This morning we were up at 07:00, but took our time having breakfast and prepping for the day. We left about 08:30 to walk towards Kyoto station, which is an impressive maze busy with people scuttling to and fro. We found the Nara Line platforms to catch a local train to Inari, two stops down the line. There was a train waiting on platform 10, which was our local train, due to depart in a little under 15 minutes. It had just arrived and we faced a wave of passengers getting off as we moved towards the platform. We boarded the almost empty train and got a seat to wait for the departure. By the time it departed the seats were all taken and there were plenty of people standing. Most of them were tourists heading to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, like us.
We alighted, with most of the train passengers, at Inari station, which is right outside the shrine entrance. Immediately, the sights were amazing, with a huge red torii gate beckoning people in.
The initial area consisted of wide open courtyards with pebbled surfaces and stone paths, surrounded by various shrine buildings, mostly fairly large in size. There were places to buy papers, small wooden boards, ribbons, and other things to write your prayers on and tie them up in the various designated places. Hundreds of tourists milled around, taking photos, and generally shuffling from one sight to another.
After ascending a few flights of steps to courtyards at higher levels, we came to the main attraction here: the path ascending Inari-yama, or Mount Inari. This is a path surmounted by hundreds of red torii archways, closely spaced to give the impression of walking through a long tunnel.
As we climbed, the sides of the torii facing us were blank, but turning around we could see that the other sides were all covered in Japanese characters, presenting a very different view of the tunnel. It was virtually impossible to take any photos of the tunnel without other tourists present, although several people were trying, and consequently holding people up in bunches behind them as the ones in front politely tried to stay out of the photos. It was a bit crowded and difficult thing to keep out of people’s way, as there were also people coming back down in the other direction as well.
Along the way there were a couple of places where there was a break in the torii and some small shrines by the side of the path that you could walk over to see. At one of them we decided to step out of the crowd to go have a look. Although it was just off the main path, it was completely empty of people for a while, until another couple came over as well. Then I spotted a path leading up the hill that looked to run almost parallel to the torii path, and I suggested we try walking up there a bit. I expected that it would track alongside and eventually we would be able to rejoin it. But it meandered uphill in a different direction.
The path led to a bamboo forest, where the path was covered in fallen bamboo leaves. The forest was an impressive sight, and well worth this detour, whatever it was.
We continued uphill, and I checked my phone map and determined that we seemed to be heading in the right direction to reach the top of the mountain, so decided we should just keep going. The path was almost deserted, except that a couple of young guys passed us at one point. Along one side of the path was a wire fence, and occasionally a gate that led to what looked like a less-used path. Signs on the gates said to keep them closed to keep wild boars out. My wife said we better not open the gates or boars might come on to the path we were on. I pointed out that the fence might be to keep the boars on our side. At one point we heard a strange grunting sound coming from the forest, which continued for a minute or so. I’d never heard a noise like that before and My wife asserted it was probably a boar.
The path continued through wonderful scenery before eventually joining a narrow paved road that led further up the mountain. We walked along this behind a spry old Japanese woman, who was scurrying up the hill ahead of us. She looked about 70 years old, and this was probably her morning constitutional or something. The road led past a few small houses and several shrines that seemed to be part of the Fushimi Inari complex, with similar red torii in smaller sizes, and lots of stone statues of foxes, which we’d noticed seemed to be a common theme. Many of these shrines were very old and covered in moss.
The road eventually ended and gave way to a series of steps leading further uphill as the going became steeper. Still the old lady bounded along ahead of us, although we caught up to her taking a rest stop a couple of times. But each time she jumped up and took off again ahead of us. Eventually we reached the path with the hundreds of red torii again, but up here near the top of the mountain there were a lot fewer people walking it. I spoke to a couple who were coming up and said we’d come another way up the mountain, and it looked like a lot of people had dropped off the climb. They said yes, there was a point further back where a lot of the families with children had stopped.
From here it wasn’t far up to the top of the mountain, where there was a large cluster of shrines along the same themes. Many of them had tiny replicas of the red torii, with writing on them in Japanese. Apparently you could buy these small copies and have your names or prayers written on them, and then you placed them on the shrines. I’d hoped there would be a view from the top of the mountain, but the shrines were surrounded by dense trees, and there was no view at all.
We headed back down the main torii path, enjoying this area with the much smaller number of people, and also the surrounding lush green of the forest in which the red gates were set, providing a visual contrast. We reached the crossroads area, where two routes up and two routes down converge. Here there was a small cluster of shops providing food and refreshments, as well as a view of Kyoto below. A hundred or more people were resting here, this being the uppermost point for many before deciding to avoid the steep climb to the top and just return back downwards. We chose the main way down, but again the path forked some way further along. We decided to take a quieter route again, and ended up on a path that I think took us just outside the edge of the shrine and along a narrow road fringed with old houses, as well as some small shrines resembling all the ones we’d seen already.
We reached a place where there was a cafe called Vermillion that looked inviting. Since it was just a few minutes before midday, we decided to stop for lunch. There was a popular outdoor seating area facing a small pond out the back, and they said there were several people waiting for seats on the patio, but we could sit inside without waiting. So we chose to do that and got two cozy armchairs with a small table between them near the front door. My wife ordered the cheese toast which the menu said came spread with Vegemite(!), while I got a baguette sandwich with pastrami, Camembert, and apple. Each was served with some pieces of gherkin. The food was good, though the portion sizes were not large, but it was enough to fill the holes in our stomachs and energise us for more walking.
Continuing on, we re-entered the shrine and emerged near the bottom. Exiting in a different direction to the way we’d entered from Inari Station, we headed to Fushimi Inari Station instead, on the Keihan Main Line. Along the way we passed dozens fo food stalls and souvenir shops, obviously set up to capitalise on the thousands of tourists passing by here every day. Instead of west back to Kyoto, the different train line was to take us north, to Sanjo Station. Here we transferred by foot to the nearby Sanjo Keihan subway line, and took a train west to Keage Station. From here we emerged to walk north, past the large Nanzen-ji Temple and Eikan-do Temple to the southern end of the Philosopher’s Walk, a peaceful walking path beside an old canal, lined with trees.
The Path was beautiful, but we could tell it would be much more beautiful in either autumn with the maple trees turning red, or in spring when the hundreds of cherry blossom trees would all be in bloom. There were many rustic stone bridges crossing the canal, making for picturesque photos.
I’d thought there would be small shops along the way, but there were very few. But we stopped at a cafe named &andbull, which had a sign outside saying “COFFEE, PIZZA, DOG OK”. The logo was a bulldog face, and siting inside with its owner was a very large white fluffy dog. My wife ordered a matcha ice cream and talked with the dog owner, finding out that it was a one-year-old poodle-Saint Bernard cross. She ate the ice cream sitting outside with me. It came with a shot of coffee poured over it!
This was close to the end of the Philosopher’s Walk, and from here the best way back to the hotel was to catch a bus on the main road a few short blocks west. We determined that we wanted the number 5 bus to Kyoto Station, as the other routes all headed in different directions. A bus came and we crowded on with slightly squished standing room. The bus drove a while until it came to a stop where a dozen or more people squashed on, and now it was getting very cramped inside. It continued a few more stops, and then packed even more people on! As we started off and turned a corner I noticed out the window large market with many stalls across the road. I wondered if this might have been the market we’d planned to go to on Sunday but maybe we’d got the day wrong and it was on Saturday. The next stop was just around the corner, barely 100 metres from the previous one, so I told my wife to get off here and we squeezed our way to the front of the bus and got off.
We crossed the road and explored the market, which seemed to be mostly a flea market kind of thing with second hand goods. There were some stalls selling newly made crafts and some selling food such as cakes or biscuits by local bakers, and there were a few hot food stalls. I later determined this was in Okazaki Park, and was a fortnightly flea market. We got a chocolate banana muffin and some lemon biscuits from one stall for snacks, since our lunch hadn’t been large.
Now it was time to brave the bus again to get back to our hotel. Fortunately this time the bus wasn’t as crowded, and a lot of people got off a few stops later so we managed to get seats. We rode all the way to Gojo subway station, where we got off and walked the rest of the way to our hotel. (The bus would have gone right past the hotel, but I had no idea where the next stop would be – judging by the distances between stops it could well have been at Kyoto Station and we would have had to walk the same distance back to the hotel.)
We rested up in our room for a bit before heading out at 18:00 to find dinner. I’d been unsuccessful finding any interesting vegetarian options online, so we decided to just walk to the station and perhaps the Aeon Mall on the other side to check any restaurants along the way or try the food floor in the mall. We ended up in the mall at a sushi conveyer belt place called Kaiten-sushi Uogashi AEON Mall Kyoto. There were a few people waiting, but we wrote our name on the waiting list and didn’t circle any of the three options afterwards because we had no idea what the Japanese characters meant. We think they were for preferred seating at tables or the counter. A waitress came out and offered us the next two seats at the counter, jumping a few other waiting customers who presumably had indicated preference for a table.
My wife ordered kappa maki (cucumber rolls) and pickled radish rolls and also inari pockets from the electronic ordering screen, while I just grabbed a couple of dishes with fish from the conveyer to get started. I ordered a seasonal specialty which looked like fried potato cakes, but turned out to be probably grated yam cakes as the texture was very soft inside. I also ordered a crab and a salmon roe sushi. We filled up on the meal and were very satisfied by the end.
Heading out, we stopped at a Godiva dessert bar, where I had a chocolate and cherry crepe, which was also filled with whipped cream and chocolate ice cream. My wife got a cold 99% cocoa drink, which she said was very good. Then from there we walked back to our hotel, stopping again at a 7-Eleven for breakfast supplies.