Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Japan Series! - Fushimi Inari Taisha

     Now that I've explained my extended leave of absence, let's jump right back into the Japan series!

     Of all the shrines we visited on our trip to Japan, Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto was my personal favorite.

The torii gate at the entrance.

     Upon approaching this beautiful shrine, we could immediately see the color palette used throughout a lot of the site - red and white complemented by the green of large bamboo trees as well as other plants I couldn't identify. The huge red torii gate that greets visitors at the entrance was far from being the last one we would see there. In fact, the entire shrine is home to thousands of torii gates, many funded by donations from the patrons of the shrine.

View of one set of torii gates from above.

     The multitudes of torii gates are in several areas lined up one after the other, creating an experience almost like walking through a tunnel of red painted wood or, in some places, grey stone, with glimpses of the surrounding forest showing through the gaps between the gates. The entire path winding through all the gates can take hours to traverse, but we were limited to only one hour. Peek-sensei advised us to walk as far as we could in 30 minutes, then turn around and retrace our steps in order to meet at the front torii gate at the designated time. I wanted to take my time, see the sights, and snap some pictures, so Billy and I didn't manage to make it very far before our time was up. (Billy is determined to go back on our next trip to Japan and walk all the way through, no matter how long it takes!)

This is about the farthest point we reached.

     Another notable aspect of Fushimi Inari Taisha was the fox statues that were located throughout the shrine's ground. As I understand, these represent fox spirits, or kitsune, which are one of the many types of animals considered "messengers of gods" in Shinto beliefs. The kitsune in particular are closely associated with Fushimi Inari Taisha itself. The various fox statues we found there were all beautifully made and looked a little imposing.

I like how this one seems to be looking right at you!

     Billy and I also stopped for a moment to sample some dried fruit at a vendor's stand in an open square. It was delicious, but with our limited budget, we couldn't find a package small enough for us to afford. -_-'

When people come to pray at the shrine, they pull on the red and white ribbons to ring the bells at the top.
At this fountain near the shrine entrance, visitors wash their hands and mouths as a purification ritual.

Some of the smaller shrine structures.

     On the way back towards the entrance, we noticed that the backs of many of the smaller red wooden torii gates were inscribed with kanji and hiragana. Peek-sensei later explained that they listed donors who paid for each gate to be erected.

Here you can see the inscriptions on the backs of the torii gates.

     When Billy and I arrived back at the front torii gate, some of the others from our group had already made it back, and were saying goodbye to a group of Japanese people we'd never met before. One of our friends turned around and pushed a small, warm object into my hand, saying something along the lines of "You've gotta try this!" After tasting the food, I recognized it as takoyaki, which I had tried before in the States, when my other Japanese teacher, Miho-sensei, had made it for us to try in class. Takoyaki tastes kind of like gooey bread with chunks of cooked octopus inside, and it was delicious both times I tried it. Only after I had eaten it did my friends inform me that they had been given the food by the group of strangers they had just been talking to. Of course, I wouldn't normally recommend eating food received from strangers, but we all turned out okay. ^_~

A Shinto priest.

A miko, or shrine maiden.

     And that pretty much sums up my experience at my favorite shrine in Japan, Fushimi Inari Taisha. Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for some more of my favorite shrines and temples!

P.S. - Click here for the full list of Japan series posts!

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