Where do I even begin with the magical location that is Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine…
It is, of course, a tourist trap – though one that despite my reservations about being neck-deep in crowds, completely merits a visit. I have never been so enchanted by a place and its colors, nor been so intrigued by the peace and spirituality I found around every corner. To put it succinctly, it was the highlight of my trip to Japan.
In the darkness of pre-dawn, Jon and I climbed our way up stairs and across the vast, central square where shops remained shuttered in until morning. The stillness was not lost on us. No one was around, save for a handful of night guards who leaned casually against a wall, smoking cigarettes before the shift change. As we became breathless while hiking through the dim light, we saw an officer ahead of us, and we followed him just as he opened the gates to the shrine.
We were the first visitors that morning.
While Jon photographed some of the torii gates, as these magnificent orange structures are called, I sat and watched, soaking in the quiet solitude and atmosphere of the shrine. Because we were early, we saw the place awakening – the way the sunlight brightens the orange paint and casts shadows through the tall shapes making patterns on the ground. Around this time, the shrine’s plentiful kitties came bounding out. To them, sunrise meant it was time to eat, and right on cue, a thoughtful and fit elderly couple made their way up and down the many stairs, feeding the cats. The felines eagerly waited at several stops along the path, perching on stones, huddling behind fallen gates, and winding themselves through the labyrinth of plaques and engraved structures.
We kept walking up, higher and higher through the many gates, all dedicated to Inari – the god of rice, who has come to be known as a patron of business. The fox icon was everywhere, and the source of color inspiration for the torii structures painted in striking orange and black. Each one has been dedicated by a different business in honor of the god, and in hopes it will bring them good fortune.
Just as the crowds started to swell up the paths, we climbed higher and got lost amid the winding way. I reveled in the little vignettes and the thoughtful scenes that were so carefully placed throughout. But we weren’t alone. The cats of the shrine were always watching.
At some point we found ourselves admiring a small, secluded temple, where a monk prayed in a white robe. When he had finished, he offered his services to Jon, sharing that there was a spirit who resided here that helped with back pain – which my husband had suffered from regularly over the last few months. With a few rubs of his hand on the marker and a few onto Jon, the monk transferred his good wishes and the deity’s power to relieve his pain. And you know what? It helped his back, which has not been a problem since then.
I loved that day. I loved wandering the gates, and I loved getting lost in the beauty and peace of this enchanted shrine. I believe that foxes are special and that if you are lucky enough to see one, it is always a good sign. And as we descended via a quiet alleyway, I was delighted to have a man paint my name on a small torii gate, one that sits proudly on my dresser and reminds me to find peace and humility. It also reminds me of the great day at the Fox Shrine.
Have you seen the Fushimi Inari Shrine? Did it leave an impression on you as it did me?