When sightseeing, we quite often visit sacred places, churches, monasteries or shrines. After visiting a couple of them in a short time span in our recollections we usually confuse one with another. Unless we see something really unusual. If I had to make a recommendation of a place worth to visit, this one would be high on the short list. Oinari San, a mountain you climb walking paths covered with torii.
Oinari San or officialy Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto is the head shrine of Inari, the patron of prosperity, harvest, business, merchants, manufacturers, etc. located in Fushimi-ku in Kyoto (Japan).
The shrine consists of two parts: the lower one – pretty much similar to other shrines in layout and colours (mainly vermilion that is said to protect against bad forces), and the upper one – long corridors of torii (vermilion, too) climbing a mountain, that in itself is a sit of deity. (Torii in Japan are gates to sacred places >>>).
There are approximately ten thousand large and small torii. They were donated through ages by worshipers as a thank to Inari for successful businesses or transactions, and other life achievements the deity could have taken care for. The large torii form long corridors. The corridors of torii are broken from time to time either by smaller shrines or spots that look like cemeteries with many smaller torii spread over them. To go under all of torii corridors, you have for almost two hours climb up and down a mountain. If you want to make photographs and walk all the side paths you will need twice as much time.
The map looks simple. But the rows of 10-20 torii on it are in reality paths covered with hundreds of them.
Oinari San was one of the most interesting places we saw in Japan. We arrived there late around six local time, and left around eight. It was too late to climb to the top. But as I now recall it, I think the most exciting part of this visit was going down the mountain under the torii in the dark, with only few lights in the area. At this hour there ware not so many tourists on the mountain, so the experience was great. It was just as many people to not feel secluded, but simultaneously not as many to not contemplate this place. I wish only we have arrived earlier, so that it was possible to reach the top and simultaneously be able to stop to make more photos. The place is very photogenic.
The mountain path starts on the left. A the right hand side there is a sink where one can perform the purifying ritual, and behind, the main entrance to the shrine complex where people pay respect to deities. (More about rituals in Japanese shrines >>>).
So the path begins, it is 18:20 local time.
The first torii on the mountain path. When entering you barely suspect how many torii you have ahead of you.
Sometimes the path gets very dense. But as said above, the paths are broken with smaller shrines, like the one below. For a while I was following a young couple that stopped at each shrine and performed rituals of showing respect to Inari.
Another small shrine on the path with miniature torii on a small altar. The pictures above and below were taken from the same spot, I just turned around.
It is 18:30.
Although the path seems to head down, I am still climbing the mountain.
Another shrine, but this time with hundreds of smaller and bigger torii as well as other symbolic tributes. Here the majority of torii were made of stone.
On my way I crossed two or three sacred places as those on pictures above. Unfortunately it was already dark, so I was able to do only closeups. I think I reversed somewhere in the middle of the mountain.
It is 18:45.
It is getting darker. Only a shot of the way upstairs (now enhanced to see the perspective).
The walk downstairs was breathtaking. At this hour you barely meet people. As there are a couple of parallel torii paths, and sometimes the way down is in fact the way up, I was afraid of getting lost. For more than 20 minutes it was just me, the torii barely enlightened and the darkness around. If I had not to meet my colleagues at an agreed hour, I would probably go with slower pace. The photos below were made while standing below a light bulb. I still needed to enhance them. In reality it was a bit darker inside.
I reached the lower shrine. It is 19:10.
The main torii to the shrine complex. The picture above shows a shrine that is located behind that on the lower one.
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Saiō-Dai dressed in jūnihitoe, the twelve layers kimono. Seen during the Aoi Matsuri Festival in Kyoto.
The Aoi Matsuri Festival is a traditional procession of a couple of hundred people dressed according to VIII-XII century court code alongside streets of Kyoto. In the middle of procession there is an unmarried woman, who performs the role of Saiō-Dai. In past times, she was a lady chosen from the sisters and daughters of the Emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo shrine (another shrine on the way of the procession). According to the tradition she is dressed in jūnihitoe that is the most elegant kind of a kimono. It consists in fact of 12 twelve layers of silk garments (hence its name ‘a twelve-layer robe’). The colours of layers depend (or rather depended in the past) on the woman’s position. As the Saio Dai was carried is some kind of a litter it was not possible to see the whole robe. It would be however difficult for the performer to walk in the procession as the junihitoe may weight up to 20 kg. Today, only members of the imperial house wear jūnihitoe on very important occasions.