Scaling the beautiful Mount Inari is one of Kyoto’s most memorable and rewarding experiences. Built on this mountain is the Fushimi Inari Shrine which features thousands of vermillion gates. This amazing sight attracts large crowds from far and wide, however, not many tourists take the effort to reach the summit. This is great news because you’ll find stretches of deserted path along your journey. Depending on your speed, a round trip will take approximately 2-3 hours and there’s always the option of turning back at any time.
My Journey to Fushimi Inari Shrine
Arriving at Fushimi Inari Station at around 4:00pm, I start the 5-minute walk towards the shrine’s entrance. Each passing step brings more people into sight and I have a sinking feeling that my experience will be less than tranquil. Just as I had feared, the entrance features sardine-like conditions somewhat like a rush hour train in Tokyo. Despite a crazy amount of people, the vermillion gates are a stunning sight to behold. The first stretch is the most densely packed in terms of tourist and gates. After approximately ten minutes of walking, I noticed that 75% of people had already turned around.
My hopes start to turn around as I progress further up Mount Inari. A combination of stair climbing and lack of attention span leave the crowds in my dust. Picking up the pace, my goal is to reach the summit before it gets dark (around 6:30pm) and find a few deserted sections to take pictures. Approximately 45 minutes into my ascent, I am finally alone within the vermillion gates. The density of the gates is much lower here, but the right angle gives allusion to a tunnel-like feeling. I hasten to setup my camera and tripod before someone approaches from the front or rear, the lack of light means I’ll need a longer camera exposure. With some patience, I manage to get a few good pictures without any people in the background:
Happy with the results, I continue my ascent of Mount Inari. Another 45 minutes go past, I finally reach what I believe is the summit. I take in the views of the shrine and drink some much-needed water. Feeling accomplished, I start my descent with the hopes of arriving at the bottom before dark. I try to select a different trail going down Mount Inari with the hopes of running into some new sights. It’s easy to tell when I was approaching the bottom, even though the sun had set, tourists were still swarming the first couple rows of gates near the entrance. Walking past the crowds I felt like screaming, “You don’t know what you’re missing up there!”.
I recommend that anyone visiting Fushimi Inari should make an effort of reaching the summit. It only takes 2-3 hours and isn’t too physically strenuous. You don’t truly start to experience the shrine’s beauty and tranquility until you’ve left the crowds behind. Once the journey is complete, you’ll feel accomplished knowing you’re part of the 1% who truly saw Fushimi Inari.