I woke up to the best intentions that day; get ready in five minutes and head straight to the Fushimi Inari Shrine before the hordes of tourist this beautiful, sunny day would inevitably bring. I hadn’t been in Japan for long – just three days, actually – but I had already understood something: although the Japanese are incredibly respectful of personal space, attractions and landmarks get insanely crowded in the height of sakura season. I wouldn’t get pushed around, but nonetheless, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of space to catch a breath of fresh air.
Obviously, my plan was a total failure. I blame jetlag.
Despite my best efforts, the sun had had ample time to make its way to the highest possible spot in the sky before I even managed to leave my room. I used up an unsettling amount of energy to drag my tired body through Kyoto’s massive central station, desperately searching for the train that would take me to the suburbs where the shrine is located (I would realise a few days later that there were clear indications for that train throughout the station, which I had been completely oblivious to).
As expected, the train was seriously packed. Surrounded by Japanese people, I almost felt like a mere commuter on my way to work; except my 5’8″ frame and blond hair had me stick out like a sore thumb in this crowd of tiny people. Still in my jetlagged state of mind, I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to get off – which became quite clear when about 99% of the carriage prepared to exit at the same stop.
This was it.
Immediately upon exiting the station I was greeted with the first of many – thousands, presumably – vermilion torri gates I would see that day. It was the beginning of a love story.
Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto – in Photos
Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto – Know Before You Go
- It really would be wiser to get there early in the morning and beat the masses. The site is immense and you won’t feel cramped, but you will have to be very patient in order to get good photos if you go in the daytime. I can also imagine that it would be a much serener visit without the crowds.
- Getting there is very easy. Go to Kyoto Station and follow the signs (they really are obvious, I still don’t understand how I have missed them) and get off at Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. Journey takes roughly 5 minutes and costs 140 yen one way.
- The shrine is very big and there is much more to it than “just” torii gates. There are adorable little shrines and temples everywhere, as well as beautiful viewing points. It is possible to walk all the way to the top but most visitors will stop halfway at the Yotsutsuji intersection where they can enjoy a great panorama of Kyoto. The trail then splits into a circular route to the summit without much variation and lower gate density.
- The busiest part of the shrine is at the two parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii. Crowds are much more diluted afterwards.
- Plan at least three hours to visit the shrine. There are so many photo opportunities, you really don’t want to feel rushed.
- Entry is free of charge.