Day 4: Kyoto
Leaving Osaka & Mt. Inari Hike
We left Osaka early in the morning to catch the train to Kyoto. There are a ton of ways to get between Osaka and Kyoto, but since we had JR Passes and were already in Tennoji, we got back on the Haruka Express, which is the train that comes from Kansai Airport and goes through Osaka to Kyoto Station. Unfortunately, the train was late! We didn’t have pocket wifi with us since we were between Airbnbs, so there was no way for us to check the schedule and we had to just wait and see what happened. Thankfully, after what felt like forever the train finally came.
When we got to Kyoto Station, it was a bit of a walk across the universe to the train we needed to get to Fushimi Inari. We strategically decided to stay there, knowing we'd want to visit the shrine a lot. Since it was a Sunday the train was super crowded, which is not fun when you’re lugging around a giant suitcase and your backpack.
When we got off at the Inari JR Station, we exited right near Fushimi Inari Taisha. Our Airbnb host sent us a video (which we reviewed the night before) on how to get to the apartment which was really helpful, along with photos. The area near the shrine was packed with tourists, since it was a Sunday and still pretty close to New Years.
Our Airbnb was so cute! We booked an apartment that was a good mix of traditional and modern for this leg of the trip. There were 2 separate sleeping areas, both with tatami and sliding doors. Each room had its own aircon/heater, which was great for keeping the rooms warm at night. Best of all, there was a soaking tub, which we made use of later, after the crazy mountain climbing journey that I’m about to talk about…
We decided to go check out Fushimi Inari Taisha with the intention of just looking around shrine and the lower part of the torii gates. We stopped for some nikuman (meat buns) on the side of the road. They were delicious! In front of the shrine, there are a lot of vendors selling street food and we stopped back there often while we were in Kyoto. Like everywhere else in the area, it was super crowded around the shrine, but we got in line and started through the red torii gates. It was so crowded it took us nearly a half hour to get past the first few sets of gates. As New Yorkers, walking at that pace in a crowd of people just wasn’t gonna happen. (Lynnette’s Note: At this point, I’d like to mention that Eri had never climbed even a small mountain before this and didn’t believe I wasn’t exaggerating when I said there was a mountain involved.)
Luckily, we saw a sign pointing to another small shrine, Fushimi Kandakara, up a dirt hill off the main path. An escape! Little did we know, this was the beginning of a long unplanned walk! Behind that shrine, we followed the pathway through a bamboo forest to a few of the dozens of small family shrines that litter the mountain. It was super peaceful and quiet and we only saw a few other people.
This trail had a mostly gentle incline, but there were times as we got further up the mountain that the footing became a little tricky and muddy. We kept following the signs, except every time we saw one that said ‘top of the mountain,’ we decided to just ignore it and go to the other way.
We came across Shichimen no Taki, a waterfall area beside a famous wood carver's shop (he wasn’t in at the time). We didn’t use it, but just of note, there’s even a toilet all the way out here on this more far-flung path. Finding a public restroom in Japan is so easy.
We kept going up this crazy path away from the mountain summit, when I saw two signs: one for Oiwa Okami shrine and one for the summit… so of course we went to the shrine. Needless to say, we were a little disappointed to trek all the way up to this shrine and have it just be a rock face with more torii gates on it and a prayer platform that was under construction. It wasn’t very visually stimulating after a long climb, but at least there were benches for us to sit on and recuperate a for a bit, which was awesome!
At this point, we had the choice to walk back down to rejoin the main path, or to keep climbing and hope the path would eventually lead back into the main trail (we did have wifi at this point, so never really lost). So, of course, we went upward and onward! At this point, the obvious trail pretty much melted away and it felt like we were just walking in the woods. There was a downed tree in the pathway, which we rested on a for a few minutes, since the dirt path was steep and we were exhausted. We hadn’t really dressed or planned for a hike. Oops. No regrets!!!
Still, for some reason we found it amusing that we were alone, in the middle of the woods, somewhere on the side of a mountain because we had decided to take a weird anti-social path, instead of the normal one.
After more wandering around in the woods, we finally saw torii gates again and rejoined the main path, basically one set of stairs before the top of the mountain. We waited in line so that we could pray at the summit shrine, and stopped for some overpriced drinks from the vending machine. Next time we’ll remember to be better prepared and get drinks down at the bottom, as the prices go up the higher you climb. But honestly, I don’t think either of us expected to just randomly end up climbing the entire mountain on our first visit.
We took the normal route back down, stopping at Yotsu-tsuji intersection which is the halfway point and took pictures of the view of the city below. There were a few other shrines on the way down and we stopped at Araki Jinja and bought super cute inari omamori.
By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain we were beyond exhausted. We went to the Lawsons convenience store for snacks, went back to the Airbnb, took baths, and passed out for the night.
If you have the urge to recreate our crazy hike, we marked out on this map the way we went! Red dots on the way up, green dots on the way down. Click the map to make it bigger!
It was an exhausting, but exciting day!