A Tunnel of Torii

It’s virtually impossible to go anywhere in Japan without seeing a torii, the orange gate that marks the way to a shrine. They are as ubiquitous as ramen shops and Hello Kitty, perhaps even more so. However, if you ever feel the urge to see 1000+ orange gates at once, I know exactly the place. 

Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, a shrine to the rice god Inari, is known as “senbontorii,” the place of 1000 gates. 1000 is a figurative number, just as “senbonzakura” (1000 cherry blossoms) is, as the actual number of gates probably far exceeds 1000. I have been to Kyoto a handful of times already, and have seen some of the major sights (like the gold temple, that is actually covered in gold, and the silver temple, that is not actually covered in silver, very confusing!). But I had not yet seen the tunnel of torii in real life, so on our latest Kyoto trip, visiting it was at the top of my list.

The shrine walk is more of a hike, up a mountain, the pathway covered by tunnel after tunnel of vibrant orange torii. At the beginning, the gates are crowded quite close together, but they grow sparser as you go. The people grow sparser too: at the beginning everyone is all crowded together, all waiting for that perfect picture-taking moment, but as you go on it gets less busy and more peaceful.

The gateway to the shrine walk. The left tunnel is the entrance and the right tunnel is the exit.

There were so many people at this first tunnel I thought I’d never get a people-free shot, but everyone had the same idea so we all worked together, waiting until the group ahead was out of sight, taking all our photos, then moving ahead together.

The view looking back through the tunnel. Each torii has the name of the donor on one side, and the date it was inscribed as well as the name of the inscriber on the other (I think).

Each torii is donated by an individual, group or organization. They range in cost from 175,000 yen (about $2000) for a five foot gate, to over a million yen (over $10,000) for a 10 foot gate. There are even miniature torii for people who want to donate, but cannot afford to drop hundreds of thousands of yen.

Very big torii! These are probably the ten footers.

Big names of the big donors!

Partway up the mountain there was a grove of baby torii, which appeared to be, as Jordan quipped, “the place where the Torii are grown,” not made 😉

The tiniest torii were only a few inches high! Cute!

Jordan and I getting our mandatory torii poses in (see what I did there?)

The breaks between the tunnels offered a nice view of the forest. Smells like nature!

The fox spirit, “kitsune” in Japanese, is the official guardian of Inari, so these guys were stationed throughout the shrine walk. This is how I had a revelation about why “Inari” sushi (a type of sushi that is a pillow of rice wrapped inside a soy bean “kitsune” wrapper) is called Inari! Incidentally, Inari sushi and Kitsune Udon was sold at many of the little shops just below the shrine walk!

The farther you go, the steeper it gets.

We made it!

Finally we made it to the viewpoint! It took about 45 minutes to get to this point. We could have kept going, about another hour round trip up to the summit, but as we were already blistering hot in the sun and both wearing jeans, not having anticipated such a hike, we opted to go back down. At least we could go to sleep that night, in the traditional Kyoto machiya we had booked, feeling like we had really earned it (I’ll be posting about this epic slumber party soon!).



One thought on “A Tunnel of Torii

  1. Hi j & j,

    I am viewing your wonderful blog while sitting under a beautiful mountain maple with the scent of jasmine flowers wafting on the warm breeze. We are in the garden of Ralph,s cousin Robert in waidhofen Austria. Too beautiful words,..
    Is this not a miracle to connect in cyber space?
    Big hugs, auntie Madelaine & ralph

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