Day 4 – Kyoto
Change of Plan
If you remember I bought a two day Kansai Thru pass from Osaka airport train station. I had plans to visit Mt Koyasan as well initially. Mt Koyasan or Koya has some really old and preserved shrines amid dense forest. Most stay options near Koyasan are Ryokans (Traditional stays options). These Ryokans are managed by monks and only vegetarian Japanese food is served. You get to participate in early morning prayers and experience of staying inside a Buddhist monastery. But when I enquired about the stay prices, I was bombed with figures of over 125S$ a night at the lowest. This was a big blow to my budget and I was in no mood to spend my 3 nights budget for one night stay. So I gave Mt Koya a pass. Perhaps some other time!!
Second Icon of Japan
If there are only two places to be visited in Kyoto, I would say, visit Bamboo grove of Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari Taisha. These two places are most popular spots of Kyoto and also most shot places in movies etc. It is the place with lot of Torii gates. I was pretty excited to visit the place. Since this shrine is so popular it is also very crowded during day time. So someone recommended me to visit the shrine after sunset. Fortunately shrine is open through out the day.
Since my Kansai thru pass was valid for two days and it included free unlimited bus and train rides in Kyoto. I had activated this pass today. Fushimi Inari is a bit far from Kyoto City/Eastern hills. A 40 minutes train ride took me to the most important Shinto Shrine. Thankfully there is no entry levy and no closing hours, so I could visit the place on my own pace. I bought a small Torii gates made of wood as a souvenir from here hoping it would reach home safely (and it actually did)
Shrine has a few establishments on the entry point. But the actual Shrine is located on a hill (Known as Mt Inari) 233 meter in height. It normally takes 2-3 hours to hike to the summit and come back. At the very back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate covered hiking trail, which starts with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”). I started my hike at around 6:30 PM. Entire hike is lined with vermilion coloured Torii gates. Though the frequency of Torii gates keeps diminishing as we go higher.
Large Torii gate at entrance
Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”) Left side for people coming back and rigth side for going up
I still have some company
By the time I started my hike I could see many people around the Torii gates and some were returning from the summit. Since I knew Mt Inari has a steep slope I deposited my tripod before leaving for the hike. I think it was a good decision as later I realized that hike is quite steep. After about one hour into the summit trail I reached a point named Yotsutsuji intersection. This particular point has a lovely city view and is also a resting point for traveller. I met a French photographer named David, who was clicking the city views from here. We talked about of our travel plans. He had plans to vosot Singapore too. He carried his Manfrotto tripod and couple of camera bodies all the way up and I left my light weight travel tripod before the hikeAnyway, I tried to keep my camera in iron railing to click a few shots which came out terrible.
View of Kyoto city from intersection
In no man’s land
A circular circuit start from the intersection as trails splits from this point. So you do a circular trail from here passing through summit and actual shrine and finally coming back to same point. Many of my co traveller returned from his point only. I was not able to decided if I should go up or not as there there was hardly anyone going on the hike at this time. It had turned dark now and all food stalls were long closed for the day. There was no help what so ever if some mishap happens. Since my motive was not religious (which is the case for Japanese people) I had no destination to reach. I decided to start the hike and return if I would feel uncomfortable. Perks of being a solo traveller I would say.
Thankfully Japan has these vending everywhere, so no need of shops to buy drinks etc. I stocked two isotopic drinks from the vending machine and started my climb. Well as I mentioned before there was not a single soul accompanying me. Later a couple of dogs joined me for a while but they only scared me. Little did I knew Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, so there were fox statues everywhere, making it look more spooky experience. I was taking longer strides to cover up quickly. I had no margin of getting lost. Though I had clicked a few pictures of the hike map before starting on my phone so I thought I was better off. In about 30 minutes I was at the actual shrine. Shrine was very dimly lit. And numerous torii gates of all sizes and deities made is look just out of a horror movie. Since it was quite a height it was windy and of-course, cold. I didn’t spend much time at the top and moved further after clicking some customary shots. Another 30 minutes and I was on the summit. Whole route was very dimly lit. Out of the blue, I saw a couple on the summit. A gay couple. Great, nice place to make some love. Well after some 15 minutes I came back to Yotsutsuji intersection and rested there for a while.
Getting darker and spooky
Route getting isolated
Dimly lit torii gates near summit
Shrine at Summit
Foxes are messenger of Inari
These small torii gates are donated by visitors
Descent back to the shrine was rather uneventful. But I terribly missed my tripod once I reached the bottom as shrines was brightly lit and a good place to try some long exposure shots. Never mind I had one more day in Kyoto and I decided to visit again. Little did I know God has another plan for my last day.