Fushimi Inari and the Million-Dollar Gates

Correction…we should have said ‘million-yen” gates, we are, after all in Japan.

It was the first day of 2018 when we visited Fushimi Inari and it seemed like everyone wanted a piece of what the gods had to offer for the new year. The place is known to be packed during this time of the year, with approximately 3 million visitors over the course of three days. We didn’t, however, expect to be cramped into a crowd travelling at the speed of snail.

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, who was said to have foxes for messengers. That’s pretty badass and it is evident as you walk through the space and notice statues of foxes gnarling at you, or some simply sitting, watching and guarding the grounds.

As we “Sumimasen”-ed (that’s “excuse me” in Japanese) our way through the crowd, we found ourselves shuffling next to food stalls with local offerings that made us want to climb that mountain and race back down. I told myself to be patient for the reward will be sweet…or savoury, depending on my lunchtime choices.

As we kept walking, we soon came to face the torii gates leading to Mount Inari. The path was packed, so Mark and I first took a mini detour, walking alongside the gates until Mark said, “It is believed that the only way to receive your blessings is to walk through it.” So we sneaked in mid-path, hoping the crowd and watchful foxes wouldn’t have noticed.

Mount Inari stands at 223 metres tall and it takes around 2 – 3 hours to make the entire trip to the top and return. That is, without a sea of people stopping, Instagraming and doing full-on photo shoots on Shrine grounds. The path is pretty painless to walk through, with towers of vermillion gates lining each side. The gates are donated by individuals and businesses, and each gate bears the name of the donor and date of donation, painted on in black ink. Gates can cost anywhere from 400,000 Yen (approximately AUD$4,500) to over a million Yen.

The view does not change much along the way, with a few noodle nooks and souvenir stores at each stop. We followed the crowd up to Yotsutsuji Intersection, it’s where most hike up to before returning. The view of the city from where we were standing was stunning but I was growing pretty growly, remembering the food stalls that lined the path as we made our way into Fushimi Inari.

It’s always easier going down, especially when you distract yourself by thinking about everything there is to be grateful for along the way.

Despite the crowd, the place allowed you to be alone in your thoughts and with every step I took, I made a mental list of everything I’ve been blessed with throughout our trip – strangers who became friends, shared breakfast with our Airbnb host on Christmas morning, jumping on the right and wrong trains, learning and eating our way through the cities, the amazingly clean and tech-y toilets…ohmygod, the toilets(!) and of course, being ever so grateful that my legs did not fail me as we walked our way down and ended the day with a bowl of warm, perfectly cooked ramen and soft, fluffy takoyaki.

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Pens&Lens was launched in October 2016 as part of a passion project by partners-in-crime, Mark and Lynette. Combining their love for travel, stories, people and places, they wanted to share the views of the world they see from behind their pens and lens.