Picture this: Right in front of you are 10,000 red Toriis. You ask, What is a Torii? A Torii is a traditional gate found at the entrance of Shinto shrines across Japan. It marks the beginning of a sacred space. You, along with a thousand other tourists, explore the entirety of the two-hour hike to the top of the mountain. The Toriis are bright red. Miles and miles of plain red gates stacked one after the other. The bright, vermillion gates next to the luscious green leaves look almost out of place.
Two young ladies clad in beautiful yukatas, casual summer garments similar to a kimono, stroll by chatting about the weather and how unbelievably hot it can get on a summer day in Kyoto. The geta, the Japanese version of flip-flops, click against the stone pavement, making a pleasant click-clack sound as they pass by. You fumble for the phone in your pocket in an attempt to take a picture before they disappear into the distance. Wow, isn’t this scenic?
The uphill climb, a longer hike than you expected, never ceases to tire you out. This is different from all the other hikes I’ve been on... How many more gates are there? Where does this trail lead? As you let your thoughts wander, a bobtail cat strolls by. It rests by the Torii, cleaning its paw, completely indifferent to the visitors who stop to take a quick photo. Don’t you think this place is pretty? It screams Japan. As you turn away from the cat, you notice engravings on the gates. You see that the other side of the Torii is covered in black Chinese characters. What could all this mean?
You finally reach the Yotsutsuji intersection, the halfway point up the mountain. The scene before you clears and you marvel at the beautiful view of the entire city. You follow the tour group uphill and find a small shrine guarded by two stone foxes.
The tour guide stops. “Gather ‘round,” he exclaims. You learn that the word Inari actually references the Shinto god of rice and that foxes are his messengers. Japanese farmers used to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine to ask for a good harvest from the ancient gods. Thousands of years later, the deity of business still continues to attract all those who want to succeed, including big corporate companies. Remember those black Chinese characters? They are the names of donors who pay anywhere from 400,000 yen up to a million yen to have their own torii gates placed on the sacred mountain.
On your way down the hill, you wonder to yourself: How can such a pretty scene bleed greed? But then again, the desire for good things to come can be found in any culture, any religion, any race. Perhaps, the vermillion gates which initially seemed so out of place in nature aren’t so misplaced after all.