Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto: Walking the stairs to heaven....
There are many beautiful things to visit in Kyoto and for very good reasons.
If you fancy a little bit of fresh air and a walk in the forest, Inari Shrine of Fushimi is the place to go.
Inari Shrine is one of the many UNESCO world heritages in Kyoto and it attracts many tourists.
But if you have the stamina to go up, up, up, much higher the mountain, you will progressively slide into Chihiro's world, human voices receding, cicada songs dominating, and all these doors leading you higher and higher...
At one of the first shrines, you will find funny looking ex voto, the shape of a fox head. I was quite curious so I read some of them, shame on me. Well, it was an anti-climax moment: success, love, good health ... but what makes these ex voto so unusual is the fox head shape they harbor and the talented drawings... I found it very Japanese to mix contemporary and ancient without having any anachronistic feeling about it. Drawing manga and nice looking guys (no girls, as much as I have scrutinized them) and contemporary stuffs on traditional ex voto is refreshing. There is even Pikachu, which is not a model of high morality there. But being cute must make the trick!
But at this station, there are still too many people around you. Chihiro takes you by the hand to go up the stairs together. Only after then can you find peacefulness and discover that the atmosphere gets mystical. Even the cicada songs become a vague background music that pushes you to go further into the forest.
you will discover many purification fountains protected by dragons and close to the shrines, small shops where the sellers are talking together, not really taking care of who's passing. They might be in some kind of twilight zone from where they cannot acknowledge you. Prices of the shaved ice and bottled tea or water is quite earthly but it does not matter because you realize that the sellers are not in the twilight zone; you are. So you can go on climbing the stairs, and cross another 1000 doors towards to the gods.
Once you reach the top, you come to understand that it is the journey that matters, and that climbing down is part of the travel.
To go the Fushimi, you need to take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station and get of at Inari. It is 2 stations away. A very short trip but there aren't many trains, one every 15 minutes. It will cost you 140 yen. The entrance of the shrine is right in front of the exit of the station.
It is a real climbing and endurance experience so you might want to wear appropriate shoes, and some clothes to change afterward. If you do not do much sport, you need to programme enough time (at least 2 hours) to climb everything at your own pace.
In the same direction, there is Uji, where you can get a green tea experience and a visit to the ostentatious but wonderful Byodoin!