The enchanting Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first time I visited Fushimi Inari-taisha was way back in January of 2016. Since then I have been to the heritage site a couple of times but I never came around to writing about it.

The Inari shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Japan. The classical vermillion Torii (gate) with a pair of stone fox images guarding such shrines can be found everywhere in the country. The most striking feature of Inari worship (Inari shinkõ) is the high degree of diversification and even personalization of this kami. Devotees do not simply worship “Inari,” but a separate form of Inari with its own name.

Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of the Kami Inari, located in Fushimi-ku area of Kyoto. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain, also named Inari, which is about 230 meters in height. Most of the shrine’s prominent structures are located right at the base of the mountain. However, for the adventurous types, there are numerous trails that lead right up to the summit of the Inari mountain, where you can find some very old and interesting shrines.

Whichever trail you choose, it is about 3 km to the top. Along the way, you will witness hundreds of smaller shrines, some freshly painted and some, in a somewhat debilitated state. The most intriguing part of the hike, however, are the thousands of vermilion-colored gates called Torii.

Vermilion is said to be a color that repels magical powers and is the reason it is often used in shrines, temples and even palaces in Japan.

Most of you, I assume, would be arriving to Fushimi Inari-taisha from Kyoto via the JR train line unless you are using your personal vehicle. As soon as you get off the train at the Inari Station, you cannot miss the huge Torii gate that leads to the main shrine grounds. The shrine’s close proximity to the bustling city of Kyoto makes it very easy to reach but that also means massive crowds, especially during the weekends. My recommendation would be to reach as early as you can.

The Great Torii of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Visit to a Japanese temple or shrine starts with passing through an exorbitantly designed gate. These ubiquitous gates that form an integral part of every Shinto shrine, vary from shrine to shrine in terms of both size and effect. Made from bronze, stone or wood, they are typically constructed to form a horizontal beam – kasagi, supported by two cylindrical columns called hashira. The first massive gate you pass while visiting Fushimi Shrine is known as the Daiichi Torii. It is meant to indicate to the visitor that he or she is now passing into an even more sacred space.

If you visit the Taisha from Keihan Fushimi Inari Station via Miyuki Road, you will not be passing through this torii gate.

The wooden ones are always colored in bright vermilion. Though commonly built at a scale that comfortably fits a small group of people, they range from miniature torii placed on shrines by worshipers to mighty structures such as this one leading into Fushimi Inari-Taisha.

Beyond the Torii, you will find the entrance gate to the shrine known as the Rōmon gate or Plum Blossom Gate, guarded with statues of foxes on either side. Generally, you will find a couple of lion-dog statues beside the shrine gate, but in the case of an Inari shrine, a fox statue is placed instead of the guardian dog. How the fox began being considered as the guardian spirits of the Inari shrines and messengers of the Gods. I will deal with a little later in this very article.

The Rōmon gate was donated to the shrine by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589

The Rōmon gate along with the entire complex burned to the ground during the Onin War (1467-1477) in the mid-15th century and everything you will see onwards from here is a reconstruction. Beside the Rōmon gate, you can find the Chozuya, to purify yourself before entering the shrine complex.

A brief history of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice cultivation and business success. This deity is said to grant a wide variety of prayers, from gokoku hojo (better crop output) to shobai hanjo (business prosperity), and in some regions of Japan, anzan (safe childbirth), manbyo heiyu (being completely cured of any illness), and gokaku kigan (prayers for academic success). Owing to the popularity of Inari’s division and re-enshrinement, this shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines (bunsha) throughout Japan.

Inari is a different kami to each believer, shaped by what each person brings of his own character and understanding of the world.

The earliest structures on Mt. Inari were built as early as 711 CE. It was originally erected as their patron deity by the influential Hatas, the descendants of the Korean prince naturalized in the 4th century. The day Inari Okami was enshrined on Mt. Inari is known as “Hatsuuma.” To commemorate Inari’s enshrinement, the Hatsu-uma Festival began to be celebrated every year. It’s been about 1300 years since and the custom is still maintained to this day. The shrine was later re-located to the base of the hill in 816 on the request of the monk Kūkai.

The shrine became the object of imperial patronage during the early Heian period (794-1185). In 965, Emperor Murakami decreed that messengers carry written accounts of important events to the guardian Kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines, including the Inari Shrine.

Inari was first worshipped in the form of three deities (perhaps because there are three peaks on Inari Mountain in Fushimi) and later, from the time of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), as five deities. There has been great variation in the priestly assignment of kami as the three main deities of Inari Mountain; the current tradition of enshrinement, standardized during the Meiji period, is as follows:

  • Lower Shrine: Sannomine Uganomitama no õkami
  • Middle Shrine: Ninomine Sadahiko no õkami
  • Upper Shrine: Ichinomine Õmiyanome no õkami

Another custom that developed during the Heian period was the “souvenir cedar” (shirushi no sugi), a term so popular it became symbolical with the Inari shrine. The custom required one to take a small branch from one of the cedar trees on Inari’s mountain and attach it to themselves as a kind of talisman. It was especially popular to do this on the first horse day in the second month (nigatsu no hatsuuma), the traditional day of Inari’s worship.

In 1875, the name of Inari Shrine was changed to Mizuho Kosha

From 1871 through 1946, Fushimi Inari-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines.

The mythical Fox of Inari

At Inari shrines, foxes (Kitsuné), are regarded as the messengers of Gods. The word Kitsuné comes from two Japanese syllables: Kitsu & ne. Kitsu is the sound of a fox yelping and ne is a word signifying an affectionate feeling. Each fox statue holds a ball-like object representing the spirit of the Gods, a scroll for messages from the Gods, a key for rice storehouses, or a rice ear in its mouth.

One legend suggests that an agricultural cycle is similar to that of a fox’s behaviors and habits, and the routes of the shrine gates are considered to be foxes’ routes. Ancient Japanese people seemed to believe that foxes had mystical powers.

According to the Nihon Ryoki, one of the oldest records, a great number of foxes lived in the national capital of Kyoto in ancient times. According to the Nihon Shoki, the Kitsuné were held in respect as an animal of good omen. In 720 a black fox was presented from the Iga province to Emperor Gemmyo (661-726 CE), the founder of the capital of Nara.

It is said that during the reign of Emperor Kammu ( 737-806 CE), foxes used to bark at night inside the Imperial Palace grounds and sometimes were even seen walking up the stairs of the palace. In the Edo Period (1603–1867), local people established the practice of erecting gates along the path of the foxes on the mountain behind the shrine to protect and fulfill their prayers.

Night Photo-walk at Fushimi Inari-Taisha

The daytime experience at Fushimi Shrine is one of noisy crowds and chattering school children. Because of its close vicinity to Kyoto, the Fushimi shrine is always crowded with the daily wide-eyed tourists from different parts of the world who generally forget to respect the heritage place in their excitement. So this year when I decided to visit the shrine once again, I planned it specifically at night, when it truly becomes magical. The number of tourists also decreases significantly at this time and I can promise you that it will be a much better experience if you choose to do the same.

As you walk out of the JR train station, you will immediately notice a fox illuminated by a beam of light near the station gate, carrying a rice stock in its mouth.

Heritage structures at Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first Torii leads you to another. It is a beautiful sight sans the crowd.

The two-storied Rōmon gate is the building that makes up the main entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha and has been designated an important cultural property. It was not part of the earliest structures of the Inari shrine, but there is evidence that it already existed around 1500 CE.

The two-storied gate, built with a hip-and-gable roof covered with cypress bark thatching, is believed to have been built during the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the time from the Warring States period to the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Hideyoshi prayed for his mother Oomandokoro’s recovery from illness, and the gate was built in gratitude for her recuperation.

On both sides of the Rōmon gate are statues of gods called “zuijin” and they act as bodyguards for Inari Okami. Of all the Rōmon gates at shrines located in Kyoto, this is considered to be the oldest and the largest.


Just beyond the two-storied Rōmon gate, will find the Gehaiden, illuminated brilliantly by the lanterns inside. This brightly lit structure is used for various dance performances during festivals. When I visited the shrine in 2018, I was lucky to experience a dance inside the hall. The hall was then surrounded by hundreds of people and absolutely not like how it is presented below.

The Gehaiden is built with a hip-and-gable roof covered in cypress bark thatch. It is also a designated important cultural property. The iron lanterns hanging from the eaves (edge of a roof) depict the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Azumamaro Shrine

While facing the Gehaiden, on your right you will find a small narrow path that leads to the Higashimaru Shrine enshrining Kada no Azumamaro. On its left wall, you will find hundreds of omikuji and wooden ema plates left behind by visitors.

Azumamaro was active in the mid-Tokugawa period as a priest of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and wrote works including “On Opening Schools and Annotations” to Nihon Shoki. In the modern period, he came to be extolled as one of the four great men of kokugaku or the “Learning of the Imperial Land.”

Prior to Azumamaro, there was Ooyama Tameoki, a disciple of Suika Shinto of Yamazaki Ansai, who also served as the priest of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and studied Shinto as the Learning of the Imperial Land. Kada Azumamaro was from the Hakuro family and Ooyama Tameoki was from the Hata family, these two came from two competing priest families. Yet, they both tried to master the Learning of the Imperial Land through the interpretation of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.


Just behind the Gehaiden, lies the main shrine referred to as Naihaiden. It is very close to the Gehaiden at the base of the mountain. A small flight of steps leads you to into the red building. Here you can pay your respects by giving a coin offering, ringing the bells, and praying by bowing twice, clapping twice, praying silently, and then bowing once again. The Naihaiden was also burned down during the Onin War, and the existing building is said to have been rebuilt in 1499.

The main shrine or Honden lies just behind the Naihaiden. It is the holy building where Inari Okami resides. It is also where festivals and prayer rituals are held. The main shrine located within the Naihaiden was built in 1499 in the nagare-zukuri style with its streamlined roof. The 500-year-old building is painted vermilion and is an important cultural property.

Five kami, or gods, are worshipped: Ukanomitamano Okami, Satahikono Okami, Omiyanomeno Okami, Tanakano Okami, and Shino Okami. Collectively, these kami are referred to as Inari Okami. The gables in the entrance are Karaha-fu, a type of cusped gable, and each beam has beautiful Chinese firebirds and flowers carved into it.

Juyosho or Shrine Management Office

This is where you can buy souvenirs like ema plates, amulets, talismans, and the ever-popular omikuji. Applications for prayers, kagura performances, and offerings are also accepted here. The Ema plaques that they sell here are unique. They are called “gankake torii” which are shaped like torii gates. Usually, during the daytime, there is a long queue in front of the counter with a good number of young girls trying their luck at omikuji.

At the inner shrine and at the Gozendani, ema are shaped like white fox faces and called Gankake Myobu Ema. Ema (wooden tablets for writing wishes on) are very popular in shrines and temples around Japan. People write their wishes and leave the tablets hanging up at the shrine where the kami (Shinto deities) can receive them. Usually, ema have a more rectangular shape, but the special ema at Fushimi Inari Taisha is in the shape of a fox. The ema can be purchased at the shrine for ¥500. After purchasing the ema, write your wish on the back, and on the front draw the face of a fox. It is quite similar to Kasuga Taisha, where instead of a fox, you draw the face of a deer. It is very exciting to see all the ema lined up with the different faces that the visitors have left behind.


The Gonden is used as a temporary home for the kami when the main shrine or other buildings are being repaired. It is a lot smaller than the size of the main shrine, and it is made in the Gokensha Nagarezukuri style, an asymmetrical gabled roof style with six pillars. It too is a designated important cultural property. The current building is a reconstruction built in 1645. To the left of the Gonden hall, you will find a series of steps that go up the mountain. Climbing this stone staircase marks the beginning of “Inariyama Mikamiseki worship.”


This is the Kami-Massha shrine. The big torii to its left goes towards the Okumiya shrine from where the series of torii gates start.

Okumiya Shrine

At the top of the wide stone steps, you will find the Okumiya shrine dedicated to the same Inari Okami as the main shrine. It used to be called the Kamigoten and is made in a different architectural style than the other shrines in the precinct. It also is a designated important cultural property.

To the left of the Okumiya shrine, somewhat hidden by the trees you can find the first of the series of giant torii gates leading through Senbon Torii to the Okusha Shrine.

Continue along the large torii pathway called Myobu Sando and the path will split into two routes with torii gates that stretch tunnel-like. When going to Okunoin from the entrance, pass on the left side. On the other hand, when going down from Okunoin, pass on the right side. That is, we should always keep to the left in the direction we are going.

Senbon Torii

As I mentioned before, the highlight of the Fushimi shrine are the rows of torii gates, known as Senbon Torii. Those who have heard about the Fushimi Inari Shrine, immediately think of the Senbon Torii, or the thousands of red torii gates leading pilgrims up the sacred mountain. The word “Senbon,” literally meaning a thousand is just used here to represent many many more, closer to 10,000. They are so close to each other, that they form an almost perfect tunnel that completely conceals the outside world. Some of the old Japanese literature describes Senbon torii as a tunnel, similar to a birth canal from which a true believer is reborn onto the sacred space on the Kami’s mountain.

Even though I have been here multiple times, I have never thought about counting these torii gates. It is said that there are about 10,000 torii gates lining this road up the mountain to the shrine at the top. This sight of the torii, all lined up is magnificent and, perhaps one of the most iconic views of Japan.

Currently, about 10,000 torii gates stand side by side along the entire approach to the mountain.

After passing through the “Senbon Torii”, you will arrive at Okusha, commonly known as “Oku-no-in”. Legend has it that if make a wish in front of the stone lantern here and lift the empty ring (round-headed stone) of the lantern. It is said that if the weight you feel when you lift it is lighter than expected, your wish will come true, and if it is heavy, it will not come true. From here we turn left and head up into the mountain.

The gateways here are of a brilliant vermillion and black and are engraved with inscriptions from the donors. The custom of donating a torii began in the Edo period (1603-1868.) At times tightly packed and at times irregularly spaced and several yards apart, the torii lead visitors on the 3 km hike up, along the steep hillside, past an assortment of smaller shrines. Strolling up one of the torii tunnels, you will feel lost in a magical red world. It is an almost unreal sensation that washes over you as you venture yet further into the belly of the mountain through this surreal passage.

Some 30 thousand torii are said to have been donated by various people seeking Inari’s blessing on their businesses over the years. Merchants from all over Japan pay large sums of money to get a torii installed dedicated to them, at the shrine. As you move into the next set of torii gates, it does not feel like a tunnel anymore as the gates begin to get separated little by little. The gates here are a little more orangish.

The gates space out more as we head towards the summit. As the torii spread out, the outside light begins to pour into the tunnel and my attention was drawn to the forest that I had entered almost without noticing. The gates here are also not illuminated from the inside so you only have the lights from the street lamps to move around in the dark. The emerging space in alliance with the sequence of columns and beams creates a crisscross of patterns of light and dark.

The path continues upward through the dense cedar forest passing various clusters perched on the hillside until you reach the end of the torii gates.

This area is generally quieter with only the dedicated tourists making it up this far. Being late at night it was almost deserted apart from a couple of young Japanese visitors. A fleet of steep stairs will take you up to a four-point crossroad. The path to your left goes up the hill. On your right, you will find a very narrow lane called the Tamahimesha.


This is the Tamahimesha area where you can find many shrines dedicated to Inari. There is a place called Yotsuji in the middle of Mt. Inari. This is a perfect place to rest and you can enjoy the view of Kyoto. The view at sunset is especially beautiful!

Lit candles at a Kanmidokoro Takeya.

This was as far as we went. We didn’t go beyond this point and started our descent back to the base of the hill. During daytime you can hike further to the top of the mountain. While descending we took a different route.

As we reached the base, the Gehaiden was looking absolutely stunning in the night.

It was pretty late at night by the time we started to leave. To my surprise, I could still see some people making their way into the shrine. Yes, the shrine is open 24 hours with both the approach to the shrine and, the Honden itself, illuminated all night. So you can visit anytime you want.

Contrary to general assumption, the Inari Shrine does not own the entire mountain and a number of religious establishments on the mountain are totally independent from the Fushimi Shrine. It is impossible to tell though, which belongs to the shrine. Most guides are also not aware of this division between shrines and private areas.

The pilgrimage tradition at Fushimi’s Inari Mountain that started in the Heian period is still thriving. There’s something to be said about Japan’s almost seamless blend of new and traditional. Never have I seen such a balance of modernism from such an industrious country, all of their technological advances, infrastructure, media, and corporate lives don’t depreciate their respect for tradition and history.

Thanks for reading! Please leave your comments or questions using the comment form below. I am now going to double-check my shopping list before I disembark for India in a couple of days’ time. If you like my stories you can also connect with me on Instagram.

Admission Timings

Open 24/7

Admission Fees



711 CE

Annual events at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fox-feeding (Kitsune-segyo)
A custom prevailing in Osaka and vicinity. Believers visit their local Inari shrine carrying a small paper lantern shouting “O-segyo! O-segyo!” a call to the fox that it is feeding time. On their way home, they leave the fox’s favorite food of azuki-meshi, fice boiled with red beans and fried bean curds on the banks or any other place where foxes are expected to go.

Rice Planting Festival in Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Rice has been very important for Japanese people for centuries, and farmers have always worked hard together to cultivate rice. At Fushimi Inari-taisha, you can get a brief glimpse of this ancient Japanese culture. The Shinto rituals for prosperity and good harvests include seeding, planting, and harvest festivals are held respectively on April 12th, June 10th, and October 25th.


Byōdō-in (平等院) is a Buddhist temple in the city of Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, built in late Heian period.

Fall in Byodo-in

More fall trees

Byodo-in Temple

Bridge to Temple

Other side of Temple

Up the stairs to Temple Bell

Temple Bell Tower

Mani near bell tower

Roaming on the grounds

Viki with momiji

Evening setting on Byodo-in

Shopping for Matcha stuffs

Thanks for reading!

Yasaka Shrine

Today I went to capture the beauty of Yasaka Shrine, one of Kyoto’s most prominent tourist spots. Yasaka-jinja (八坂神社) is a Shinto shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto. The shrine never lacks in visitors throughout the year due to the various festivals spread across the year. For photographers like me, there is an added incentive that the gates to the shrine remain open at all times, which makes it possible to visit even at late hours when the crowds are comparatively less.

Me and my wife, Mani, were staying in the quiet town of Izumo in Shimane Prefecture. After a lovely week in Shimane where we experienced a beautiful sunset at lake Shinji we were excited to go back to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. In the early hours, we caught the Yakumo limited express train service operated by JR West, which runs from Izumo to Okayama. As we waited for the train to arrive, we talked about how the cold was a lot easy here, than compared to Nara.

It takes about 3 hours to get to Okayama from Izumo. The ride through the forested prefecture is absolutely beautiful especially with the fall foliage adding vivid colors to the scenery. From Okayama its as easy as catching a Shinkansen to Kyoto. Obviously, we were carrying our JR Passes that makes the whole ride a lot cheaper.

After the long journey from Izumo, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel at Keihan Kyoto Grande. The hotel is just behind the Kyoto Station and very easy to access using underground lanes, beneath the busy streets. After some 7-eleven onigiris, we walked to the bus stand located just outside the Kyoto Station.

To get to Yasaka Shrine from Kyoto Station, you can either take a bus or the Kyoto subway. We chose to take the Kyoto City Bus #206 as it is simpler. The bus ride takes around 21 minutes and it drops you right in front of Yasaka Shrine. It costs ¥230 one way. You can also opt for the daily bus pass if you are planning to make multiple stops along the way. Last I noticed, it was selling for ¥600 per person at the tourist information booth inside Kyoto Station premises.

You can also use the subway to reach the shrine, but I would not recommend it, as it requires you to change multiple trains. The nearest station would be Kawaramachi. From the station, you then have to walk for about 10 minutes to Yasaka Shrine.

The bus dropped us off at Gion, near the east end of Shijō-dōri, overflowing with pedestrians. The street passes through the courtesan’s district of Gion, branching off to the south, with the famous Ichiriki Chaya at the corner. The long sidewalk features small and large restaurants and shops of all kinds on either side of the street.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Jinja is believed to have been established a little before the Heian Era in Japan and holds hundreds of years of history. It is dramatically placed at the intersection of Shijō-dōri and Higashioji-dori, and as the bus drops you and moves away, you can see the large vermilion torii (shrine entrance gates) rise out of the hustle and bustle of pedestrian crowds and choking traffic.

A series of steps lead up from the street to the main entrance Nishiromon Gate, holding two wooden guards inside wired chambers on each side. Designated as an important national cultural property, the Nishi-romon Gate is considered the symbol of the Higashiyama district of Kyoto and Yasaka Shrine.

Rather than the usual two nio guardians found in most shrine entrances and some temples, at the Nishi-romon Gate you will see a wooden statue of Zuishin (guardians to the nobles in the Heian Period) on both sides of the gate.

As you pass through the gate and if you are familiar with Japanese shrines, you would notice that there is no Chōzuya, the place where worshipers wash their hands. That is because the Nishiromon Gate is not the front gate to the shrine. In fact the front, or main gate to the shrine is the Minami-romon Gate on the south side of the shrine grounds.

Beyond the gate we found a couple of wooden stalls selling mashed potato fries. The inviting scent of potatoes was enough to entice me to get one. As we waited for the order I captured the two charming shishi lions sitting on high pedestals.

Note how one of them has their mouth open and one doesn’t. Shishi is literally translated as “lion” but it can also refer to a dog with mystical powers to repel evil spirits. A pair of shishi typically stand guard outside the gates of Japanese Shinto shrines.

The open mouth, along with the pierced ball, indicate a male shishi, representing the Yang

They are traditionally depicted in pairs, one with mouth open and one with mouth shut. The opened/closed mouth relates to the sounds “Ah” (open mouth) and “Un” (closed mouth). “Ah” is the first sound in the Japanese alphabet, while “N” (pronounced “un”) is the last. These two sounds symbolize beginning and end, birth and death.

From here a system of walkways run around the shrine grounds towards the main hall.

Smaller Shrines at Yasaka Shrine

The Yasaka shrine is dedicated to Susanoo-no-Mikoto as its chief kami, with his consort Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto on the east, and eight offspring deities (yahashira no mikogami) on the west. There are a number of smaller shrines on the grounds of Yasaka Shrine.

Okuninushisha Shrine

In December one of the most interesting things to watch out for is the fall momiji trees around this area. Most hotels will have a map of Kyoto that you can check daily where the fall is in its full colors.

The movement of foreign religious theologies into Japan during the 6th century led Shinto practitioners to systematize their religious tradition to support Imperial rule. Shinto priests began compiling existing myths and legends into written accounts, and a more intricate mythology was created that gave many of these kami a name and genealogy.

Pictured below is a statue of the son-in-law of Susanoo-no-Mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto – Okuninushi-no-Mikoto, who is known as the god of Enmusubi. The son-in-law is shown rescuing an injured rabbit, recreating a famous scene from Japanese mythology.

We gradually made our way through the crowd to reach the open area with the main hall.

History of Yasaka Shrine & Gion Matsuri

Originally designed as a Buddhist temple the date of initial construction of Yasaka Shrine is debated. Initial construction on the Shrine began in 656 CE. However it was not until the middle of the ninth century that Yasaka shrine rose in prominence. Because of its climate and location, Kyoto was often prone to summer illness and sickness, and in 869, the illness reached national epidemic proportions. The illness was thought to be the result of malevolent kami, so Emperor Seiwa ordered the priests of Yasaka Shrine to hold a festival to purify the streets and protect the people from the evil spirits.

The townspeople built sixty-six floats representing the various neighborhoods and paraded them through town. One week later the kami at Yasaka, including Gozu Tenno (commonly known as Susano-o mikoto), were placed in portable shrines and carried throughout the city streets. This was the beginning of the Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival), and Yasaka’s subsequent rise in fame.

In 965, Emperor Murakami ordered that Imperial messengers be sent to report important events to the guardian kami of Japan. Yasaka’s prestige continued to increase due to the Gion Matsuri, and by 970 C.E. the festival had become an annual event.

By the tenth century, the festival included floats, musicians, dancers, plays, and artistic treasures. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines; and in 991, Emperor Ichijō added three more shrines to Murakami’s list. Three years later in 994, Ichijō refined the scope of that composite list by adding Umenomiya Shrine and Gion Shrine.

As the festival grew in importance and popularity, so too did the shrine, and in the late 19th century Yasaka was given the title of Kanpei-taisha meaning that it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines. Similarly, the Gion Matsuri was elevated to the rank of Grand Festival of Japan and is often considered one of the most popular festivals in all of Japan.

Kyoto Maruyama Park

It was too busy so we decided to walk towards the back of the shrine. The east exit of Yasaka leads to an open garden area with benches for resting, fortune tellers, ice cream shops, and a weeping cherry tree. This area used to be called “Makuzugahara” popular for the traditional Waka poems in the Kamakura period.

Of the mountains surrounding Kyoto on three sides, the ones which are closest to the present downtown area lie in the east. This fact gave the whole eastern region of Kyoto its name, Higashiyama, i. e. Eastern Mountains. Since ancient times this area has been rich in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

While enjoying the beautiful fall scenery, I let myself indulge in some Matcha ice cream. If you haven’t had one, you must, it’s absolutely delicious especially combined with vanilla.

It used to be a scenic spot for viewing Cherry blossom at the foot of Mt. Higashiyama and was later converted to a park in 1886. In 1931, the park was designated as a “Place of Scenic Beauty.”

The garden complex branches out to other side streets, and a bit further back the Chion-in, a Buddhist temple and the head of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, decorates the mountainside. The garden area is a popular retreat for picnicking couples, tourists, and families on a visit to various shrines and temples.

Yasaka Jinja at Night

As evening crept in, I stationed my tripod to capture some illuminated shots of the Maidono of Yasaka Shrine. Let me alert you from before, the crowd actually increases as evening settles in.

Yasaka Shrine is considered to be a powerful place for love in Kyoto. Enshrined at Yasaka Shrine are the husband and wife gods Susanoo-no-Mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto. As the two gods were very close, eventually over time, the shrine became thought of as a spiritual love spot.

You will notice adorable heart-shaped ema hung at the shrine, usually with visitors’ wishes for improved relationships or meeting people. You can write and hang one yourself after purchasing one for a few hundred yen.


The platform is usually empty, except when it is the stage for various local events, plays, and dances. At the festival time the platform also holds the bronze-plated mikoshi (portable shrines) that house the kami temporarily so they can be paraded around.

There are other buildings including a shrine shop for purchasing ema (small wooden prayer plaques) and omomori, the administrative building, and the main shrine building which houses the kami. Only priests, sponsors, and other select people are allowed into the main shrine building.

The main hall stands 15 meters tall and has a roof made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) bark. The architectural style of the building is unique because the roof covers the front shrine as well as the main hall, and this design has become known as Gion-zukuri (Gion construction style).

Minami-romon Tower Gate

Just beyond the entrance gate is a small structure with wooden ladles and water flowing from bamboo pipes used to wash one’s hands and face for purification before entering the main grounds.

Because the crest of Yasaka Shrine resembles the cross-section of a cucumber, there is a custom in Kyoto that prohibits eating cucumbers during the Gion Matsuri festival period.

It has been said that Yasaka Shrine got its start in the early part of the Heian Period when Fujiwara-no-mototsune constructed the Kankei sub-temple, Kanjin hall, and the main hall on the grounds. The present structure was rebuilt in 1654 by the 4th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Legend says that under the main hall there is a bottomless pond that a blue dragon uses as its lair, drawing energy from the ancient water and acting as guardian for the ancient city of Kyoto.

After we had our fill of the place, we left for some well-earned rest at the hotel.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your reviews and questions. If you are looking to explore more of the Japanese mainland, follow my story as I visit the Gifu Castle.

An evening at Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda

Today we take a walk down to Yasaka-dori in Kyoto to the stunning Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda. Built in 592 CE, the Pagoda with the temple treasure (Yasakato-ezu) is the last remaining structure of the once flourishing temple of Hokan-ji. The rest of the structures have either been destroyed by fires or earthquakes over the years.

Kyoto has many attractions for the wide-eyed tourists. The Kinkaku-ji Temple, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and the Fushimi Inari-taisha being my favorites, but if you are photographically inclined, the Yasaka Pagoda is not to be missed. With its old city charm and cobblestone paths, the surroundings of this mystical place takes your breath away, especially during the evenings when the pathways are illuminated in a golden glow from gas-lit street lights.

How to reach Yasaka Pagoda from Kyoto Station

I and my wife, Mani, were coming in from Nara, another heritage city with hundreds of ancient temples and shrines. Nara is around a 40-minute ride on the JR local to Kyoto. If you are coming from outside to tour Kyoto or even staying there, it is best to start from the JR Kyoto Station. You will be able to obtain the current Bus time-tables at the tourist information center inside the station. You can also buy a full-day bus ticket from one of the vending machines that allows you unlimited travel on the public bus for a day. If you are planning to go to more than two sight-seeing points, it is best to obtain the full-day pass. From the station, you can catch either Kyoto City Bus #100 or #206 to reach the pagoda.

Yasaka Dori

The bus dropped us off at the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Since we were only going to the Yasaka Pagoda, we didn’t go for the full-day bus pass. The one-way ride cost us ¥230 per head.

As soon as you turn your back towards the bus, you will feel transported to a timeless past. This is the Higashiyama District and the Yasaka pagoda lies in the heart of this district. From the bus stop, it is about a 5-minute walk to the pagoda.

Old town charm of the Higashiyama District

Of the mountains surrounding Kyoto, the ones which are closest to the present downtown area lie towards the east. This is why this whole eastern region of Kyoto is called Higashiyama which literally translates to eastern mountains. Since ancient times this area has been rich in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best-preserved historic districts. From ancient times, the mist-shrouded slopes of Higashiyama and the hills bordering Kyoto on the east, have inspired generations of poets and artists.

These 36 peaks are home to many temples, restaurants, inns, and tea shops – all picturesquely located along narrow winding streets. The shops that line these streets are always crowded, but it is not like the crowds in India. It is a much relaxed and silent gathering.

Visitors can enter the pagoda up to the 2nd floor for a price of ¥400.

Yasaka Dori (八坂通り) is a lovely, quiet path through the back streets leading to Yasaka Pagoda. It is an amazing place to walk around and explore the traditional old houses. Rickshaw drivers can be seen ferrying the wide-eyed tourists along this path. The area’s narrow alleys and machiya (traditional wooden buildings) are filled with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. The street runs between Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka slopes, and ends at the most iconic photo spot with the Yasaka pagoda looming over the cobbled path.

The walk presents lovely views of the Yasaka-no-tō tiered pagoda above traditional gabled roofs. It’s old Kyoto and it’s beautiful.

Long before the actual founding of Heiankyō, the capital of peace and tranquility, a tribe called Yasaka no Miyatsuko had immigrated from the Korean empire of Kōrai and settled at these foothills. Hokan-ji was most likely founded as early as 588 by this immigrant family from Koguryo, modern Korea. The Yasaka-no-Miyatsuko settled in the foothills of Higashiyama during the Asuka period & established the temple as their religious center.

Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda is also known as Hokanji Temple. It was built in 592, which makes it the oldest pagoda in Kyoto.

Their religious life centered around the Hōkan-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple built around 589. The temple itself has been long lost to fire. Of the precinct, only the pagoda is left standing today and is the most important vertical marker within the district today.

July is also the month of festivals in Japan. Saki Matsuri, the early festivities of the Gion Festival begins on July 10th and peaks on the 17th. We were just a day early but as we waited for the Sun to set over the lovely pagoda, troops of children in white attire rode down the cobbled street in makeshift carts. With them followed a horde of tourists flashing away their cameras.

Think of the saki matsuri as a way for downtown Kyotoites to welcome the deities to their town in a similar way as we Bengalis, welcome the goddess Durga into our city of Kolkata.

Yasaka Pagoda

Once the evening started to set and the shops began to close, the huddle of tourists disappeared from the area and the streets were empty again. In the rare silence, I set up my tripod and quickly captured the most iconic landmark of Kyoto in the beautiful surrounding blue light.

Kyoto has four five-storied pagodas, which are located in temples around the city: Hokan-ji, Daigo-ji, To-ji, and Ninna-ji. Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda, also known as Hokanji Temple is the tallest among them and was built in 592, which also makes it the oldest pagoda in Kyoto.

Origins of Yasaka Pagoda

There are various theories about the origins of the Hokanji Temple, but it is generally believed to have been founded in the Asuka period (593–710) as the guardian temple of the Yasaka clan. Although details from the early history of the Yasaka Pagoda are scarce, there is information about the fires. In 1179, the Pagoda was burned in a dispute between the Yasaka Shrine and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The temple was rebuilt by Shogun Minamoto Yorimoto in 1191. Later the records show that the temple again burned down in 1291 and 1436.

The current 49-meter tall five-tier pagoda is a reconstruction built in 1440 by Ashikaga Yoshinori and is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property. The construction and design of the pagoda were never altered, despite being rebuilt several times after different blazes.

The Yasaka Pagoda is dedicated to the five great Nyorai, who are depicted in sculptures and murals inside the pagoda. The epithet Temple Hikan-ji reveals in its suffix that it was not the main temple but rather a secondary one. At the base of the pagoda are four finely carved Buddha statues arranged around the points of a compass. Visitors can go inside the pagoda to view a dais on which are placed figures of Mahavairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and amoghasiddhi – the Five Perfected Ones; as well as the interior structure of the pagoda and the great central pillar supporting it.

The Yasaka Pagoda is said to contain some of Buddha’s ashes beneath its massive central pillar.

As it got darker, the yellow lamps from the street took over. The evening tourists had disappeared from the streets and the dim light from the street lights bathed the closed wooden storefronts. I felt as though I had stumbled upon a sleeping 18th-century town when life was a lot simpler.

Did you know that to make this view perfect, all the electric and telephone lines were moved underground?

The rather narrow street west of the pagoda runs straight north to the southern entrance of the Gion Shrine, renamed Yasaka Shrine in 1868, the first year of Meiji.

Around the pagoda, there are gently sloping hill east towards the mountains. The cobbled street here is known as the Sannen-zaka, the “Three Year Slope”. To the north is the Ninen-zaka, or “Two Year Slope”. Both streets were paved with stones in about 808.

Illuminated Yasaka Pagoda

The Higashiyama area doesn’t have a lot of tall buildings, so the pagoda is a landmark in the Higashiyama area. The pagoda is surrounded by traditional Japanese-style houses so if you go there, you can feel the history of this area. It was dark, I took one last shot of us to keep as memorabilia, and then we made our way back to the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop.

After a small wait at the bus stop, we were able to catch a bus back to Kyoto Station.

Note: The bus back from here is always full and the less weight you carry, the better it is for you.

Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have passed along these streets, stopping to buy a charm, sip a cup of green tea or purchase a Kyoyaki (Japanese pottery traditionally from Kyoto). This is a great place to experience the traditional Kyoto, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings, and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city.

If you are visiting the pagoda, only a short walk away, on the border of the historic Gion district, lies the ornate red-and-white gate of the Yasaka Shrine. Open 24 hours a day, the shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Kyoto.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked my story or follow my travels as I go on a day tour of Shimane to explore the perfectly manicured gardens of Adachi.

When was Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda built?

592 CE

What are the entry timings of Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda?

10:00 am to 4:00 pm

What is the entry ticket price for Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda?

¥400. Children under 12 not allowed in the pagoda.

Hanging out in Kyoto

Weekend was finally here. I had been slugging long nights working during US business hours and needed a break badly. We had been planning to visit Kyoto during one of the extended weekends but it was impossible to get a hotel booking. Eventually we decided to just go, roam around and come back the same day. Its hardly an hour away anyways, less if one uses the Limited Express trains.

We got up early, had a light breakfast and walked down to Kintetsu Nara Station. We caught the Limited Express to Kyoto, it cost us ¥ 1300 each. You can also catch a train from JR Nara Statation, whichever is closest to you. Its almost double of the local train, but being an express train, its about 20 minutes faster.

The train arrived in a few minutes. The seat numbers and the platform were printed on the ticket, so we didn’t face any difficulty boarding the train. The Kintetsu Nara Station is underground. The train rose above the ground a few minutes into the journey. It cruised past most stations only stopping at a handful and were in Kyoto in 35 minutes.

Day tour of Kyoto

Nara is a quiet city. Coming from there, I was taken aback by the bustling crowd at Kyoto Station. We walked down to the Information Center. A guy at the counter gave us a map and a bus information sheet. The sheet contained various permutations for sightseeing the interesting places in Kyoto along with respective Bus numbers. He also provided us with an all day bus pass for ¥ 500 each.

Nijo Castle

The first stop on our route was Nijo Castle. It takes around 20 minutes to reach the castle from Kyoto Station. As we got down, I was a bit disappointed seeing the entrance gate covered up for repairs. Thankfully it was only the front gate that was being repaired. The admission tickets cost ¥ 600 per person. A wide gravel path took us towards the main gate of Ninomaru Palace inside the castle.

Nijo-jo is a flat land castle. It was constructed in 1603 CE as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa Ieyasu(1542-1616) was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. The castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace and the ruins of the Honmaru Palace.

The sun was playing hide & seek. We stood near the beautifully crafted gate decorated with lavish quantities of gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings trying to get a clear shot of the gate. Eventually we surrendered to the steady flow of people and went inside the Ninomaru Palace. One has to take off their shoes to go inside the palace. Photography is not allowed inside.

The Ninomaru Palace is famous for its “nightingale floors” which were designed to squeak when stepped on and thus alert guards to any intruders. Inside, we came across a huge room with  life-size sculptures depicting the shogun meeting the warlords (Daimyo). The Ninomaru Palace contains gorgeous paintings on the walls. They are painted in rich colors depicting flowers, trees, birds and tigers. I was surprised not to see a single furniture in any of the chambers. Mani reminded me, the Japanese didn’t use any, in ancient times.

As we went deeper inside the castle, I observed some of smaller chambers were painted differently. A plaque before us told us that the shogun used to have different guest chambers for each season. Each of these chambers were painted differently, to give a feel of that particular season. These paintings are said to be created by the revered artist Kano and his sons.

After touring the Ninomaru Palace, we took a leisurely stroll through the wonderful Seiryu-en Garden, which surrounds the castle. The castle grounds houses a beautiful rock pond with a tiny waterfall.

A narrow path led us to a bigger garden with groves of plum and cherry trees. Another deep moat surrounds the remains of the Honmaru Palace. A stone bridge over the moat went inside the castle.

I wanted to roam around a bit more on the grounds, so we didn’t go inside. We circled around the castle and reached the rear gate. The rear gate was huge, with thick wooden doors.

Past the stone walls, a staircase leads to a high lookout point. From here one can keep a good watch over the inside moat and the gardens.

We roamed around in the garden for some time and then headed back to the bus stop for Kinkaku-ji.

Opening hours:
8.45am-5pm, last entry 4pm

Tuesdays in December, January, July, August, and December 26 – January 4

Adults: 600 Yen


The bus dropped us off in front of the temple. We were hungry from all the walking so we sauntered down the road looking for an eatery. There are rows of restaurants. Mani wanted to have Soba Udon so we hunted around a bit for one that served. After a warm light lunch, we walked back towards  Kinkaku-ji.

Kinkaku-ji was built in 1393 CE as a retirement villa for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1409). He intended to cover the exterior with gold, but only managed to coat the ceiling of the third floor with gold leaf before his death. The shogun lived here in luxury as Kyoto’s people suffered from severe famine, earthquakes and plague. After Yoshimitsu’s death, as indicated in his will, the building, officially named Rokuon-ji was converted into a temple of the Zen sect of Buddhism.

Kinkaku-ji burned down several times during the Onin War. In 1950, the Golden Pavilion got burned again, this time by a fanatical monk. The present temple structure dates from 1955, which was rebuilt true to the original except for a significant enhancement: both upper stories are covered in gold leaf, in accordance with Ashikaga’s original intentions. In 1987, the temple was re-covered in gold leaf five times thicker than the original coating. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage, Kinkaku-ji is one of the historical buildings most representative of Japan.

As we neared the temple the crowd also grew. Kinkaku-ji must be on everyone’s “must-see” list. This was the only place where we had to get in a queue for admission tickets. The entrance was packed with hoards of tourists. As we went inside I was finding it difficult to even move freely, such was the crowd. A few meters inside I understood why!

My eyes transfixed on the Golden Pavilion (kinka-ku), sitting picturesquely in its garden at the edge of a lake. The pavilion extends partially over the pond and is beautifully reflected in the calm waters from here. I slowly pushed and shoved till I was able to reach the railing overseeing the lake. We stood there admiring one of the most beautiful sights in Kyoto. No wonder there is so much crowd!

We walked up the path getting closer to the temple. The wooden pavilion has three stories surrounded by balconies, the upper two of which are completely covered in gleaming gold leaf. The shogun only managed to gild the interior ceiling, but he always intended to cover the outside as well. In addition to its worldly treasure, Kinkaku-ji is highly valuable because it is a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha. The first floor of the pavilion, known as the Hôsuiin (“Temple of Dharma Water”), is built in the shinden style  associated with 11th-century Heian nobility. The walls separating it from the balcony only rise half-way, allowing plenty of light and fresh air into the room.

The second story, called the Chôondô (“Tower of Sound Waves”), is built in the buke style of samurai houses. It houses a statue of Kannon. The third floor of Kinkaku-ji is built in the style of a Buddha Hall in a Zen temple and is known as the Kukkyocho. It has round-headed windows and is more richly ornamented than the other floors. Inside, it shelters an Amida triad and 25 Bodhisattvas. The roof is topped with a golden Chinese phoenix.

As we walked towards the back, I saw a rock garden called Kyoko-chi, surrounded by the pond with Koi fishes swimming in abundance. We walked around the temple grounds. At the back there are few souvenir stalls. Some locals were selling crackers and wasabi nuts. I just love Wasabi Nuts! It was a wonderful experience at Kinkaku-ji, but I would have preferred less crowds. It was early evening and we hurried towards our next stop.

Opening hours:
9.00am-5pm, last entry 4pm

Open all days

Adults: 400 Yen


We were a bit out of time, so we skipped Ginkakuji and headed straight to Kiyomizu-dera. On the way we passed Gion. Mani wanted to go there, we plan to go there next time we are in Kyoto. It was almost 4 by the time we reached Kiyomizu-dera bus stop. It’s a long walk to the temple. The narrow alley is lined with sweet & souvenir shops. Hundreds of girls in kimono going up the path. It was like a festival.

Kiyomizu-dera, officially Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The platform of the main hall, which is supported by 139 giant pillars.

Located halfway up Otowa Mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto City, Kiyomizu-dera is a historic temple that was established in 778 AD. Since its inception, the temple has burned down many times. Most of the current buildings were rebuilt by the third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in the early Edo period.

The Main Hall (Hondo) of the temple is designated as a national treasure. The temple has many other important cultural properties including the Deva gate, west gate, three-storied pagoda and bell tower. In 1994, it was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

The two most famous places of the temple are the Main Hall, where the Eleven Headed and Thousand Armed Kannon Bodhisattva – which is famous for the power of answering prayers – is enshrined and Kiyomizu Stage, which is the veranda of the Main Hall extended over a precipice which affords a spectacular view of the town of Kyoto. Along the ravine to the south of the main hall grow cherry and maple trees. This temple is known for its cherry blossoms in the spring, and its red leaves during the fall.

Kiyomizu-dera (the temple of clear water) was named after Otowa Waterfall. Water from a spring in the mountain has been falling there since its foundation. We went down to the Otowa-no-taki, the waterfall where visitors drink for health, longevity, and success in studies. Many visitors had lined up for same and a small queue had built up. After taking a sip of the cold Otowa water we headed towards the three-storied pagoda. In the failing light, the crowd had petered down and we were able to get some good pictures of the pagoda.

It gets dark very early in Japan. By 5 p.m. it was already very dark. We head back to the bus stop. One the way we stopped for some shopping. The shops were closing down fast. In the little time we got, Mani bought me a Yukata. We also bought a pack of  local sweets. While walking back, a guy was selling cuttlefish tempura. It was a bit cold and I totally enjoyed the warm fish.

The bus back to Kyoto Station was extremely crowded. I haven’t been on such a crowded bus since my younger days when I used to go to office in Kolkata.

We took the regular train to Nara. Its cheaper by half (670 Yen), though it took us around an hour to reach Nara. There are days and this was one of “those” days. It was memorable to visit Kinkaku-ji, watching the girls in Kimono on the streets leading to Kiyomizu-dera, and lovely Japanese food.. I sure am having the time of my life 🙂

Opening hours:
6.00am-6pm, last entry 4pm (closing time differs according to the season:

Open all days

Adults: 300 Yen