It was another perfect spring morning when we took the train to Fushimi Inari, just two stops from Kyoto. The temple grounds start right in front of the station, so even without the throngs of people it would have been hard to miss. We were drawn to the side of the large shrine by music, very measured and solemn. Four men in suits sat to one side of the stage; it appeared to be some kind of presentation, but trying to photograph them or the women performing on stage would result in an attendant waggling a ‘no photography’ sign at you. The gates started further up the hill. Lots of them. I’m not sure that anyone actually knows how many, since claims on the internet range from 1300 (doesn’t seem enough) to 10,000 (which seems unlikely, unless you include the symbolic miniature ones placed on shrines). Long arcades of vermillion torii wind up the hillside, eventually leading to the summit.
The gates are donated by businessmen or companies in gratitude for good fortune and hopes of more, and are inscribed with their name in black on the reverse – so the ranks of gates look quite different when you’re coming down. Along the route are shrines, some maintained by individual families, and images of foxes are everywhere, the fox being the messenger of Inari, god of business and rice.
The further we climbed, the fewer the people, until, with patience, it was actually possible to get photos of the gates with nobody in shot. We didn’t climb all the way to the top, but stopped at a lake about half way, where there was a temple bristling with candles. Family shrines lined the shore. It was a lovely setting, and tranquil in spite of a constant stream of visitors.
Back down at the entrance a group of girls were posing for photos in kimonos. It’s possible to hire kimonos in Kyoto (complete with traditional shoes and hair ornaments), and it seems to be a popular option for Chinese and Korean tourists. At least they look the part, not like the American girl at Sensoji. The rented kimonos did stand out though: they were much brighter and more gaudily patterned than the ones owned by Japanese women. Which makes sense if they are marketed at the Chinese.
We caught the train one stop back towards Kyoto, alighting at Tofukuji. The route to the temple wasn’t obvious, but we found it by noticing where people with cameras were coming from – it led through quiet residential roads to a covered wooden bridge across a steep valley filled with maple trees in fresh new leaf; it was like floating on a bright green, billowing sea.
It was ¥400 to enter Tofukuji’s zen garden which was exquisite, especially where the wooded slopes beyond had been ‘borrowed’ into the design. We were lucky with our arrival time, as few other people,were there; by the time we left it was swarming – a last minute rush before the garden’s 4pm closure. I don’t know why things close so early in Japan.
We strolled around the temple compound and admired the enormous old gatehouse, and watched a kingfisher patrolling the lotus pond, before returning to the station. Back in Kyoto it was Yodabashi’s turn to have its cameras perused and…drum roll…Mr Vagabond finally bought one. An Olympus something. Much cheaper than in the UK. Allegedly.