Fushimi Inari Taisha is popular for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which draw more tourists than any other temple or shrine in Kyoto, Japan. However, if you go off the beaten path, you can find a secret bamboo forest that rivals the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and without any crowds. In this post, we’ll share photos of Fushimi Inari’s bamboo forest, how to get there, and also offer info about continuing on to hike up Mt. Inari trail.
I want to stress that we don’t think this is the best experience for a first visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Walking this path to the Secret Bamboo Forest bypasses the wow-moment and grandeur of seeing thousands upon thousands of torii gates. For a first-timer, those are much more impressive than the bamboo forest, as cool as it is.
Rather, this is a great option for someone who has already been to Fushimi Inari, or something you do as a last resort if you go to the shrine in the middle of a day on a weekend and cannot bear the crowds. By following this path, you’re assured a no-crowds experience. We want to underscore that the “secret” in the post title is not clickbait–we’ve yet to see anyone else back at the bamboo grove, despite it being so close to the torii gates. Want in on the secret? Here’s what you do…
Start by walking past the gate, main shrine, and continue by ascending up to the start of the torii gates as normal. Once you arrive to the start of the tunnel of torii gates, instead of walking beneath and through the torii gates, walk outside of them to the right.
You’ll notice a path off to the side (the start of the path is pictured below), which runs pretty much parallel to the Senbon Torii and goes directly to the bamboo forest in under 10 minutes of walking.
Along the way, the main tunnel of torii disappears from view behind a hill, but they main grounds of Fushimi Inari is still fairly nearby. It’s actually a bit surprising just how close you are to the shrine, yet so far away from the crowds.
After only a couple minutes on this path, you’ll pass a restroom, which is also accessible from the path of torii gates (so you could start out on that, if you want). From there, it’s a relatively straight path that leads directly into the bamboo forest.
If you’re not in the midst of bamboo within 10 minutes, you somehow managed to get lost, so retrace your steps and try again. No further directions are needed–this is really easy to find once you know what you’re looking for, it’s just that no one looks for it, I guess.
While this path through the bamboo forest is not nearly as long as the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, for me it is superior because of the solitude it offers. Our stay in Kyoto last fall was during peak tourist season, and there were many times I wanted to escape the crowds (that’s actually how I discovered this in the first place).
I took this path many times then to bypass the Senbon Torii, and always loved listening to the tall bamboo stalks rustle in the wind. There’s a distinct sound they make that’s somewhere between leaves in a breeze and wind chimes, and it is sublime. I feel like an audio ‘relaxation’ track of bamboo rustling could put me to sleep in about 20 seconds flat.
But I digress. The point is that what the Fushimi Inari Secret Bamboo Forest (I’m capitalizing that to make it the official name 😉 ) lacks in size as compared to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, it makes up for in the quality of the experience. There is something truly special about being alone under the bamboo; it has a magical quality that feels straight out of a Ghibli film.
By contrast, there is something uncomfortable and stressful about fighting the crowd in midday in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. In its defense, the grove in Arashiyama is also magical before the crowds arrive, around sunrise. While I’d definitely recommend seeing both, Fushimi Inari’s Secret Bamboo Forest is a great alternative if you can’t get to Western Kyoto.
Within Fushimi Inari’s Secret Bamboo Forest, there are a couple of sub-shrines, each with their own torii gates. This should come as no surprise, as Fushimi Inari Taisha is said to have over 30,000 sub-shrines. In any case, the torii gates against the towering stalks of bamboo makes for an incredibly photogenic scene.
I do have to reiterate that it strikes me as odd that no one is ever here. One of these sub-shrines looks like it was recently (within the last two decades) refurbished, and has modern steps and nice handrails.
It’s slightly jarring to see this old shrine that appears like it was recently remodeled to comply with some sort of accessibility code. (But to what end? Is this “Secret” Bamboo Forest actually a popular spot and I’ve just missed the hordes? Or perhaps it’s big with ghost hikers who use handrails? I’m truly not sure what’s going on here.)
Obviously, the Secret Bamboo Forest is not an actual secret. That is, unless the worn trail, torii gates, stone steps, and other developed components of the area were all made by enchanted woodland critters. While that is certainly a delightful best-case scenario, it’s likely that humans are back here from time to time.
Nevertheless, the point stands that you’re unlikely to see other visitors back here, much less be shoulder to shoulder with them. As far as Kyoto points of interest go, this is the closest to a “secret” that you’ll get.
Once you’ve had your fill of the bamboo grove at Fushimi Inari, we’d recommend turning around and taking the normal path. This is especially true if you’re doing this on your first visit to Fushimi Inari.
While I enjoy this hike as a repeat visitor, I like it as a way to enjoy crowds and see a rural side of Kyoto–it’s not even a fraction as pretty or cool as the pathway of torii gates. With that said, what follows is what we do after strolling through Fushimi Inari Shrine’s bamboo forest.
Basically, we hike to the summit of Mt. Inari. At the beginning of this process, we go through what are clearly unpaved country roads in a fairly agrarian part of Kyoto.
You’ll see old cars, scrap metal, and other stuff. During this part of the hike, you might have a “do I belong back here?” sense, but you’re totally fine. I’ve done this hike many times when Fushimi Inari is slammed with tour groups.
You’ll also see friendly locals walking their dogs. At first, they might be taken aback that a Westerner is out in the middle of nowhere, but everyone we’ve met has been friendly. This area is in no way dangerous, and there are also farmers and pockets of natural beauty, too.
After walking along these back roads and pathways for a bit, you’ll meet up with a hiking trail that starts somewhere down in Inari. This area contains a lot more bamboo, and parts of it look almost like a nursery where it’s farmed. In any case, it’s pretty, but not in the same way as the earlier forest.
This trail offers a dedicated hike to the summit of Mt. Inari that does not take visitors through Fushimi Inari Shrine. There are nicely paved sidewalks, steps, and trail-markers at this point, so that much is clear. The problem is that I can’t find a single English resource to which to link that offers a detailed hiking map, and I’m about the worst person ever to offer hiking advice.
In other words, proceed at your own risk. (There’s not really any risk, per se…other than getting briefly lost.) A trail map is not really necessary, since the path is well-marked, and you want to go to the summit of Mt. Inari. If for some reason you miss the markers, just remember that you basically just turn left at every junction.
Along this hike, there are several other sub-shrines, a couple of which are quite sizable and elaborate. There are also some glimpses out over the city, including a pretty clear view of Fushimi-Momoyama Castle.
I’m not sure how to rate this hike in terms of intensity. The first part is relatively easy, but the end has a lot of narrow and relatively steep stairs with a number of switchbacks. The hike should take 30-45 minutes total, with the last 10-15 minutes being all steps. On balance, I’d call it moderate.
Once you’re done climbing those steps, you’re pretty much at the summit. This trail dumps you out in the summit loop trail, just as if you hiked up through Senbon Torii and along the main path of Fushimi Inari. From here, you can head around the summit loop trail and down to the lookout point pictured below, which offers a stunning view of Southern Kyoto. I’ve spent many a sunset on the benches overlooking the city here.
Overall, I think Fushimi Inari’s Secret Bamboo Forest is absolutely something you should seek out and find, especially if you enjoy no-crowds experiences. Most people probably should not continue on with the rest of the hike. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’re a first-timer at Fushimi Inari, and the hike is simply not the best way to experience the shrine. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll likely have an awesome experience–it’s difficult not to at Fushimi Inari Shrine.
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!
Have you visited Fushimi Inari? What did you think of the experience? Did you head off the beaten path of the shrine to see any sub-shrines? Would you consider checking out the Secret Bamboo Forest if you visit Fushimi Inari? Any thoughts of your own to add? 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!