Monday, July 20, 2015

Japan 2015 Day 12: Fushimi Inari Taisha

The kids didn't wake us this morning :) They were pretty tired from yesterday's adventure, so we all seemed to wake up around the same time. After another gorgeous, home-made breakfast, we decided to split up. Charlie & Brendan wanted to go into Kyoto to do some secret shopping, & so Momo, Hiroko, & I got the kids together to travel to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.

I've been to this shrine 2 times before & I never get tired of it, partly because it seems there's always something happening there. The main shrine building was built in 1499, although the site has been the site of an Inari shrine since 816. Inari is the god of grain (rice- & by extension, sake) and has played an important part in Shinto worship for a hundreds of years. The shrine is noted for the thousands of tori gates that are set closely together & make a 4 km path from beginning to end. Each gate was presented to the shrine by a farm or, these days, business, to ensure that the business thrives. There are lots & lots of smaller shrines on the site as well, where lit candles or incense are offered as prayers. As you can imagine, Inari is an important Shinto god, so there are thousands of Inari shrines all over Japan. The "Taisha" at the end of this shrine's name designates it as the head Inari shrine in Japan. The Inari shrines are also know for their kitsune, or foxes, which are considered the messengers of the gods. There are also hundreds of statues of kitsune at the shrine. Like this one, carrying grain in it's mouth:

The house we're staying in is just a few kilometres from the Fushimi Inari Taisha, so we decided to catch the bus to Takeda station & then take a taxi from there, since it would be faster than going all the way to Kyoto station & then back on the train that runs to the shrine. It was supposed to hit 90 degrees today, too, so the taxi seemed a good idea from an energy-conservation (ours) prespective. We must have lucked-out because, when we got there, we found hundreds of paper lanterns festooning the place, chanting & rituals happening in multiple buildings, & lots of "no photo" signs.

Also, loads of people... well, today is a holiday (Umi no Hi, which means "the day of the sea") so that made sense. I'd forgotten how many stairs there were, & us with two strollers in tow.

At least the stairs were not 8" tall, like the Buddhist temples! And there were some ramps as well.

When we got the main shrine building, there was the usual purification area, with running water & dippers, & signs explaining the proper way to purify yourself for a visit to the shrine. With her mom's help, Aoi-chan really got into learning the way to do it :)

Afterward we made a visit to the main shrine to say & prayer. Both Aoi-chan & Nozomu-kun were assisted through the procedure by their moms. First you put a coin in the box, then pull the ropes to ring a bell, then you clap twice & bow, say your prayer, & then clap again. The kids had fun doing it (especially the bell part :) & it was inspiring to see them learning how to properly visit the shrine. I took no photos because a ritual was happening in the main shrine building & the "no photo" sign was up.

Afterward we climbed a few more staircases to the place where the tori gate path begins. The place was packed with people, so we joined the river of people heading in.

The path splits into two tunnels of tori gates a little way in, with the right hand path being the way into the main hike. The tori gates give way to small areas with more shrines or place to buy omamori, & at the first one of these we had big scare. In all the press of people, Aoi-chan, who had gotten out of her stroller to walk around, disappeared. We had no idea where she went although my gut told me she'd moved farther up the path because she's a "let's go!" kind of kid. I stayed put, Hiroko & Nozomu went back down, & Momo went up the path, calling for her. It was a scary few minutes, but Momo came back with Aoi-chan in her arms. Someone had found her wandering alone & stayed with her until Momo arrived. We were kind of teary with relief. Momo went after Hiroko & we all met up again & kept going. Whew!!

I've never walked the whole thing, & knowing there were more staircases on the path, I didn't expect we'd do it all today, with the strollers. But we did get farther than I'd ever been, to a little temple where there was chanting & lots of lit candles & people in attendance.

We decided to leave the tori gate path at this point, & retraced our steps to one of the many exits (& short cuts!) back to the main shrine. I wanted to buy some omamori, so while I was doing this Momo & Aoi-chan shook the omikuji (fortune) can & pulled out a stick. You tell the person at the stand what number you got, & they give you a fortune on paper. Aoi-chan got dai-kichi- the greatest good luck! Yesterday she was guaranteed enlightenment & today she got the best luck! At the same time, Hiroko bought an ema for Nozomu-kun. An ema is a wooden board that you can write a prayer or wish on, & then it's hung on a rack & the priests at the shrine pray over them, so the gods will hear the prayers. Nozomu-kun's ema was shaped like a tori gate, & he scribbled on it with a marker, & then they hung it up.

Then we headed out of the shrine & into the nearby street of shops, that is guaranteed to be around just about every shrine, for lunch. We found a likely-looking place & ended-up sitting on a raised platform with tatami mats, cushions, & our table. I had zaru soba, the cold soba noodles & broth that Brendan likes, but this one had an extra side- a tiny, raw quail egg to put in the broth. It tasted better than I thought raw egg would :)

We also had inarizushi, which is sweetened aburage (fried tofu pockets) filled with sushi rice & tiny chopped, pickled veggies. At the Inari shrine they serve it in a special way, with the aburage folded in a triangle like a fox's ear:

And for dessert, the kids & I shared some kakigori, shaved ice with syrup;

It was soooo hot when we decided to leave, so we thought we'd take a taxi home rathe than the train, & were able to get the taxi to drop us off near the house, rather than at the station. We all cooled off for a bit, then Momo & Hiroko decided to take a couple bikes that are at the house & ride to the supermarket for dinner supplies. I walked along with them for the first bit to go to the 100 yen store across the street, since I wanted to do some omiyage shopping. Charlie & Brendan were on kid duty & they did brilliantly. I don't think anyone fussed or missed their mom at all :)

We were expecting Hiroko's husband,, Dai-kun, to arrive mid-afternoon, & Momo & Hiroko were going to meet him at the station on their way home from the market. But on my walk back to the house, whom did I meet? Dai-kun, who was using the map on his iphone to find the house. Nozomu-kun was so glad to see his dad! Momo & Hiroko arrived about half an hour later, & after some cold drinks & a reunion, they got dinner started & we all looked after the kids. Charlie played recorder with Aoi-chan, showing her how to blow gently into it to make nice sounds.

Dinner was luscious! I feel like we've been eating at the best home-cooking restaurant in all Japan the past few days!

After dinner, Charlie, Brendan, & I did clean-up, & then a lot of time was spent getting kids into the ofuro & settled into bed. Nozomu-kun has been having a tough time sleeping- seems to be a time of life thing for him- & on top of that he may be coming down with a cold :(  So Dai & Hiroko may take him home to Tokyo tomorrow. Momo, Aoi-chan, Charlie, Brendan, & I are planning a trip to Uji, one of our fave places in Japan, for our last day in the Kyoto area.

Oyasuminasai! (good night!)

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