Previously: I rented a bike and rode through Kyoto to Fushimi Inari, a very famous shrine in the south of the city.
I was just to the right of that main entrance and the busy market alleyway I had embarrassingly chickened out of.
The parking lot lead into the entrance of the shrine, exhibited by a huge red gate. Just beyond that was a wash basin and another lavish building. It was crowded, but there was space to stand and observe. There were two women in kimonos and, like a creep, I took a sneak photo.
I’ll briefly mention here that Jessica (the friend I stayed with the week before) taught me the proper etiquette of shrine wash basins. I believe it’s strictly meant to purification, but maybe there are other reasons? Using provided ladles, you wash your hands and (if you’re feeling particularly spiritual) your mouth. I think hands are necessary, but mouth is optional (but if you don’t do it, no one’s gonna knock you because you’re a foreigner).
So, when I saw Fushimi Inari’s wash basin, I felt good knowing I knew what to do. I approached, cautiously as there was a group surround it, and waited my turn for a ladle. I washed my left hand, then my right. There were a couple of small towels, but I just dried my hands on my pants.
I won’t explain everything that happened over this visit, as it can’t really put it to words, but I’ll give a general narrative.
Maybe 50 meters after the wash basin there was some sort of spiritual ceremony starting up. Shrine maidens were dancing, there was a drum beat, and I believe incense was being burned. No pictures were allowed and there was even a guard to ensure this. I watched for a few minutes. It started to rain lightly, but I didn’t bother with my umbrella. I didn’t want to block anyone’s view.
At another one of the buildings, there was incense you could buy to burn (like candles at churches). IIRC, there were wooden boards you could buy, write on, and then burn? It’s difficult to remember, sorry.
Another building had men inside, praying to golden statues. They were dressed in monk uniforms, but I respected the “no photos” sign.
Following the path and the crowd, I ventured up some stairs. I was surprised to learn, coming across a map, that Fushimi Inari covered a lot of ground. It’s built around a small mountain and, IIRC, can be an two+ hour hike to the top. I had no intention to stay that long. I figured I’d keep going until I found that fabled, frequently-instagrammed Senbon Torii.
I went with the crowd, climbing up stairs until a plateau with a hall of large Torii. It wasn’t the one I was after – they were too big and distanced too far apart. It was terribly crowded, so getting a good picture with minimal people was near impossible. I stepped outside of the gates, into a forested area, and took a shot from the outside.
I must’ve been outside the norm because very little people copied me. I guess they like the photos from inside better. Jokes on them because I got some NOICE pics.
Walking further, I came to a small souvenir area. I imagine that area is the next major ‘hub’ of the shrine after the entrance. It was small though, perhaps the size of two tennis courts. But people were in frequent circulation, often continuing up, further into the shrine. The area forked into two paths: further up the mountain and to those famed Senbon Torii.
I made a beeline for the gated halls; tightly packed and almost claustrophobic with people. It was built in a loop – enter from one end and exit to the same area. For spiritual reasons, visitors must enter via the right and exit the left (and it worked well for crowd control).
Although the numbers had thinned, there were still too many people to get a good photo. And I didn’t want to be one of those people that stopped the line to get a picture (plus I certainly I didn’t have the courage to do so by myself). So, I just took in the sights and snapped three blurry pics. Woof, they ain’t good.
Back into the souvenir area, I excitedly browsed the charms available. I can honestly say I was a sucker for the (excuse the pun) charm of them. Best of all, they had English translations of what each one did. “Brings happiness,” “Brings good fortune,” and “brings money you spent,” are some that I bought.
There was a table holding a good sum of these charms in boxes, where tourists paid via the honour system. There was also a small shop run by shrine workers selling more expensive charms. They were younger workers (possibly high school age) making even more charms in the back to fill their stock.
Everything was so tempting, but I limited myself as they were somewhat expensive. The cheapest were 500yen and went up from there. And it’s all cash too – which does make sense for the situation. But, as you may recall, I had limited cash supplies, and it was barely half-way through the day.
Next time: More biking, the Gion area of Kyoto, and lunch.