Walk through the tunnel of ten thousand vermillion torii (gates) snaking their way up the mountain at Fushimi Inari Shrine outside of Kyoto and you’ll soon realize that no two are exactly the same. Look one way and you’ll see bare, unadorned orange posts. Turn the other and you’ll see the names of all the businesses or individuals who donated each gate as a sign of gratitude for their prosperity. Among the thankful, a range — from men of small business to giants of Japanese industry hailing from companies like Hitachi or Panasonic.
No business is too big to be thankful to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, sake and prosperity. Although it may be tempting to take rice for granted or to see it as digestive filler, the traditional association between rice (and sake, a rice-derivative alcohol) and prosperity endures. In Japan, rice is of both symbolic and real importance. It's rare to have a meal without it.
Before you find yourself fighting the urge to speed through the tunnel of vermillion, be sure to spend some time below the gates at the actual Fushimi Inari Shrine, Japan's most significant Inari site, founded in 711. There you'll witness the flow of Japanese people of all ages praying, paying homage, writing their wishes on colorful ema boards, and buying special charms called omamori in hopes that their aspirations of finding a spouse or succeeding in an exam will someday be fulfilled.
If you are visiting Kyoto, we highly recommend taking a few hours to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine in the early morning. The light is spectacular. On your return to the station after climbing through all those torii, be sure to stop off at the Zen Buddhist complex at Tofuku-ji for a hefty dose of serenity as you gaze at its Zen rock gardens.
Now, open up the panorama below and get lost in the wonder, color and light of 10,000 vermillion gates.
The experiences above were from the G Adventures' Discover Japan Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!