Waving goodbye to Kyoto

As we bid farewell to Kyoto, the SJMC Japan Team visited one last shrine, Fushimi Inari, before taking the bullet train back to Tokyo to spend our last evening together. 

Fushimi Inari: the rice shrine

Entrance to Fushimi Inari shrine
The walk into the Fushimi Inari shrine.

After a four-stop train ride to Fushimi-Inari Station, the team took a brisk walk up a hill to the Shinto shrine. As one arrives at Fushimi Inari Shrine, a visitor is immediately struck by the sheer magnitude of the torii gates that await. The vibrant red color contrasted beautifully against the greenery, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.

“It’s obviously a big tourist attraction, it was very crowded, but the color makes the torii gates stand out,” Zoë Simonovic said. “It makes their impact bolder.”  

The lively chatter of visitors and the smell of incense added to the sensory experience, enhancing the feeling of stepping into a different realm. The shrine itself is older than the city of Kyoto, but you would have no idea with how well it’s maintained. The team got to witness a priest ceremony, listening to the banging of drums and watching the priests march in sync to a shrine across the path. 

“I loved walking through the torii,” Brianna Archer said. “I think they might have made this my favorite shrine we visited this whole trip.”

student taking a picture of a smaller shrine inside Fushimi Inari
Brianna Archer takes a picture of a smaller shrine within Fushimi Inari.

Statues of foxes sit as guardians at the gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Foxes hold significant cultural and religious symbolism in Japanese folklore. They are often associated with the deity Inari, who is considered the patron of agriculture, rice and business prosperity, and is often depicted as a fox. 

“The foxes were very majestic and the meaning behind them was beautiful,” Alaila Coleman said. “They’re a beautiful representation of growth and prosperity.”  

Many Japanese businesses have their names posted on the torii at the shrine, and many make yearly offerings in order to promote success and prosperity for their business. 

a vendor presenting shaved ice
A friendly local vendor hands Alaila Coleman a strawberry flavored shaved ice.

After visiting the shrine, the group got the opportunity to look around in souvenir shops and eat some delicious street food, including shaved ice, fresh oysters and yakisoba, which is a dish of stir-fried noodles with soy sauce and mayonnaise.

On our way back to Tokyo

The team made its way to Kyoto Station to catch the shinkansen back to Tokyo. Some students grabbed bento boxes along with Japanese drinks and snacks for the train ride, while others opted for something a little closer to home: McDonald’s!

Upon arriving to Tokyo, we trudged our luggage to our hotel, and the group was allowed to enjoy their last night in Japan.

Soon after checking in to the hotel, Asia Institute guide Jen Norris treated the team to delicious ice cream cones to celebrate Allison Binkley’s birthday!

We also seized the opportunity for some exploring: some students began planning a nice sushi dinner to cap off the visit, while others simply planned to walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city one last time. Most students return to Texas on Saturday and will make their final preparations for the long flight home.

Looking back

As the sun sets on what some students have referred to as “the trip of a lifetime,” everyone expressed their sorrow to leave this wonderful country – and this amazing team.

“I feel like we have all built like-long friendships and made the best memories,” Brianna Archer said. “Some of my favorite memories ever have come from this trip. We all really clicked and I’m already planning my next trip back, hopefully with some of the same people.”

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