Kyoto: Fushimi-Inari Taisha

We had lots of time for our last day in Kyoto, since our train didn’t leave until late in the evening. We took our time in the morning, checking out around 10 and stopping at the desk to get some help with a repair to my glasses, which had lost a nose pad. Dan mustered enough Japanese to ask for some glue, and the helpful desk clerk bustled off to find some for us. With some glue and a toothpick, we were able to get the pad back in place – luckily for me, since I hadn’t brought a spare pair on the trip. We left our bags, and then walked up toward Maruyama Park to find breakfast. We landed at a small café with nice coffee and pastries. European-style cafés are popular in Japan, and this was the first of several good ones we ate at. They always have their particular take on the baked goods, the standout in this case being a bun filled with red bean and mochi. 

After breakfast, we caught a taxi to the famous and very popular Fushimi-Inari Taisha shrine, which honors Inari, the god or rice and patron of business. The lower part of the shrine near the entrance was already crowded. We didn’t linger too long in this area, quickly making our way toward the famous arcade of torii gates. There are several thousand of these vibrantly orange gates straddling the hiking path that leads up to the top of the sacred mountain. Each gate is inscribed with the name of the local business or individual who donated it, a custom that dates back to the Edo period. At the foot of the mountain, the torii are chock-a-block, and the crowds are similar. It was jostly and hard to navigate around all the people. We kept climbing, and the gates and the crowds did eventually thin out. 

A little ways up, we stepped off the main path to enter a cluster of small personal shrines on the right. This area was lovely and quiet, and gave me lots of opportunities to photograph details: small fox statues, suzu bells with elaborately braided and tasseled pulls, chains of tiny origami cranes, and miniature torii gates. We stopped for a snack, then went a little farther up the hill from the snack bar area before deciding not to continue to the top. My twisted ankle was still bothering me, and I didn’t want to push it. We wound back down the hill on a peaceful stretch of the trail that led us through another shrine filled with tiny clay kitsune. These foxes are messengers and guardians of the rice granary, and are seen in statues large and small throughout the grounds of Fushimi Inari.  We met a little black cat with a crooked tail outside this shrine who reminded us strongly of our cat, Penny. 

After passing through the vendor stalls at the foot of the hill and getting some so-so yakitori for lunch, we stopped for coffee at Vermillion, a tiny coffee shop across the street that is clearly named after the color of the famous gates of the shrine. We had a nice chat with the Australian barista and watched him use tweezers to garnish slices of matcha roll cake with tiny chocolate torii gates. 

After coffee, we returned to Kyoto Station, again trying to find the B Mobile store and a SIM card for Dan. Since we’d struck out on this mission the first time, we started by asking a security guard for directions. He told us we needed to go around the station to the other side. So we walked, and walked, and walked, the long way around the very large station, passing three 7-Elevens along the way. We never did find the B Mobile, but eventually found a BIC Camera. Their SIM card deal wasn’t as good, and it took a while to get it working with Dan’s phone, but we were successful at last.

With this settled, we took a cab back to our ‘neighborhood’ to enjoy our last evening in Kyoto. We were hoping to be in time to se Kodai-ji and the bamboo grove, but we were just a bit too late for that. We looked around the grounds  for a bit, then walked down through the lower Gion neighborhood and enjoyed the late afternoon light on the traditional buildings and cobbled streets. We had the odd and comical experience of encountering a band of Hare Krishnas as we came around a corner, and then have them appear to follow us as they were taking the same route as we were. We managed to lose them at the top of the hill when they went the other direction. We took a break for some soft-serve ice cream, then walked back down to our hotel to pick up our bags and get to Kyoto Staton to catch the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

We had plenty of time to have dinner at the station before our late evening train. We found the food court on the 11th floor of the station tower building, after discovering that you had to go through the cosmetics section of the Isetan department store and then take a rather cramped elevator to get up there. Once we found it, we chose a tempura/noodle restaurant from among many good options and had a pleasant meal. Our train was right on time, of course, and we arrived at Shinagawa station just before midnight and were in bed in our hotel just across the street not long after that.