Oinari-san are a common type of shrine to Japanese people, with over 30,000 nationwide. Fushimi Inari-taisha is actually the head shrine of all of these Oinari-san.
Popular with both Japanese and foreign tourists, many foreigners visit Fushimi Inari-taisha from early in the morning. Most of them were attracted to the tunnel of countless torii gateways, the “Thousand Torii.” This mystical succession of gates has a visual feel that seems to represent a gateway between the human world and the spiritual world, capturing the imagination of visitors.
This article will introduce you to five things you should check out at Fushimi Inari-taisha.
1. The Omokaru Stone
The first is the “Omokaru Stone.”
Through the Senbon Torii, you will find the place of worship for the deepest shrine in the Myobu Valley. Further to the right, you will find a pair of stone lanterns. Make a wish in front of these lanterns, and pick up one of the stone lids. If the lid was lighter than you imagined, it is said that your wish will come true.
2. The Giant Gate
The second place is the giant gate.
The giant gate of Fushimi Inari-shrine was built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the warlord that unified Japan in the Sengoku period. When Hideyoshi was a child, his mother prayed to their local inari shrine in Owari, near present-day Nagoya, for Hideyoshi to become successful. Hideyoshi was then hired by Nobunaga Oda, and rose through the ranks, eventually to become a warlord with his own castle. Hideyoshi continued to defeat his rivals after Nobunaga’s death, unifying Japan at age 54. As a sign of gratitude, he built an inari shrine inside his castle.
However, after unifying the country, he stopped listening to his subordinates’ opinions and became overconfident, leading to a series of misfortunes. Instead of reflecting on his behavior, Hideyoshi took his frustration out on Fushimi Inari-shrine. Then the worst misfortune yet came when his mother fell gravely ill, with no prospect of recovery. Hideyoshi realized he could not do anything about this, and turned to Oinari-san. His desparate prayers were answered with his mother’s recovery, and Hideyoshi constructed the giant gate in return for this blessing.
3. Roasted Sparrow
The next curiosity is roasted sparrow, a delicacy served outside of the Fushimi Inari gates. Oinari-san, believed to bring merchants prosperity, was originally a god of good harvest. Roasted sparrow is a delicacy thought to have been born to prevent sparrows from eating cereal crops – it is a rare treat, so take the opportunity if you want to try it.
4. Fox Crackers (Kitsune Sembei)
Another delicacy is Kitsune Sembei (Fox Crackers). Fushimi Inari is home not only to many red torii, but also to many stone statues of foxes, Oinari-san’s messenger. Foxes ate wild mice that ate precious crops such as rice, and were thus treated as messengers from the gods of good harvest.
Kitsune Sembei are very popular with visitors as gifts, since it is believed that sharing them will spread good fortune.
5. The Senbon Torii
The final attraction is the Senbon Torii itself.
At a certain time in the Edo period, praying to inari shrines was popular, as people believed it improved business performance. People whose wishes came true dedicated their own torii to thank Oinari-san.
Inari shrines were built all over the place, and the fad became national, increasing the population involved in business.
As more people worshiped Oinari-san and became successful, an astonishing number of torii were dedicated to Fushimi Inari-taisha, the head shrine. New torii are still being added today. You could say that the beautiful Senbon Torii is a site that was created voluntarily by pious people thankful for Oinari-san and its powers.
This post is also available in: Japanese