On my second full day in Kyoto I had visited Fushimi Inari Shrine in the hopes of getting a nice photo of the shrine’s famous torii gate hallways but I unfortunately arrived too late in the morning for that. A couple days later I got up really early and headed back to the shrine for another visit. The sun had just come up as I enter the shrine grounds and I walked quickly through the lower shrine area, stopping only a few times for a quick photo. There were already a small number of people at the shrine when I arrived but I was determined to succeed on this second photographic expedition to Fushimi Inari.
Several other people were gathered at the torii gate hallways but with a little patience I was able to get the photo I wanted. At this spot on the trail leading up to the mountain are two pathways where the torii gates are so close together that they almost form a continuous structure. I refer to them as the torii gate hallways, but the official Japanese name for this place is Senbon Torii, which translates to “thousands of torii gates.” Everyone who visits Fushimi Inari Shrine wants to get the photo above but you need to arrive as early as possible to have a chance at capturing it. Be there at sunrise if you can.
Having acquired the photo I was seeking, a massive wave of relief swept over me and I felt much more relaxed. I got out of the way of the other visitors that wanted to capture the same shot that I had taken and I spent a little time walking around the Senbon Torii area. When you visit Senbon Torii you’re supposed to walk up the path on the right and when coming down you walk the path on the other side. There are torii gates all along the trail heading up the mountain behind Fushimi Inari’s main buildings but this particular spot is what comes to mind when people think about the shrine.
After a short while I continued hiking the trail up the mountain. As you continue along the trail the torii gates become less frequent, though the gates themselves are much larger than the ones at Senbon Torii.
About halfway up the mountain is a rest area called the Yotsutsuji Intersection. Here you can find a number of benches, as well as a view of Kyoto. The hike up the mountain to this point isn’t difficult and just about everyone that visits Fushimi Inari Shrine should be able to get here.
Most of people hiking the mountain trail will turn back after reaching Yotsutsuji Intersection but I had plenty of time that day so I decided I was going to proceed onwards and go all the way to the top of the mountain. There are multiple trails that connect to Yotsutsuji Intersection, so if you want to reach the top of the mountain make sure to double-check a map before heading out. The trail to the mountaintop is a big loop and you can either take a path with a longer and slower ascent, or a path with a shorter but steeper climb. I chose the longer path, since I figured that I’d prefer to do the steeper path when coming down rather than going up. There were hardly any other people on the trail as I steadily moved through the forest and up the mountain. The torii gates gradually became less common but there were still many hundreds that I passed under.
At the top of the mountain are a building with vending machines and tourist trinkets, and the final shrine at the end of the trail. There’s no view of the surrounding area, so don’t expect a panorama if you hike all the way up here. I personally wouldn’t consider reaching the top of the mountain at Fushimi Inari Shrine to be a priority item if you’re visiting Kyoto but if you have time to spare and enjoy hiking then I think you’d probably enjoy it.
Having summited the mountain and seen the shrine up at the top, it was now time head back down. Since I was going down the mountain I was seeing the backsides of the torii gates as I walked the path, and anyone visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine will notice that the rears of the torii gates have large inscriptions on them. These indicate the person or organization that donated the gate to the shrine, and when the gate was donated.
When I got back to the Yotsutsuji Intersection I took a seat on one of the benches to rest for a couple minutes. The number of visitors had noticeably increased since earlier in the morning and I knew that the situation down at Senbon Torii was going to be very different from what it had been when I first arrived.
Sure enough, there were now lots more people at Senbon Torii. The torii gate hallways are really cool to see even with the tourist crowds, but I was glad I had showed up early and explored the area before it got busy. More and more people were showing up as I did one final walk up and down the hallways and shortly thereafter I made my way to the shrine entrance area. This second visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine had turned out much better than my first visit and my day was off to a really good start.