Fushimi Inari Taisha lies in southeast Kyoto. It is the head Inari shrine with thirty thousand subordinate shrines throughout Japan. The source of the faith from which Fushimi Inari Taisha draws its power lies in mount Inari, which stands behind the shrine. Deities reside on mount Inari and they are believed to be attracted to and dwell in the trees and stones, so the mountain is strewn with countless small places of prayer.
The inner shrine was rebuilt in the 15th century after the original building was destroyed in wars at the time. It enshrines five deities that are collectively worshiped as Inari-Okami or O-inari-san. They are foremost known as the guardian deities of business prosperity, household safety and success in the arts. The first among them is Ukanomitamano-Okami, the guardian deity of farming, the heart of the Inari faith.
The sacred grounds of Fushimi Inari cover around 870 000 square meters including Mt. Inari. The pilgrimage extends 4 kilometers around the mountain and takes up to 2 hours to complete. The thousand torii gates lined the start of the pilgrimage route. The torii are donated by patrons from across the nation. The shrine relocated all the torii that had been privately erected throughout Mt. Inari some 200 years ago to this location and the tunnel grew over time. Passing through the tunnel takes on the nuance of prayers being passed or accepted by the deities and believers donate the torii in gratitude for their prayers and wishes being granted.
After 40 minute of hiking is Yotsutsuji or the crossroad which offers a spectacular view of the city. The tea house offers visitors a respite.
Around the mountain there are a lot of Otsuka, which are privately worshiper rocks or trees that attracted deities and they are similar to personal Inari shrines. There are more than 10000 Otsuka. Each one is imbued with the prayers of those who erected them. Their hopes for business prosperity, prayers for recovery from illness or wishes for family welfare and peace, everyone wants to be protected.
Senbon-torii or a thousand torii gateways is a well-known vista. The torii are made from Japanese cedar which is considered sacred in Shinto. Making the gateways durable yet beautiful is paramount. People who made them are especially careful when painting the torii. Vermilion paints contains mercury to prevent rot so it has been considered protection from evil since ancient times. The vivid vermilion of Fushimi Inari is considered to represent the effectiveness of the Inari deities powers. Five coats of paint are applied, this produces a lasting brilliant luster.
Certain animals are venerated at Shinto as messengers of the deities. Foxes are considered the messengers of the Inari deities so their statues dot the shrine grounds. People in ancient times saw foxes roaming between their villages and the mountains where the deities resided. They believed foxes are incarnations of the deities of both the mountains and fields. In time foxes came to be seen as the messengers of the Inari deities, the guardians of farming.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a very popular place. In addition to being one of the biggest tourist attractions and a place of prayers for the residents of Kyoto, it is also the national heritage of Japan that must be seen by every Japanese. Travels of pre-school and school children as well as students are drawn in there. Because of this it is quite crowded place, but sometimes you just have to get off the main path to stay alone. Then you are surrounded only by old powerful trees, countless small temples and statues of foxes. You can feel the amazing climate and energy of Inari, and even a bit of horror, when statues look at us from everywhere.
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