You can’t go to Kyoto without getting a photo at Fushimi Inari shrine, right? This photographers’ playground sits on a mountain, with hiking paths lined with beautiful red and orange torii (gates). The gates make for some of the most vibrant scenes in the world (a friend commented on one of my Instagram snaps that it looks “straight out of a Wong Kar-wai film”). It’s probably impossible to take a terrible photo there. ^^
Of course, this shrine was not built for photographers, but rather for fortune-seekers. The thousands of gates were donated by entrepreneurs, seeking help from the Shinto patron of business and rice. In addition to its gates, Fushimi Inari shrine is known for its many fox statues. Foxes are the deity’s messengers, often called upon to deliver people’s wishes. As you can imagine, the kitsune are very busy carrying infinite prayers for commercial success and financial gain. There are all kinds of amulets you can buy to increase your luck—mini versions of the torii, adorable foxes and even fortune cookies.
I was intrigued by a fortune-telling method called omikuji, kindly explained to me by another visitor. There’s a cylinder filled with numbered bamboo sticks and a hole at the bottom just big enough for one to slip through. Visitors shake the container until a stick falls out, and then they get a piece of paper that corresponds to the number they drew. If the paper promises good luck, they take it with them. But if the paper has a “curse,” they tie it to the shrine in hopes that the bad luck will stay there instead of following them.
There is something slightly eerie about the shrine complex, especially on the more isolated paths further up the hill, with the pointy-eared stone foxes staring down at you. The look in their eyes is sly and knowing—they heard your prayers, and they see your deepest desires. If the light and shadows play with you, the red color can start to glow, supernatural and sinister. Spiderwebs loom in the corners. Stray cats stalk through the trees. The space feels coated with spiritual residue, a mixture of positive and negative energies oozing out from the amulets and wishes and curses left behind by the pilgrims. It’s enough to make you tingly. (Maybe I’ve just read too many ghost stories.)
At the base of the mountain are several shops selling tofu ice cream. It’s surprisingly creamy, given that it’s dairy-free. The man who sold it to me insisted that I get a picture holding it upside down, to show that it doesn’t melt the way regular ice cream does. Yum!
Pssst, there’s another picture of Fushimi Inari over at my friend Arienne’s blog, SeeYouSoon Travel. She recently asked me for an interview for her new series on travelers around the world. I was so flattered to read her lovely words about my blog and work.
Arienne is an expert on budget travel, especially in Southeast Asia, so if you’re planning any kind of excursion on this side of the world, SeeYouSoon is an excellent resource. Her posts on Travel Costs are especially helpful, in my humble opinion. ^^