Thursday, July 21, 2016

Winter 2015 Japan trip, day 3: Torii, castle, and temple in Kyoto

Saturday, December 26: Full day in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari-taisha is the iconic mountainside shrine with thousands of orange torii gates along the trail.  Inari is the patron spirit of "fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture, industry and general prosperity and worldly success" (Wikipedia) and foxes are its messengers, so fox statues and statuettes are everywhere.  Because this is a shrine for business, the torii gates are sponsored by corporations and range in size depending on the size of the donation.

Sponsor information on the backs of the torii

The shrine has its own train stop south of the city center.  Based on our experience, I highly recommend going first thing in the morning (i.e. before 9am) to beat the tourist rush and enjoy a more peaceful trail experience; when we left mid-morning, we saw a stream of tourists entering.  We spent about 1-1/2 hrs there and hiked 2/3 of the way up the mountain on the loop trail.

(by Andrew)
Seen in the window
View from the lookout about 2/3 of the way up
We went up the main path with the most torii gates and then, on the way down, took the less-popular branch of the trail (go to the right side when facing downhill at the main branch point).  This branch also brings you back to the main entrance, but through a more residential area that features hundreds of little shrines with little torii gates, fascinating in their own right.

After returning to the city center, we had enough time left in the morning to visit Nijo Castle, a 17th-century stronghold with large wooden buildings and sprawling grounds.  We weren't able to go inside the buildings on this day, but still enjoyed strolling around the complex.

Main gate
Entrance into inner keep

Inner moat
Around 1:00pm we took a taxi to Roan Kikunoi for a kaiseki lunch, which was incredible and deserves a post of its own.

To walk off the lunch we visited Ginkaku-ji, the temple of the “silver pavilion.”  It is the sister temple to Kinkaku-ji, the famous gold-covered temple usually seen on Kyoto postcards, but more subdued in its beauty.  Andrew thinks that while Kinkaku-ji is the most famous, Ginkaku-ji is perhaps better to visit because of its subtlety, and because the garden is more walkable.  I have only visited the latter, but agree that it was very worthwhile.

Typically meticulous groundskeeping

We were still so full from lunch that we skipped dinner, save for a few bites of onigiri made from the leftover kaiseki rice course.

We didn’t get to but considered: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove