Torii gate entrance at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

As we had our emotionally charged goodbyes with Kyoto, SJMC Japan visited one last shrine, Fushimi Inari, before the majority of the group took a bullet train back to Tokyo to spend their final night together, and a few others continued to Osaka.

Fushimi Inari is dedicated to Inari, the agricultural and rice god. It has a long history dating to the 8th century when it was founded. The shrine is famous for more than 10,000 beautiful vermilion torii gates that line the forest and mountain trails, which attract millions of visitors each year. 

In addition to the torii gates, one will find hundreds of pairs of guardian fox statues that are known as the messengers for the god. One holds a sheaf of rice, a cylinder, or a key to the granary in its mouth while the other has an orb representing Inari. 

Getting to the shrine was the easy part, just a quick four-stop train ride and a short walk by the shops and restaurants surrounding the shrine. We smelled all the yummy foods that were being cooking to satisfy the thousands of tourists headed to the shrine throughout the day. We greeted local shop owners by saying “Ohayou gozaimasu!” a good morning greeting, while trekking in the hot sun. 

Right before we arrived at the shrine, we were stopped at the train tracks and waited more than 15 minutes for a train to pass that seemed like it never would, with hundreds of other tourists besides us. We discussed the day’s visit and some history of the shrine to pass the time. While standing together under the shade of a large tree, the group began to realize the overwhelming number of people around us. The sheer volume of tourists on both sides of the tracks easily matched or even exceeded the number of locals we had encountered on we way.

Overtourism in Japan, specifically in places like Kyoto, has skyrocketed in the past few years. The high volume of visitors can overwhelm the serene atmosphere and surrounding environment, but the group didn’t let this get in the way of how we enjoyed the beautiful and historic area. The group understood that we were also tourists there to enjoy what the shrine has to offer and to just go with the flow of things, which helped to guide us mentally through our visit. 

After the train passed, we made our way up to the main gate, the Romon gate, which was built in 1589 and serves as the entrance to the shrine’s main area. Souvenir shops and snack stands crowded the sides as we made our way closer to the famous Senbon Torii (“thousands of torii gates”).

The torii gates along the entire trail are donations made by individuals and companies hoping they will bring good luck and prosperity. The donor’s name and date of the donation are inscribed on the side, and when the light hits it just right, that beautiful red color glows.

Many of us explored the various paths that led to smaller shrines and alters, just trying to take it all in.

“Seeing the Fushimi Inari Shrine in person after seeing it online for so many years was amazing!” Kaylie Kruk, electronic media senior, said. “The amount of people there matched the amount of torii gates which was overwhelming in a good way.”

The beautiful color of the torii gates, which symbolizes life force and is used in sacred areas all across Japan, was such a sight to see up against the deep green forests that surround it. Many students enjoyed the moments away from the crowds, where they could admire the tall trees on the pathways around the shrine and find places with no one around to take pictures.

“Strolling through the Fushimi Inari Shrine’s red gates feels like entering a magical place where tradition and nature come together,” Kimberly Garza, public relations senior, said. “It was such an amazing visit to finish my time in Kyoto.”

After walking around the shrines for an hour, many students decided they couldn’t wait for lunchtime and went to local vendors for a midday snack. Ice cream and shaved ice were top contenders for cooling off on such a hot day and delicious too! Many found themselves browsing around the gift shops while waiting for the meetup time to approach. 

We left Fushimi Inari at 11 a.m. to head back to the hotel for our luggage, and while walking back, we discussed the amazing area we were just in and shared photos of what we saw. We packed into the crowded subway, escaping the heat for a while, and had exciting discussions about what came next. After we retrieved everyone’s luggage from the hotel, we departed for the train station. Today, we wore our Education Abroad T-shirts so we looked like a true tourist group in the matching dark green cotton tees, as we made our way through the train station. 

There was a group of five students, including myself, who decided to extend our stay in Japan by traveling to Osaka. We’re planning a day trip to Universal Studios Japan and Super Nintendo World Japan in Osaka. We’re also looking into a museum visit and maybe even a day at the zoo to see animals native to Japan.

But we are all mostly excited about shopping, trying new foods, and just exploring another city in Japan.

Advertising senior Ivy Murph shared that she’s most excited about trying okonomiyaki, one of Osaka’s traditional dishes. It is a popular pan fried dish that consists of batter and cabbage. The traditional way of eating it is to have it served sizzling hot on an iron plate, cutting and dividing it into bite-sized pieces with a spatula called a hera.

“I’ve just seen so many videos of the okonomiyaki eating experience and I just think it would be so amazing to try it myself in the place where it’s made the best, Osaka!” Murph said.

As the students look back on their time in Japan, many of them have expressed gratitude to the program for this amazing opportunity and to the professors for being able to make this trip possible. 

We started life-long friendships, shared in countless stories and can’t stop laughing over the good times we’ve had in Japan.

Several of us are already planning a return trip to Japan. For now, some of the group is preparing for their return to Texas on Saturday, getting lots of rest for the long travel day ahead.

Others in the group, however, are extending their stay in Japan. Stay tuned for those details tomorrow about the first among us to return to Texas.

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