This mountain shrine is dedicated to the goddess of rice. Time your descent to coincide with the lighting of the lanterns.
Founded in 711, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is the head shrine for up to 32,000 sub-shrines devoted to Inari across Japan. Inari is a Japanese 'kami', a god-like being. Traditionally, worshippers came to pray to Inari for things including a healthy rice harvest, good business and fertility. Of course, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is now enjoyed by non-religious locals and tourists too.
On the way to the shrine, you will come across sweet shops selling an old-fashioned type of fortune cookie. On approaching the main gate of the shrine, a statue of a fox with a key in its mouth (representing that to the grain store) greets you; Inari's messengers are said to come in fox form. You'll see other references to foxes – especially stone statues – dotted around the area.
Fushimi Inari Shrine itself is an attractive, and lovingly-restored building. Through the main gate is the main shrine, 'go-honden'. The inner shrine is located up the mountain, and is accessible by tunnel-like paths, lined with thousands of red 'torii' (gates). These have been donated by various companies and individuals; the inscriptions on the sides bear their names. Along the various routes are stone shrines, water features, graves, and carvings. Whichever route you take, you'll find plenty of good photo opportunities. When hunger calls, grab a bite to eat at one of the noodle bars, sushi restaurants and tea houses that line the route. There are plenty of chances to pick up holiday souvenirs too.
If reaching the mountain peak is your goal, allow two or three hours to do so. The resulting views over Kyōto are astounding.
Time your walk right and lanterns will light up during your descent. You'll either find this enchanting, or possibly eerie; much of the mountainside is cloaked in forest. Some locals would have you believe this is inhabited by various spirits.
Fushimi Inari Shrine opens daily. Get there using the train station JR Inari on the JR Nara Line.