Tuesday, September 17

Fushimi Inari Taisha

I said I wasn't going to publish individual posts on our time in Kyoto. I lied.  There's one place I simply have to tell you about.  It's Fushimi Inari Taisha.  This is an incredible shrine complex on the slopes of Mount Inari, just south of Kyoto.

Inari is the god of rice.  As you know, rice is diet staple that rests at the heart of Japanese life and culture.  This means that Inari is also closely associated with wealth and prosperity.  He's considered the patron of business, merchants and manufacturers throughout the country. Fushimi Inari is his primary shrine in Japan.

As you enter the shire you're immediately greeted by an enormous stylized image of a fox.  I must confess that, at first, Mum and I thought it was cartoon dog.  However, we soon learnt that the fox is considered a messenger and guardian for Inari. Fox effigies are often displayed around Inari shrine.  you typically see them presented in one of two poses. The most common of these has the fox holding a granary key in its mouth.

The main shrine structure was built in 1499.  It actually replaced a series of earlier building dating back to 816. However, the earliest Inari shrines in the area were erected at least a century earlier. Behind the main complex stairs leads worshippers toward a series of trials that wind their way a further four kilometres to mountain's summit, 233 metres above sea level.  The main path is framed by thousands, upon thousands, of brilliant red torii gates.

Each gate is private donation from an aspiring, or possibly grateful, Japanese business. It's an extraordinary sight.  In places the path splits into two for several hundred metres.  Each route continues to be framed by the same mesmerizing river of red.

Mum and ventured up one path to the first resting place.  This small clearing houses a series of shrines, each with its own forest of paper prayers tied in neat rows along one of the ubiquitous wire-framed prayer fences you'll always find in Japan. We decided that once you've seen the first thousand gates you've really seen them all.  We retraced our steps and made our way towards Zen temples on the northern flank of the Kyoto hills.

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