In Praise of Shadows
Exploring Fushimi Inari Taisha at Night
Much like everyone else on this planet, I absolutely love Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha. Anyone who has visited knows there is just something ethereally awesome about that endless array of Torii gates that is difficult to capture in words. However, the shrine’s popularity has recently become a major thorn in its side. Simply put, these days there are far too many visitors for one to enjoy Fushimi Inari Taisha’s splendor. In fact, the experience can often summon feelings of being at Disneyland instead of honoring consecrated land. And, to make matters worse, the shrine’s mainstream notoriety typically lures the very worst types of tourists.
What then is a traveler who’s allergic to crowds to do? Well, if you’re smart with your scheduling, you can dodge the never-ending hordes at Fushimi Inari Taisha by avoiding peak times. Many online resources will recommend that you wake up very early and make a direct beeline to the shrine before the busloads of tourists descend. While this method is indeed effective, it is something that has already been covered at length elsewhere. Rather than suggest you rise with the sun therfore, I recommend you visit during the late evening instead. You see, few people realize that Fushimi Inari Tashia is actually open 24 hours a day! If you thought the day was otherworldly, you haven’t seen anything yet!
Fushimi Inari Taisha is located in Southeastern Kyoto. The shrine can easily be accessed via Inari station on the JR Nara line or via Fushimi Inari station on the Keihan line. Of these, I personally recommend that you take the former over the latter as it lets you out right in front of the approach to the shrine. As always, the best route will depend on where you’re traveling from. To calculate the your train connections, be sure to refer to Hyperdia or a similar service. Note that JR rail pass holders who want to save a few hundred yen will want to take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station.
Once you have arrived in the vicinity, know that Fushimi Inari Taisha is relatively simple to find even after sunset. The shrine is divided into the main area located at the base of Mt. Inari followed by the torii gate path which snakes all the way up the mountainside. When approaching the shrine, the first structure you’ll encounter is the imposing Romon gate. Supposedly, this impressive gate was donated by none other than the famous warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself. The torii path starts soon thereafter.
Light & Shadow
First up, let me say that it is impossible to do justice to Fushimi Inari Taisha at night solely within written text. No matter how appealing I make my prose sound, it will never capture the overwhelming spiritual vibe that one experiences when exploring the shrine at night. You’re just going to have to take me at my word and visit yourself. Hopefully, the iPhone shot above that I snapped one dreary night during a recent business trip to Kyoto will spark your wondrous and adventurous spirit.
One bit of advice that I will give you though is to pay attention to the interplay between the lights and shadows. You see, even in the middle of the night, the entirety of the path is well illuminated by a series of lights located on both sides of the Torii gates. These lights cast a glow that shines through the gaps and creates the stunning shadow-like patterns seen above. It is truly a surreal and magical experience and especially so if you’re alone. You can really sense that you are traveling along hallowed ground. In fact, as you make your ascent, you may suspect the shrine’s spirits are watching you from the still but opaque darkness.