Fushimi Inari is our favorite place in Kyoto, Japan. It’s a huge mountain shrine famous for its thousands of torii gates, but that’s just scratching the surface. It’s also home to myriad sub-shrines, natural beauty, and great hiking options around the mountain–and to nearby temples–via Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail. In this post, we’ll detail one of those hikes, to Tofukuji Temple, another of our favorite spots in Kyoto.
Despite staying a 5 minute walk from Fushimi Inari during our first month-long trip to Kyoto, we still can’t get enough of the shrine. Nor have we seen all that it has to offer in over two-dozen visits to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Suffice to say, we have more posts about Fushimi Inari than anything else in Kyoto, and it stands to reason that this won’t be our last post on the topic.
With that said, this is a hiking guide for the Kyoto Trail route to Tofukuji Temple, not a post offering background for visiting. For that, please refer to our Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine Tips & Info post, which offers a comprehensive photo tour and suggestions for visiting. For further reading, our Night at Fushimi Inari post implores readers to take an enchanted evening stroll through the shrine–but probably not in conjunction with this hike…
If it’s your first visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine, you’ll probably just want to take the normal approach during daylight hours, following the main Senbon Torii to Summit Loop Trail route. Most visitors to Fushimi Inari don’t even make it all the way through the Senbon Torii, so just taking this “ordinary” route is going to offer you views of the shrine that most tourists don’t see.
However, if you’re looking for something off-the-beaten-path, Fushimi Inari has no shortage of opportunities. Our Secret Bamboo Forest at Fushimi Inari post details one such option for ascending Mt. Inari, and here we’ll cover an alternative for hiking back down.
The great thing about this hike to Tofukuji Temple is that it doesn’t require bypassing any highlights of Fushimi Inari, and simply offers a time-saving shortcut along Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail for those heading to that temple after the shrine.
Well, at least in theory. In actuality, you’ll invariably spend more time on this route stopping for the unique and photogenic sub-shrines along the way.
To get to the ‘trailhead’ for the Tofukuji Hike, head up the Senbon Torii like normal, until you arrive at the Yotsusuji Crossroads, which is the popular viewpoint before the Summit Loop Trail. From here, you can either go left/straight or right, since it’s a loop.
The trailhead is about three-quarters of the way around the Summit Loop Trail if you head right, or one-quarter of the way around if you head left/straight. If you head left, you’ll see the above sign after about 5 minutes.
This is in the general vicinity of the Gozendani Hohaisho prayer area, which is marked on all of the Fushimi Inari maps.
In this area, a variety of interesting rituals are held, including the First Day of the Horse in February.
Here, you’ll have three options, as pictured above. The far left is the downhill trailhead that’ll take you to Tofukuji Temple.
The other options will take you back to the Summit Loop Trail (middle) and Gozendani’s horse-centric sub-shrine.
A lot of people head down the path to Tofukuji Temple by mistake, so you’ll see a number of signs warning you that you’re going the wrong way.
This ‘turn back’ warning would be correct if you were trying to head back to Inari or Fushimi Inari Station…but you aren’t.
Once you stop seeing “Turned Back!” signs, you’ll start seeing signs for the Higashiyama Course of Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail, which do point you in the correct direction.
It’d be easy to make this ‘how to’ post overly convoluted, detailing every step along the way. In fact, that’s what I originally planned to do, and I have about three-dozen photos I’m not using here because I don’t think they’re all that helpful given that every junction and ordinary stretches of trail all pretty much look the same.
Instead, I’ll offer two pretty simple and straightforward pieces of advice. After starting down the trail pictured in the junction pictured above (the one with three sets of torii gates), use Google Maps to route you to Tofukuji Temple. One of the options will be this route. While I can’t get that route to pull up when testing at home as I write this post, it did work while doing the hike.
If that doesn’t work for you, simply go left/downhill at every junction. Ultimately, it’s a ridiculously easy hike and the biggest challenge is finding the trailhead within Fushimi Inari that heads to Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail in the first place. Once you find that, it’s pretty much all smooth sailing.
Early along on Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail, you’ll see a small sub-shrine to the left, which is partially-concealed by some dilapidated buildings.
It’d be easy to skip this, assuming the shrine itself is also run-down. And it sort of is, but in the best way possible. The fox statues that populate this shrine are all covered in thick layers of moss, which is basically catnip for photographers.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this little area, and could spend a ton more time here, too.
This shrine is charming despite feeling a bit like the ruins of Fushimi Inari.
After returning to the Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail, you’ll continue walking straight for a few minutes until reaching another fork.
This is one of the few junctures where you’d want to turn right–but not at first.
Instead, head to the left for ~5 minutes until you reach a little sub-shrine that’s we’ll call the ‘Serpent Shrine,’ a name that is derived from the identifying feature of the shrine, a serpentine waterfall.
There’s other cool stuff here, too.
From there, it’s back to the main path, where you’ll continue on Kyoto Trail until arriving in a residential area that’ll lead you to Tofukuji Temple. Or, you can make another detour and first head to Komyōin Temple (pictured above), which is what we’d recommend–it’s another hidden gem of Kyoto that we’ll cover in another post.
All in all, this is a pretty simple hike. While we’ve tried to keep the steps here straightforward, the hike itself is even easier (and entirely downhill!) than it sounds here. This Kyoto hike is really a can’t miss option: easy, no crowds, interesting detours, and it’ll give you the ‘bragging rights’ of saying you went hiking in Japan. On top of that, it’s a shorter route than heading back down the main route through Fushimi Inari and then walking to Tofukuji entirely via the residential area, so it’ll save you time!
If you’re planning a trip to 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!
Have you visited Fushimi Inari? What did you think of the shrine? Did you have any ‘off-the-beaten-path’ experiences? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does this hike on part of Kyoto Trail appeal to you? Any questions? 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!