This is Part 4 of my stay in Kyoto, covering my sightseeing done today in the southern part of the city, notably the Fushimi Inari area.
On my way to the Gion-Shijou train station near my hostel, I saw a crowd of people gathered around something or someone. As I got closer I heard them saying ‘Maiko-san’ excitedly. Maiko (the -san is added as a term for respect) are apprentice geisha, who are primarily highly sophisticated, talented women whose main function is entertainment in a variety of forms (dancing, playing a musical instrument, and even the art form of making/pouring tea). It’s important to note neither geisha or maiko are prostitutes, although many people outside of Japan think that, probably because of movies.
Their appeal was/is the highly-refined and graceful manner in which they entertain their guests. In modern times, girls join voluntarily, although a hundred years ago it might have been different. Anyway, it’s very rare to see a maiko-san out on the street (as a friendly old lady told me), so I was definitely excited I got to see one up close while in Kyoto.
Moving on, I headed to Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine at the base of the small mountain, Mt. Inari. It is of course most famous for the trail of torii gates that run for about 4 km around the mountain. But the main shrine complex at the beginning is also quite impressive.
At the back of the complex is the entrance to the main attraction of Fushimi Inari – the thousands of vermilion torii gates. It was extremely crowded, especially at the beginning where the ascent is very easy and the density of the gates high. After climbing up various stairs (all surrounded by the gates) for 30 minutes or so, the number of people decreases and it’s great to just walk through a mountainous forest under cover of the gates.
I went to the top of the trail, after about an hour, and saw lots of very cool little shrines along the way. The Fushimi Inari shrine is a tribute for the God Inari, who brings bountiful harvests and whose messengers are foxes. So, most of the mini-shrines have little fox statues.
On the descent, there was a nice clearing that offered glimpses of Kyoto city below. It was a good spot to take a break and enjoy the view.
The whole trip took about 3 hours, and was definitely at the top of my list of things to see in Kyoto (along with the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama). It’s honestly astonishing how many torii there are at Fushimi Inari. Each one has been donated by either individuals, families, companies, etc, and the name and date of the donation is inscribed on the back of each gate. The cost for a gate varies from around $3,000/$4,000 for the smaller ones up to $13,000 for the larger ones.
Again, Kyoto has a huge spectrum of sights and experiences to offer, and it’s no wonder most people say you could be in Kyoto for a month and still not seen enough of it.
Thanks as always,
And a couple more pics: