Shadows flickered across the foxes’ faces, their beady eyes watching me as I approached the altar.
Outside the rain fell hard, the sound echoing in the small room. My wet clothes clung to my body as I shivered, all alone on the mountaintop.
A strong breeze blew, dramatically enlarging the foxes’ shadows for a second. The yellow candlelight danced across the walls, playing off the orange gates that cluttered the altar.
I’d walked through thousands of these orange gates on my way to the summit. This was Fushimi Inari Shrine, my favourite place in Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god Inari, the god of rice. The Japanese believe that foxes are Inari’s messengers, and so hundreds of fox statues adorn the shrine’s grounds. Built in 711 AD, you can feel the history as the moss clings to the stones.
But it’s the orange torii gates that make the shrine so memorable. Thousands of these gates cover the path up the mountain. Each gate is donated, by an individual or a company.
In places the gates are spaced far apart; in others they are packed so densely that it feels like you are walking through an orange tunnel. It gives the hike a magical quality, like being in your own Studio Ghibli film. Where was Totoro?
I was in awe. The gates contrasted wonderfully with the green forest pressing in on both sides. Some of the gates were rotting and it felt like the rain would never end. I took care not to slip on the worn stones.
After a long day of battling through Kyoto’s other impossibly crowded attractions, it was a relief to be here. The rain was actually a blessing in disguise, driving away the uncommitted tourists. While everyone else swarmed around the Golden Pavilion, I figured I was probably the only person alone in the whole damn city.