Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Tunnels of Torii: The Fushimi Inari Shrine

My friend and I packed a lot into our 14-day trip to Japan, including a three-night stay in Kyoto, Japan. It was on our way back from a day trip to Nara that we decided to squeeze in an evening visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha). We had seen photos of some of Fushimi Inari’s thousands of vermilion torii (gates) that form tunnels that wind their way up Mount Inari. We wanted to see them for ourselves, although we weren’t sure about making the trek all the way to the top of the mountain.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, was easy to find. It was just across the street from Inari Station (on the JR Nara line). One of the first things that struck me when we arrived at the impressive entrance was that the area was deserted. Judging by the popularity of the shrine, this is not usually the case. We passed through the beautiful vermillion ghost town and found a stretch of torii, the beginning of the path up the mountain. A pair of tourists was just finishing a hike down the mountain. I asked them, “Is it a long hike?” They told us that it would take just two hours or so, and “once it starts to get dark, some of the lanterns light up.” I was sold.

And so with sore feet and tired muscles, we started up the mountain. The fascinating torii tunnels distracted me from my discomfort. I noticed that the torii had lettering on one side that indicated the name of the sponsor of the individual gate. Outside the torii tunnels were tall trees, providing a beautiful backdrop for our hike.

Because of branches and loops in the trail, the direction of the path up the mountain wasn’t as obvious as we’d thought that it would be. We used maps that were posted along the way, along with directions from some of our fellow hikers, to guide us. Once we had gained some altitude, we found a nice viewpoint, Yotsutsuji Intersection, where we joined an older Japanese couple in admiring a view of the city of Kyoto, before we continued on our journey up the mountain.

Along the path, we found a few shrine areas packed with jumbles of “fox shrines” connected by narrow pathways. Inari is the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers. Along with fox statues made of stone, many of the shrines were adorned with numerous small torii gates. These little gates were for sale at a shop along our hike but, like all of the shops along the path, it was already closed for the day.

The sunlight was starting to dim and, as promised, some of the Japanese stone lanterns along the path illuminated, via lightbulbs inside them. Although they were atmospheric, they were also a sign that our daylight was running out, and so we continued.

Our only clue that we’d arrived at the top of the mountain was a sign that stated “Top of The Mountain.” Here, trees and shrines there were the only view. Although the view at the top was a bit anticlimactic, we were glad that we’d made it. We climbed a few more steps to a small shrine where people had left their businesses cards. I made an offering and left a card.

The walk down the mountain was, of course, physically easier than the walk up, but we were rapidly losing light. In the dusk, we made our way through the torii tunnels, past more shrines, and through a neighborhood where we could hear and smell dinners being prepared.

We emerged back at the entrance of Fushimi Inari Shrine, hungry and exhausted, but, seeing the gorgeous shrine glowing in the darkness, we temporarily forgot everything but the beauty in front of us. Although I hadn't planned to visit the shrine so late in the day, our evening visit turned out more wonderful than I ever imagined.
P.S. Inspired by my trip to Japan, I wrote a novel called Lost in Tokyo, about a girl finding herself and falling in love. Lost in Tokyo is on sale now at and is FREE with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime!

I did this in 2013 in Kyoto, Japan.

Jen (California, USA)

See all of the highlights of Jen's trip to Japan!