While visiting Tokyo few months back I experienced all that is modern about Japan. You can check what I’ve been up to in one of the previous posts – Last Minute Tokyo. It was one of this trips that I will not forget and even before leaving, I already knew I will come back for more. I wanted to see some more Japanese historical sites, unfortunately didn’t have enough time. Can you imagine how happy I was when found out I will have a chance not only to be back to Japan but this time to visit its cultural centre – Kyoto?! Well… extremely!!! A list of things I wanted to see got very long, but there was one particular place that got my attention – Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine.
There are thousands of temples in Kyoto. Yes, I was shocked too!
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is one of the most intriguing ones, famous for its thousands of vermilion tori gates (they are donations by individuals and companies; their cost vary from 400,000 yen for a small sized gate and increases to over 1 mln yen for a large one!).
When I saw a picture I knew it’s my number one thing to visit. On a plus side (for me) was its location with sacred Mount Inari just behind it, where tori gates straddle a network of trails in the forest and lead to the top of the mountain.
Not that many people who start the climb actually get to the very top. It’s 233m but most reach just the Yotsutsuji Intersection to enjoy the view over Kyoto.
For those who need or simply want to have a break from time to time, there are some little restaurants on the way where one can sit down, enjoy a drink or local food like sushi, udon or ice cream (there is a green tea flavour of course also! yummy!)
Apart from restaurants, you can find plenty of small shrines along 4km trail. Each one has a small water basin with ladles to perform misogi – ritual of purifying your body and mind (rinsing your hands and mouth) before standing in front of the spirit. Praying ceremony includes throwing a coin into an offering box, ringing a bell to greet the spirit, bowing twice, clapping your hands twice (to express a joy of meeting with the spirit) and bowing again, before saying your prayer.
In each shrine and on the way you can spot plenty statues of foxes. They are thought to be messengers of a Shinto God of rice – Inari (Shinto is the ethnic religion of Japanese people).
I decided to get my own messenger fox deliver me a fortune, called O-mikuji. It’s a random fortune written on a strips of paper that you receive usually after making a small offering. The way of choosing it differs from shrine to shrine. When the prediction of your chances of your hopes coming true, staying healthy, loved, etc. is bad, it is a custom to tie it to a pine tree or other dedicated space and leave along other bad fortunes on a shrine grounds. I could take mine with me!
On the way back I met a lovely Japanese couple from Kobe, who I ended up chatting with for a while. I was very surprised when they invited me for a lunch at some point. All I knew so far about Japanese culture is that people are extremely polite and very helpful but quite reserved towards “strangers”. Keiko and Kiyoshi used to live in Canada and USA for a few years, so I guess that influenced them a lot.
It turned out we had the same idea of enjoying a good udon for lunch. I was lucky to be with them, as I didn’t have to worry which of many restaurants to chose and how to easily communicate with waitress (even in touristic places you might struggle a bit with that). At the end I chose tempura soba. I did’t know that apart from udon (noodles made of wheat flour), you can have more healthy buckwheat noodles called soba. Perfect discovery!
That encounter was a perfect finishing touch to this part of the day. I got to learn a bit more about Japanese culture, some rituals that I explained you above and of course my companions themselves.
We travelled together on the train to the center of Kyoto, from where they continued their way to Kobe. I even got an invitation for a bit more of sightseeing, but unfortunately didn’t have enough time to be able to accept it. If I’m lucky enough maybe I get to see them one day again. It was a real pleasure and a lovely experience!
I fell in love with Kyoto and I will try to show you more of it soon in the next posts. I hope you will share my excitement and maybe I will make you visit this place one day 🙂