How Did I End Up In Japan?
My trip to Japan has a bit of a backstory, so please bear with me. Last year, I accomplished one of the items on my bucket list. Not only did I fly internationally by myself, but I traveled to Japan. A lot of people thought I was crazy for going 7,000 miles away by myself, but in reality, I was not alone. Two of my closest friends were hosting me, and they made sure I was taken care of while visiting their country. I began as S’s English tutor as she prepared for university, and I got to know her best friend, M, too. They came to visit me 4 years ago, and I went to see them two years later- the only two times we’ve met in person. When I told the girls that I was coming to Japan, they got really excited. They were really happy I was coming to see them, but they wanted to show me their country and let me experience Japanese life, just as I had let them experience American life when they came to visit. S asked me if there was anything specific that I wanted to do, and I told her that I wanted to go the place with the orange gates. I had no idea where it was in relation to Tokyo, which is where I was staying. She knew the place and told me that we’d go there. Next thing I knew, S and M sent me an itinerary that included 3 days in Kyoto and a visit to Fushimi Inari-Taisha. They prearranged the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and bullet train (shinkansen) tickets for the three of us, so we didn’t have to worry about it when I got to Japan.
Japan, Here I Am!
September 19, 2015 was a day I’ll never forget because it’s the day that I stepped onto a plane for a 15 hour flight from New Jersey to Tokyo, Japan. A few days later, the girls and I were on the bullet train heading to Kyoto. The day after we arrived in Kyoto is when we went to Fushimi Inari-Taisha, and I experienced something that I will never forget. Kyoto is a beautiful city in its own right, but Fushimi Inari-Taisha has left a lasting impact on me that I will look back on for the rest of my life.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha: Why This Particular Shrine?
I had seen the movie Memoirs of a Geisha when it came out, and a few times since. There’s one scene in the movie where the young girl, living in a geisha house as a servant to the geishas, is dressed in her kimono and running through a maze of these orange colored gates. There were so many gates, it seemed like it would never end! I always said that I would go and visit that place, wherever it was, and here I was in Kyoto, standing at the entrance to the shrine.
Everyone has seen pictures of the orange torii gates at one point or another, but nothing beats seeing them in person. According to Wikipedia, Fushimi Inari-Taisha was started in 711 when the earliest shrine structures were built. 105 years later, in 816, the shrine was moved at the request of a monk. The main shrine was built in 1499 at the top of Mount Inari. You are able to hike up the mountain to visit the main shrine, and you can see many other smaller shrines and torii gates along the way. The hike to the top can take around 2 hours, as it is a few kilometers up some rough terrain. There are no paved paths up to the top of the mountain, so you have to be careful and not slip on rocks or off the path and get hurt. Partway up the mountain are two paths of orange torii gates. These two paths are known as senbon torii, which means thousands of torii. There is no difference between the two paths, so you can walk under either one and come out in the same location.
Goshuincho= Temple or Shrine Seal Book
One activity that is popular with both locals and foreign tourists alike is to get a goshuincho, which is a temple and shrine seal book. It is a book that opens up to cream colored paper and comes in a variety of colored, patterned covers. You go with your book to a designated place on the temple or shrine property, and monks of the temple with sign your book with the official seal of the temple. In most shrines and temples, the seals are hand-done with calligraphy. In Kyoto, there are shops along the streets that sell covers and bookmarks for the goshuincho books. When we went to the shops in Kyoto, I made sure to get a cover and bookmark to protect my goshuincho, as the book should be treated with respect and taken care of.
In The End,
It felt amazing to walk under the gates where many tourists had done before me, and monks and Shinto priests in years past. As I was walking throughout Fushimi Inari-Taisha, I felt an incredible peace- not just because we were in a spiritual place with many shrines around us, but because I was visiting a place that, all religion and spirituality aside, was incredibly beautiful and peaceful in its own right. If you’re ever in Kyoto, definitely go and visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha- you won’t regret it! I cannot thank my two friends enough for arranging this trip to Kyoto, and I will remember the visit to Fushimi Inari-Taisha for life. I cannot wait for the day I can go back to Kyoto and hike all the way up the mountain to the top. It would definitely be an incredible experience!