Fushimi Inari Shrine#1 in Best Things To Do in Kyoto
As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.
It takes about three hours to make the trek up the mountain, and some recent visitors say that the hike is mildly strenuous, but almost all agree this is a must-see spot in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. Plus, travelers report that there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way. Peer at the dozens of stone and bronze foxes that line the paths along with the gates (foxes are thought to be Inari's sacred messengers). Or stop in to one of the tea houses or restaurants situated on the path, which serve udon noodle soup and sushi. Because crowds are drawn to their picturesque beauty, Fushimi Inari's trails can get quite congested during the day. To avoid the multitudes, opt for an evening stroll up the mountain – recent visitors say the pervading quiet coupled with the fading light filtering through the trees and torii gates makes for an eerie and spiritual experience. Early morning is another optimal time to experience the shrine sans the crowds.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is free to visit and open daily from sunrise to sunset and is easily accessible via JR Inari Station on the JR Nara subway line (two stops south of Kyoto Station). There is also a city bus stop located at the shrine. For more information, visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine's website.
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#2 Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Situated on Otowa Mountain in eastern Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple wows travelers with its stunning natural scenery, which visitors say is best viewed from the verandah off the temple's main building. The "stage," as it's called, sits atop huge pillars more than 40 feet above the hillside and affords visitors panoramas of the surrounding forest. Those views are even more beautiful in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom or in the fall with the changing foliage. When you're done taking in the temple's surrounding beauty, you are invited to drink from the Otowa Waterfall, which gave the temple its name (kiyomizu means "pure water"). The waterfall is divided into three streams, each of which is said to bring longevity, academic success or love, respectively. But according to temple etiquette, drinking from all three streams is bad luck, so don't be greedy.
Also within in the complex is the Jishu Shrine, a red-lacquered temple dedicated to Okuninushi-no-mikoto, the Shinto god of love. Visitors who can successfully walk between two stones outside of the shrine with their eyes closed (the stones are about 20 feet apart) will supposedly have their love-related wishes granted. Along with toying with their fates, recent travelers also enjoyed the souvenir shops found along the path to the temple. Many visitors insist that Kiyomizu-dera Temple should be on every Kyoto traveler's to-do list.
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