no queues, and very little noise save cicada and prayer.

    Reply
  5. Helen
    Helen says:

    It’s 4am and I’m in a taxi driving across Kyoto for my first experience of Fushimi Inari, for sunrise. It was number 1 on my list to see and I wanted it to be special! So excited! Thanks for your post 😊

    Reply
  6. Christ
    Christ says:

    That’s not what the Robert frost poem means at all. If anything it means the complete opposite. It means regardless of which road we travel, we always look back on our experiences and create a narrative that makes us think we took the road less traveled.

    Reply
  7. TiffaniChief
    TiffaniChief says:

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    Reply
  8. Arno
    Arno says:

    If you are looking for the experience described in this post, don’t go during the new year’s holidays. Way too crowded, even 3 hours after sunset.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yikes. I probably wouldn’t go to any shrines or temples in Japan during the new year’s holidays, but still surprised to hear it was so busy so late at night.

  9. Meena
    Meena says:

    Thanks for the tips. I will soon be travelling there with my family and wanted to get some tips on photography. I am using a Nikon D5000 with a 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens. Also, have a 55-200mm 1.4 to 5.6mm. Appreciate any tips for nighttime and daytime photos.

    Thank you,
    Meena

    Reply
  10. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    This post is now a couple years old but was wondering whether or not to go at night and have now decided to go! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Thanks for the kind words!

      If you can save up for it, it seems like this coming year is the time to visit Japan. The yen keeps getting weaker, making our purchasing power even stronger.

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  1. […] a local photographer in Kyoto to guide me through the temples in the area. ‘We have to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine,’ he said. So we went to see the temple at nightfall, which happily coincided with the first […]

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