One of the most iconic images of Kyoto is the vermilion red (I would call it orange), painted Torii Gates of the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Founded in 711 by the Hata family, its principal deity is Ukanomitama-no-Mikoto – the goddess of rice and food. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine for more than 30,000 Inari shrines across Japan. Inari is short for ‘Ine nari’, the reaping of rice, derived from ancient Japanese, where rice, the main food sustaining Japanese people’s lives, symbolizes the miracles of heaven and earth.
The vermilion red is considered a guard against evil forces, and is frequently used for shrines, the pigment used is made from mercury and red earth, which preserves the wood. Worshipers have donated torii gates to express prayers and appreciation since the Edo period, 1603-1868, and Fushimi Inari Taisha is now famous for its Senbon Torii ‘Thousand Torii’ gateways. Around 10,000 torii gateways of all sizes, line every path up to the top of the shrine. The torii gates are donations by individuals or companies, the donator’s name and date of the donation is inscribed on the back of each gate. The cost starts around 400,000 yen for a small sized gate and increases to over one million yen for a large gate.
The torii gates weave their way through the trees, on the paths they line, that wind up to the top of the mountain, it is a wonderful sight.
We’ve seen lots of stone animals, (we originally thought they were dogs) at shrines, they are foxes. The fox is considered the messenger of Inari, and the stone foxes are often referred to as Inari. They hold a symbolic item in their mouths or beneath a front paw, a jewel (looks like a ball), a key, (for the rice granary), a sheaf of rice, a scroll, or a fox cub, are all common. Almost all Inari shrines, no matter how small, will feature at least a pair of these statues, usually a female and a male, wearing a red bib, as mentioned earlier, red is to guard against evil forces.
The Japanese traditionally see the fox as a sacred, mysterious figure capable of ‘possessing’ humans, their favourite point of entry being under the fingernails.
We walked up to a pond called Shin-ike or Kodamagaike. There is a belief that when you are looking for someone who is lost, you clap your hands in front of the pond and your clapping will echo from the direction where the lost person can be found.
The shrine is open 24 hours a day. We expected it to be very busy so we got there early hoping to miss the coach tours, there was a lot of people there, but not enough that I couldn’t get some human free shots and it was peaceful walking along the orange, corridor like, pathways, up the mountain.
We only walked up for about an hour and then came back, it takes around two hours to get to the top, we had other places to visit and this was our last day in Kyoto.
Near the entrance to the shrine there are selection of street food stalls.
Sanjusangendo Temple was established in the twelfth century and looks quite dull from the outside, it’s 120 meters long and is Japan’s longest wooden structure. Inside there are 1001 carved wooden statues of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, the scale of the display is quite spectacular. There are 500 statues, in ten rows of 50, on each side of the seated figure of Senju Kannon. Sanjusangendo is the only Sentai Kannon-do (one thousand-Kannon hall) left in existence. The statues were made using a technique called yosegi, which allowed a number of craftsmen to work on one statue. First hollow blocks of wood were put to together and roughly carved, then the images were finely carved and lacquered for preservation. There are no photos allowed inside the hall.
Our last stop before we head to the station to get the Shinkansen back to Tokyo is Higashi-Honganji Temple. Higashi Honganji, officially known as Shinshū Honbyō, is the mother temple of the Shinshū Ōtani-ha branch of Jōdo Shinshū (Shin Buddhism), whose founder is Shinran (1173-1262). Built in 1604, the Higashi Honganji temple buildings were destroyed four times by fire, the most recent in 1864, most of the current buildings were rebuilt in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
The Goei-do, or Founder’s Hall, is the largest wooden building in Kyoto, and one of the largest in the world.
Kyoto station is the largest station in Japan, designed by the architect Hiroshi Hara, to celebrate the 1,200th anniversary of the foundation of Kyoto as the Heian capital, and constructed of glass and steel, it opened in 1997.
The station complex contains a department store, a shopping mall, several small museums, a wide-screen movie theatre, two theatres, two multi-storey car parks, a game centre, a hotel, government offices, and restaurants. Live concerts and comedy shows are held here at weekends.
A huge escalator system takes people up nine storeys to the roof, where there is a viewing and seating area. There is also an aerial walkway, the Skyway tunnel, one can walk the length of Kyoto Station, 45 meters above the central hall. The Skyway’s glass windows provide views of the city and station below.
So that was Kyoto. A city of contrasts, where one alights from one of the fastest trains in the world, the Shinkansen, into the futuristic display of glass and steel that is Kyoto station, to visit places and observe rituals that are centuries old.