Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

One of the most important shrines of the Shinto religion in Japan

by Roberto Poeti
Many places of worship.

I did not imagine that Japan possessed such a large number of religious testimonies. In the big cities dozens of temples scattered among the many neighborhoods, open to worship, each with its garden and its small cemetery of tombstones and volcanic stone stems accompany us on walks to discover the life of the city. Elderly ladies clean their temple with great care, helped by the deep respect that the faithful have for the place.

The sanctuaries

But it is in the great shrines that the religious soul of the Japanese is manifested. Visited every day by thousands of people, the shrines are historical and religious sites, a national heritage that preserves the identity of the Japanese people.  The beautiful city of Kyoto stretches over a vast plain, furrowed by the clean waters of some rivers. Around the city, like a crown, rise green hills that have been preserved from urbanization and immersed in their greenery stand temples and sanctuaries. If you visit a sanctuary, it is equivalent to immersing yourself in the lush nature, rich in water, with many small streams that feed the gardens of the sanctuaries.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

A very famous shrine, located a few kilometers from Kyoto, is the Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine. It dates back to the Heian period, an era of Japanese history between the eighth and twelfth centuries (794-1185), which takes its name from the capital of the time, Heian-kyo, the current Kyoto.

The entrance and the main temple

The main gate and the most important temple are located at the base of a green hill.  The main gate, called the Romon Gate, was donated in 1589 by the famous leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Behind it stands the main hall of the shrine (honden) where visitors should show respect to the deity by making a small offering. Fushimi Inari Shrine was dedicated by the Hata clan to Inari, the rice and sake deities.

The foxes of the sanctuary

In the temple there are also dozens of statues of foxes, animals to which, according to ancient mythology, the messengers of the cereal gods were ordered – Inari, in fact – a name by which they themselves are therefore often known. The keys that many of them hold tightly between their teeth are for access to the barns. The temple is at the center of about 40,000 other Inari temples throughout Japan. The fox in Japan is a sacred and mysterious creature, capable of penetrating and possessing human beings. After sunset it is almost impossible to find Japanese venturing under the red doors of Fushimi Inari because it is believed that the fox, once the sun goes down, can launch curses.

The path of the torii

After the entrance and the sacred buildings starts a path of over four kilometers that winds up the hill to the top and passes under thousands of torii, vermilion in color. The torii is the traditional Japanese gateway that leads to a jinja (Shinto shrine) or, more simply, to a sacred area. The torii gates along the entire route are donations from individuals and companies, and you will find the name of the donor and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each door. Numerous small temples, with statues of foxes at their entrance, are scattered among the torii of the sacred path.


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