We literally rolled out of the Marriott at Shin Osaka station on to the Shinkansen for a 20 min ride to Kyoto. Kyoto is the home to innumerable Japanese temples but we picked just two – The Fushimi Inari and the Kiyomizudera temple – The largest and most prominent shrines.
While tourist brochures suggest the best time to visit Japan is the cherry blossom season around April, the changing colours in autumn are no less spectacular. We visited in November as the autumn colours were emerging. Do not miss out the Autumn Leaves information board at KYOTO station. Yet another of the many examples of the Japanese eye for detail we came across during our trip. .
Two stops down the Nara line from Kyoto and we were at Inari station – a short walk from the Fushimi Inari shrine. As we walked along a neatly laid tree lined path to the shrine we observed the vivid autumn colours making their early appearance. You then pass vermilion gates or toris to enter the main shrine. The place can get crowded and we were advised to be there early in the morning but it was well past noon when we got to the shrine. Crowded perhaps by Japanese and Western standards but nothing compared to the crowds we see in India in religious places.
Our first halt was at the Chozuya or washing pavilion. As we learnt at the Sensoji temple devotees are expected to wash their mouth, hands and the ladle before entering the temple. We were now familiar with the sequence of ablutions – Left hand first, then right hand, wash your mouth and finally the ladle.
The Fushimi Inari is the main shrine of all Inari shrines in Japan. At last count there were 33000 such shrines. In the Shinto religion Inari is the god of rice, bountiful harvest, general well being, prosperity and success in business. Do not miss the two foxes on either side of the entrance. Foxes are revered as they are regarded as the messengers of the Gods and protect the shrine. These foxes have a ribbon around their neck and maybe keys in their mouth which are considered to be keys to the silos of grain which they guard!
By the side of the main shrine are two smaller shrines and a large hall, beside which is the trail leading to the top of Mount Inari. The trail is a pleasant 5 km walk and passes through Toris or vermilion gate. There are foxes on guard at intervals. The most well known and visited of all these is the Senbon Tori or 1000 toris very close to each other forming a dense tunnel like structure. These toris are made of wood and have been donated by Japanese citizens. On each tori you will find the name of the donor and the date. The large number of Toris is what distinguishes this shrine and is a very popular walking tour for visitor to Kyoto. Along the picturesque trail you will come across well preserved forests, manicured gardens and even souvenir stores. Cedar wood carvings and curios caught our fancy on the way down from Mount Inari and we picked up some knick knacks for the folks back home.
Along the walk is a shrine of the wishing stone. As the plaque advises that you make a wish first and guess the weight of the stone. If the stone is lighter than what you guessed your wish would come true. While it did make interesting reading and a pleasant experience picking up the stone my “numerateness” made be understand that this process can be tweaked in the mind to achieve a 100 per cent success rate at the Oracle. But then such logic is only for non believers. As we continued along the walk the weather turned cooler and the views got better and better. We did not walk the entire route and turned about after we had done about a third of the trail. As we got down the hill we were greeted by innumerable Japanese street food stalls which provide a very wide offering of vegetarian and non vegetarian street food. A well deserved treat after a long walk . We spent a good two hours at the shrine and we set out for the next part of the day’s agenda – The Arashiyama bamboo forest.