Mount Inari: Hiking the Sacred Home of Inari

Inari is one of the most popular gods in and outside of Japan. As the god of harvest, business, sake, and even fertility, people seek out Inari for a number of reasons. The principal shrine is Fushimi Inari Shrine in the southern part of Kyoto.  The shrine covers Mount Inari with its iconic tunnel of vermillion torii tunnel. Starting from the bottom to the very top is a reasonably easy hike that should only take a few hours.  But, Mount Inari is not just a great hike, but also a great place to many different forms of Inari Worship in one place. 

 

Why Mount Inari is So Sacred?

Mount Inari (233m)is the southernmost mountain of the Higashiyama Mountain Chain. Fushimi Inari Shrine is the first of the many little shrines, or shinseki, on this mountain built by the Hata clan. 

Those little shrines were eventually relocated to their current locations ultimately creating what is now Fushimi Inari Shrine. There are seven of those little shrines on Mount Inari, namely: Gozendani Yohaisho, Choja-sha, Ichi no Mine, Ni no Mine, San no Mine, and Kojin Mine. However, outside of these seven, there are still many many more little shrines. 

 

Otsuka

As you climb the mountain, you will see many stone markers, especially around the little shrines. Some people may assume those are gravestones, but private shrines called otsuka.

Historically, Inari Worship was a mix of many different regional folk religions, but after the separation of Buddhism and Shinto, Fushimi Inari became exclusively a shito shrine.  Still, people who followed the Inari folk religion built their own Inari shrines on the mountain to enshrine their own Inari god.

If you take your time to walk around those little shrines, you can see many of these otsuka have the name of a different Inari god carved on them. 

Otsuka at Fushimi Inari Shrine
Otsuka. Private Inari gods are typically called “x” -Okami and do not appear in the Kojiki.

 

Tips for Hiking Mount Inari

    • The trail is roughly 5km and 2-2.5 hours. It starts from Fushimi Inari Shrine and the trail comes back to the shrine though it has several side trails. The main trail is clearly marked with vermillion torii.  The trail is occasionally a steep, so may not be a good idea to go up the mountain when it is rainy or very hot. 
    • There are vending machines along the way but as you go up, so do the prices. It is better to buy your drinks before you set off!
    • This is still a practice site of Inari Worshippers, meaning this is a sacred religious site.  

 

Hiking Mount Inari 

To Yotsutsuji

To get to the hiking trail for Mount Inari, head to Okush Hohaisho from Fushimi Inari Shrine through Senbon Torii. From Okush Hohaisho, follow the path to Yotsutsuji. Many people go no farther than Okush Hohaisho, so there are significantly fewer people walking. 

The seemingly never-ending vermillion torii are in fact donations. Various businesses make a donation to the shrine (roughly around $2,000 each) for a new torii, hoping for good fortune in exchange. 

if you detour a little bit, you can sometimes find really picturesque spots
Kumataka-sha on Mount Inari
Kumataka-sha

Climbing Mt. Inari

From Yotsutsuji, you can see a great panoramic view of Kyoto. This is usually the point where many people head back to Fushimi Inari Shrine. However, Yotsutsuji is the start of the circuit trail to the top of Mount Inari starts. The entire round trail is roughly 5km and took around 1.5-2 hours to come back to Yotsutsuji. 

To the right will take you on a clockwise trail up the mountain and the left will take you counterclockwise. If you take the counterclockwise trail, you will probably find the trail to be a little less steep way might be less steep. We took the clockwise trail though and didn’t find it all that strenuous. 

Tunnel of torii on Mount Inari
Torii. This torii tunnel goes further to the top of the mountain
Yakuriki no Taki. Waterfall Practice is very common among Inari worshippers.

Gozendani Hohaisho is one of the little shines built on the former Inari Shrines. Allegedly, the offerings to gods were cooked here.

Around Gozendani Hohaisho, there are so many otsuka near the little shrine. If you go off the main trail just a little, you can clearly take a close look at it, as there are few people there.

While you are there take a look at the otsuka. These otsuka list the names of the god(s) it enshrines, yet those gods neither appear in the Kojiki nor Nihon Shoki. Rather, they are personal Inari gods named and enshrined by individuals. Creating your own god might seem a little strange, if not outrageous, but it is very natural to Japanese people. 

I don’t think you can create new otsuka anymore,  so what Inari Worshippers typically do is walk around the mountain and find an otsuka that speaks to them or gives them a vision.

Gozdndani Hohaisho on Mount Inari
Gozdndani Hohaisho
If you walk a bit away from the main path, everything gets so eerie.
otsuka on Mount Inari
A lot of old-looking otsuka.

15 minutes from Gozendai Hohaisho is Choja-sha, which enshrines Kamo no Tamayorihime, or  Princess Tamayori, the goddess of Kamo Shrine. 

Choja-sha on Mount Inari
Choja-sha.
A well allegedly used by Sanjo Munechika to make a sword.
lesser shrines on Mount Inari
The rock looks like it’s about to fall off!

To Ichi no Mine

On the top of Mount Inari is Ichi no Mine. Mount Inari is only 233m high, it feels quite far from the shrine grounds. Ichi no Mine enshrines Suehiro Okami, who I believe is one of the Inari gods. 

Almost there…
At the top!

Even it is the top of the mountain, around Ichi no Mine are a large number of otsuka. I think this place speaks volumes about how the Japanese people interpret spirituality. On one hand, you have the established ideology, yet it is flexible and allows for many different, and personal variations of those beliefs.  

 

Climbing Down Mt. Inari

From Ichi no Mine,  the steep incline finally starts her and the trail starts to descend. However, there are still a number of otsuka and small shrines on the way. 

 

Ni no Mine on the top of Mount Inari
Ni no Mine. Enshrines Aoki Okami.
Great view of Fushimi (South Kyoto)
Ma no Mine. Look at the torii here!! Can you see it is different from other shrines?
San no Mine. Shiragiku Okami is enshrined here.

The last little shrine, Kojin Mine is up the stairs from there. Try not to miss it!!

Tanaka-sha. Enshrines Gondayu Okami.
A chicken.? on right)
You can donate little torii to your favorite otsuka
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