Want to avoid crowds at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto? Contrary to much of the advice on social media, I recently had a local show me a solution that doesn’t involve getting there before 7am or visiting at night!

What if I told you there was an affordable way to skip past all the other tourists during the peak daytime periods, and you could learn more about the significance of this shrine beyond a pretty photo opportunity? It exists!

How to Avoid Crowds at Fushimi Inari Shrine [Daytime Hike] | The Invisible Tourist

I first visited Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine a decade ago, and every trip to Kyoto since I’ve avoided returning due to the volume of visitors. However on my most recent trip, I decided to take advantage of a lesser-known way to combat overtourism here. And what an enriching experience it was, as you’ll soon find out.

If you’d like “be invisible” and be shown a hidden side of Fushimi Inari by a local guide that avoids crowds, learn its cultural significance, see how to respectfully make wishes and the meanings behind sights at different checkpoints, read on for more!

I took part in this Fushimi Inari Shrine hike as a press invite, but as always all thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

How to Avoid Crowds at Fushimi Inari Taisha [Daytime Hike] | The Invisible Tourist
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What is Fushimi Inari famous for?

So, just why is this shrine so popular and almost always crowded? As the most visited and famous of landmarks in Japan, Fushimi Inari makes it onto a Kyoto itinerary for the majority of tourists for the following reasons:

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 or Fushimi Inari Shrine is known for thousands of vermilion torii gates, called Senbon Torii. These vibrant rows of torii scale sacred Mt Inari (Inariyama), which at 233 metres elevation provides sweeping news over Kyoto.
  • While there are 30,000 inari shrines throughout Japan dedicated to Inari Okami (god of good harvest, rice, prosperity and agriculture), Fushimi Inari is the main one to head them all. In modern times, this has transitioned into prosperity in business ventures.
  • Founded in 711 AD (before Kyoto was Japan’s capital city), its striking torii and being the head inari shrine make it a popular photo spot. However, what most people may not realise is that each torii gate has been paid for by a company, with their name etched into it in Japanese as a thanks to the shrine for fulfilling a wish.
  • In Shinto religion, kitsune (foxes) are considered messengers to the gods, and at Fushimi Inari Shrine you can spot countless fox statues holding four kinds of offerings in their mouths – your guide will point them out along the way as they aren’t always easy to find!

With that said, let’s look into the best way to enjoy Fushimi Inari without the crowds.

How to skip crowds at Fushimi Inari Shrine

How to avoid crowds at Fushimi Inari during the day? Take a hidden Fushimi Inari hike that completely bypasses the main crowds!

Over the years, I’ve also taken other tours with MagicalTrip, such as this Kyoto bar hopping tour, Kyoto tea ceremony, a Kamakura day trip from Tokyo, Tokyo bar hopping tour, and they are always so fun! You can discover all their Kyoto tours here →

Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto Japan | The Invisible Tourist

Meeting at Tofukuji Station

Tofukuji Station is about 3 mins from Kyoto Station on the Nara Rapid Line, or around 5 mins from Gion Shijo or Sanjo Stations on the Keihan lines.

TIP: Double-check with a local that the train you plan to catch will actually stop at Tofukuji Station. Google Maps does get it wrong, which I learnt the hard way!

The meeting point for this tour is easy to find. When exiting Tofukuji Station, take the East exit and you can’t miss the Family Mart right on the corner.

Our guide Hina-san was so lovely and fun! She was very knowledgeable about the history and significance of Fushimi Inari because she has learnt about it since elementary school. Throughout the tour I had a few questions to ask, and she provided detailed answers that helped my understanding.

Beginning a hidden hike

As you may have seen on social media, the entrance to Fushimi Inari’s Senbon Torii is overcrowded and cramped during peak times. Today, Hina-san would show us a way to completely skip this section and enjoy a secluded route to Mt Inari’s summit.

Meandering through quiet backstreets surrounding Tofukuji Temple, Hina-san pointed out an ice cream shop that specialises in miso ice cream, a local specialty! After some time, we reached the forest at the start of the hidden hike.

Seeing an original section of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Passing by towering bamboo along a leafy and rocky path, we made our way to the first stop.

TIP: I noticed the temperature was significantly cooler within the forest than back on the streets. You may need to bring layers, but you’ll soon warm up!

To the sounds of a small waterfall cascading over rocks, we reached a quiet power spot dotted with stone torii, foxes, and otsuka – stones engraved with names of deities and left as a donation to the shrine. It was believed to be one of the original sections of the shrine, dating back over a millennia.

Hina-san described the four kinds of offerings we saw in the foxes’ mouths and what each represented. I already loved that this tour taught us Fushimi Inari Shrine history that’s lesser-known.

Stone torii at the original section of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Stone Otsuka at Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Hidden bamboo forest to rival Arashiyama

Overtourism in Japan has become a major issue in Kyoto in recent years. And now for something that most of those visitors won’t get to experience – a bamboo grove with literally no one else there! 

Hina-san then led us to an off-path section of towering bamboo that was so tranquil, it was a great little alternative to Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama. We stopped here for a break, took some photos and Hina-san answered some questions we had. 

She also informed us how many centimetres bamboo grows in a single day… Can you guess? The answer will surprise you!

TIP: For two more lesser-known bamboo groves, see my guide to Kyoto’s hidden gems.

Exploring a secluded section of the shrine

Our forest trail then met up with a section of large torii gates and our first of four shrines along the pathway to Mt Inari’s summit. Amongst hundreds of fox statues, Hina-san pointed out one holding the rarest offerings in its mouth!

There were countless kitsune, torii and otsuka leading up a lengthy hill. I also spotted two rare horses, which Hina-san explained to me what they represented in ancient times. Amazingly, there was no one else here aside from our small group, so it was lovely to take in the tranquil aura.

Rare ancient horse statue at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Key Kitsune at Fuhsimi Inari Shrine

Reaching a scenic viewpoint

We stopped to make a prayer by a fountain with an acrobatic-looking fox, before reaching a beautiful scenic point. The views overlook southern Kyoto and on a clear day, you can see Osaka.

We visited four of the smaller shrines up here and made wishes. I bought torii and fox ema as souvenirs, as the small office here had no crowds – a stark contrast to the shrine office back down at ground level!

TIP: This is the part where most tourists reach and head back down, but we weren’t finished yet!

Fushimi Inari Yotsuji, Kyoto

Torii ema from a Fushimi Inari Shrine hike, Kyoto

Summit of Mt Inari (Inariyama)

Passing through a tunnel of torii with barely anyone else, we began our journey around the loop of Mt Inari’s summit. 

Hina-san described why sake is regarded as a holy drink in Japan. One of the shrines is tied to the grandchild of the sun goddess Amaterasu, whose cave I visited a few months earlier in Kyushu (read all about it in my guide to a Takachiho Gorge day trip and my 7 day Kyushu itinerary).

It felt like a luxury to enjoy the famous Kyoto torii gates without anyone else there! Can you believe this was in the MIDDLE of the day??

Torii tunnel at Fushimi Inari Kyoto

Summit of Mt Inari (Inariyama), Kyoto Japan

Heading back down from Fushimi Inari’s summit

Once we’d finished making our wishes, it was time to make the hike back down Mt Inari. The uncrowded way Hina-san took us had quite a few stairs and steep pathways to scale down, so keep this in mind.

We walked through some more Fushimi Inari bamboo groves where we barely saw anyone else, which was really nice. 

Fushimi Inari bamboo

Bamboo Grove near Fushimi Inari Japan

It started to become obvious when our group was reaching the mainstream entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine – the crowds were intense!

We went from having plenty of space beneath the torii to joining up with the main crowd that reduced our movements to a slow shuffle. This is not an ideal experience. 

I could definitely not have coped with that amount of people for 3 hours trekking to the top and back down again. In fact, it would likely have taken longer due to the crowd moving at a slow pace. I was so thankful for Hina-san’s local knowledge of the hidden pathway.

As we reached the main entry point and our small group said goodbye to Hina-san, I felt like I had used some kind of cheat-sheet to enjoy this beautiful shrine in the way it deserved. And this concludes the tour!

Crowds at Kyoto red gates

Kyoto red gates shrine - Fushimi Inari Taisha main entrance

Final thoughts on this Fushimi Inari hidden hike & tips

I absolutely recommend this tour for people wanting deeper knowledge about the significance of Kyoto’s most significant Shinto shrine, not just a few photos to say they have been there. It’s a must for people who don’t mind putting in effort to be rewarded.

The hike’s duration is 3 hours over about 7 kilometres with a major part of that being uphill, so definitely be physically and mentally prepared for that. It is not overly strenuous though, and there are plenty of places to stop and take a break. The tour finishes near JR Fushimi Inari Station. 

Aligning with what MagicalTrip suggests, I probably would not recommend the tour for children under 8, for pregnant women or wearing baby carriers. If you have back or knee problems it probably isn’t ideal either. The ground is quite rocky, leafy and it’s possible to slip or trip easily if not careful. Wear shoes with good grip.

The hike is certainly hidden, there is no way I would have found the entry point on my own or the hidden bamboo forest. This route does have a few odd visitors here and there (mostly local hikers) but nowhere near as many crowds as the mainstream Fushimi Inari route.

Reasons to take the Fushimi Inari tour vs doing it yourself

For folks who are bold, you could attempt this hike on your own – although honestly I wouldn’t recommend it. Here are a few reasons why I believe the tour is absolutely worthwhile:

  • The way Hina-san took us from our meeting point I would never have been able to find on my own. During my previous trips to Kyoto (and on this trip), my phone GPS has repeatedly gone haywire in the Tofukuji area, making it difficult to find my way to different attractions.
  • There are quite a few diverging pathways in the forest that aren’t clearly marked, so you may run the risk of going the wrong way or getting lost.
  • Without a local guide, you won’t know the places of interest to stop off on the mountain that don’t have any crowds.
  • There are good sections of the Senbon Torii that have little to no visitors along this local route, which makes it nice to take photos as mementos from your visit.
  • Not being able to learn more about the Buddhist, Shinto and historical significance of the shrine from a local would be a real shame to miss.
  • If you are short on time in Kyoto, this hidden hike ticks off two Kyoto experiences in one go, but without crowds – the red torii and two sections of bamboo forest. Enjoy having photos with no one else around! The travel time alone between Fushimi Inari to Arashiyama is over an hour by train, so this saves quite a bit of time in your day.

Hidden Bamboo Grove near Fushimi Inari Shrine

Sending a big thanks again to MagicalTrip for having me on this tour, I’m so grateful to have fully experienced Fushimi Inari Shrine without the crowds!

Now you know the best time to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine doesn’t have to be at the crack of dawn or at night. I loved that this tour was during the middle of the day and still avoided all the main tourist crowds, and I hope you will feel the same.

While you’re here, why not take a look at my itineraries for 2 weeks or 3 weeks in Japan to help plan your trip (or your Japan honeymoon!), do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette, learn some basic Japanese phrases for tourists with my free PDF cheat sheet, find out what to pack for Japan, and even where to stay in Tokyo based on experiences from all the hotels I’ve stayed at — I have every step of your Japan planning journey covered!

Want more ideas for avoiding crowds? Join my free Japan Off The Beaten Path Facebook Group. Feeling social? Come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram for more Japan travel inspiration!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist

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How to Avoid Crowds at Fushimi Inari Shrine [Daytime Hike] | The Invisible Tourist

This guide to a Fushimi Inari hike contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!

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