The sun wasn't even out when my alarm shook me awake. My eyes half open, I climbed down off the bunk bed making sure not to awake the person on the bottom. Through the dim light I could see that Sejan's bed was already empty. It took every fibre of my being to stay awake but I knew we had to arrive before the hoards of tourist descended.
By the time we were on our way the city of Kyoto was just starting to wake. Buisnessmen rushed past us heads focused on emails. School children were groggy as their parents took them to classes. We stopped by a bakery before we started our cimb. The curried pork was cradled in thick dough and provided the energy we needed for the two hour hike up Fushimi Inari.
The food vendors that line the way to the main shrine of Inari, the God of rice, fertility, and agriculture, were just beginning to set up as we first set our eyes on the beautiful vermillion gate. Fushimi Inari existed before the capital was moved to Kyoto in 794, and you can tell that the mountain contains a powerful energy. So it's fitting that the mountain is adorned with thousands of torii gates- whose existence serves to demarcate the transition from secular to sacred.
Sejan and I made our way to the Senbon Torii, two parallel rows of gates that sprout from behind the main shrine at the Romon gate. By this point, the sun was still faint, not strong enough to illuminate the dense cluster of gates that start the beginning of the hike.
The senbon torii empties you into the first of many small shrines that dot the mountain side. A tiny fox sits on a stone pedastal with a piece of wheat dangling from its mouth. In Shinto mythology foxes are seen as Inari's messengers and are also portrayed with keys and other objects in their mouth.
The trail is relatively level the first half. The Torii gates get further apart and specks of green stand cool against the warmth of the vermillion. Some of the gates are well aged, bearing the weight of the prayers that placed them there. While others gleam shiny and new. The gates have been paid for by business and individuals which is why Fushimi Inari is one of the few shrines in Kyoto that is free of charge to enter and explore. 4,000 dollars can get you a small gate while six figures can fetch you one of the extremely large gates.
After walking past a beautiful stream the pathway turned to stairs. At this point more people joined us on the narrow trail. Despite being no earlier then 9am the steep incline of the stairs and the breathability of my gown caused me to sweat profusely, but Sejan and I press on. We pass a few restaurants selling water, snacks, and other refreshments. As well we see the price of water in the vending machines increase the further up the mountain we go. My calves are tight, I pray that we are more than half way up the mountain.
A plateau appears where I can see and hear people gathering. I gathered my energy thinking we've reached the top. As I cross the last stair a strong breeze greets me like an old friend. The city of Kyoto looks snug in between a forrest and another set of mountains off in the distance. I turn around and instead of being greeted with a big shrine I see three different trails as well as a small sign that states the peak is still a 50 minute hike away.
After climbing the equivalent of 39 flights of stairs Sejan and I made it to the peak. By then it was extremely crowded and it no longer felt like we had the mountain to ourself. The quiet and tranquil walk we had as we journeyed up the mountain was replaced with the sounds of camera shutters, sneakers falling on the concrete, and crying children. The breezy cool morning air was now filled with stagnant heat which would have made just starting the climb unbearable. The further we got down the mountain the more congested it became.
My beautiful dream had become a nightmare. It was hard to believe that Sejan and I were on the same mountain. Once we exited the main gate we looked around and a sea of people greeted us. The food vendors now operational filled the air with delicious scents of fried chicken, takoyaki, and grilled meats.
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