In 1996, British director Anthony Minghella adapted Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient into a box office hit and critically acclaimed movie. In the film, the 1940’s Historic Cairo appears to be an untouched medieval Arab city. In reality, the scenes were filmed in Tunisia, as the real Cairo is a much more developed city. Nonetheless, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Historic Cairo, or commonly known as Islamic Cairo, is the “Cairo” that most travellers and audience of The English Patient desire to see: a vibrant neighbourhood full of winding alleyways, souks, fountains, medieval mansions, hammans, and most of all, mosques of different sizes and with them, a thousand minarets that make up the city’s skyline. Established in 969 AD, Cairo was the capital city of the Fatimid Caliphate until the 12th century. Then the city changed hands from one Islamic empire to another, including the Ottomans. Throughout centuries, Cairo was situated in the midst of caravan routes between Africa and the Middle East. From spices, Yemeni coffee to Indian textiles, Cairo has always been a trading hub in the Arab world.
Just like many old Arab cities, my first impression of Islamic Cairo was noisy, chaotic, disorganized, crowded, disorienting, and confusing. However, at certain moment when I stood under the shade of a minaret or took refuge at a tranquil teashop near the souk of Khan el-Khalili, I felt being miles away from the hectic activities and could easily imagine myself being in the Old Cairo of The English Patient.
For several years the famous Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) has been voted as the favorite tourist attraction in Kyoto on a number of travel websites. The images of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates) winding up the Mount Inari (233m) and the clusters of miniature shrines and private graves hidden in the woods certainly nourish the public imagination of a mysterious old Japan. We thought of visiting the shrine in late afternoon or early evening when the twilight was gradually fading away, shifting the tone of everything from orange to violet and then blue. Somehow that wasn’t realized, and instead we chose to explore this highly popular and spiritual place early in the morning of our last day of the trip. To beat the crowds, getting up before sunrise was crucial. It was only a short JR train ride from Kyoto Station to Inari Station. By the time we set foot at the entrance route of the Taisha it was a little before 7:30am.
To make the most out of the last day in Kyoto, we get up before dawn and carried our backpack and luggage to Kyoto Station. At daybreak, we bid farewell to the tranquil Shirakawa River in our Higashiyama neighborhood.
At Kyoto Station, we stored our belongings at one of the many lockers and hopped onto a Nara-bounded train for Inari Station.
The ride to the peaceful Inari Station took only a few minutes, and the entrance route of Fushimi Inari Taisha was just right across the road.
Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) was first established in the 8th century dedicated to Inari (稲荷大神), the God of Rice and Sake. In the agricultural nation, the God of Rice was a powerful figure who governed the fortune of lives. In the modern age, the power of Inari had been shifted to offer blessing on the prosperity of businesses and people’s lives in general.
A large torii gate led us towards the Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate).
The Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate) was a donation in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), the famous daimyō (大名, feudal warlord) who unified a large part of the country.
There were only a few visitors at the Worship Hall in front of the Honden (Main Building). After paying our respects, we couldn’t wait longer to begin the hike up to the peak of Mount Inari via the remarkable Senbon Torii.
On Mount Inari, two features stood out. First was of course the vermilion torii gates. Donated by individuals and business companies, there were over 5000 torii gates guiding our way up the Mount Inari. The second feature was the kitsune (fox). Uncounted statues of foxes appeared along the trail, usually came in pairs standing in front of the Shinto shrines. Foxes were believed to be the Kenzoku, the messenger of god.
We walked past the first pair of bronze fox statues right after the visit of the main shrine. Many fox statues here carried a key in their mouth (to the rice granary).
Our hike up the 4km trail began at this cluster of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates).
Only a handful of visitors were there, such a blessing given this place is also famous for big visitor crowds throughout the day. The record was 2.69 million during the 3 days of New Year period in 2006.
Soon we arrived at the trailhead of the dual route. Both route would ultimately converge back to a single path. We picked the left route.
From one direction, the Senbon Torii appeared clean and minimal.
Looking back we could see columns of dates and donor’s names along the path as far as the eye could see.
We stopped at most of the sub shrine along the trail.
After a while, the trail gradually turned steeper with stone steps.
Half way through the ascend, the view from the Yotsutsuji Intersection was amazing in a clear morning. Many tourists would turn back from here.
We continued on the uphill journey, and stopped by a number of miniature shrines and grave clusters. Mini fox statues, mini vermilion torii gates and candles were often seen as offerings.
We often made detours from the trail into groups of mini shrines and graves. We bumped into this what looked like a shrine guardian cat.
The cat came from behind the shrine and jumped from a a stone stele to another, and finally stayed on a small tablet under the morning sun… just for a few seconds.
A pair of stone lions and foxes were on guard by the small shrine of God of Rain.
The early morning sun was nice and warm, and cast a magical highlight onto the torii gates.
Fallen autumn leaves added an extra sense of solitude to the quiet trail.
While at certain spots the autumn leaves gave a vivid background to the otherwise greyish setting of stones steles and statues.
By the time we reached “Second Peak” we knew we were just minutes away from the peak.
At around 9:15 we reached the top of Mount Inari, after about an hour and 45 minutes of hike.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan