I have a new favorite color: vermilion. This could in some respects still be seen as very much within the red color family, however I am putting it in the orange category. Pantone does, anyway.
A rich, brilliant red-orange, Vermilion’s evocative name comes from the Old French vermail, which actually comes from the Latin “vermiculus” which means “a little worm.” Not just any worm, but a worm (kermes) from which the crimson dye was obtained. The famous tapestries of Brussels and Flanders were dyed with kermes and still retain their vibrancy today.
The color vermilion also appears in the Old Testament, “Woe unto him….that saith I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is ceiled with cedar, and painted with vermilion” (Jer. 22:13-14). Its usage here represents the finest materials that a king (Jehoiachim) could obtain to use in his palace, and condemns the type of ruler who builds a splendid palace on a foundation of unjustice, valuing material possessions over the administration of righteousness.
Long after king Jehoiachim may have decorated his palace with vermilion, (608-598 BC) but before the appearance of the word vermilion in the 13th centrury–and before the unicorn tapestries were woven (1495-1505), a shrine to worship Inari Okami -the Shinto god (kami) of rice, fertility, success, agriculture and foxes- was founded in 711 AD. Relocated to its present location in 816, the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine serves as the headquarters to tens of thousands of Inari shrines across Japan.
I don’t know whether the striking use of the color vermilion was part of Fushimi Inari over the centuries of worship, however the main shrine structure itself was built in 1499, actually around the exact same time frame as the tapestries.
When I heard about this shrine, and the thousands of orange Torii gates that you walk through as you ascend Inari mountain, I couldn’t really picture it and even thought the number may have been exaggerated. After experiencing it personally, it ranks as one of the most incredible, unforgettable sights I have ever been to.
The picture above is the main entrance, which sits at the foot of the hill somewhat on an incline up from where you get off the train. I don’t know enough about worship at Shinto shrines to explain what was going on, but it was very very busy.
As tourists there just to appreciate one of the main sights of Kyoto, we were definitely in the minority. Most of the people there were there to worship. No one seemed to notice or mind photography, but I felt somewhat awkward taking direct pictures of the areas where people were worshiping, so I only have this above picture of that aspect of the shrine.
There was one area where people were purchasing things, and other areas where they would take whatever it was they bought and did something with it. If you can see the long sashes in the picture above- the visitors would pull them and that would ring a bell. There were larger constructions like this but also many other smaller worship areas along the path up the mountain.
And yes, there are over 10,000 Torii gates like these to walk through. I did not personally verify this of course, but at one point along our journey Rita and I were passed up by a Japanese teenage boy counting each gate exuberantly. I don’t know my numbers well enough in Japanese to remember exactly on what number he was, but it was in the high hundreds. I wonder if he had enough fortitude to keep counting until the top and which number he got to.
Speaking of fortitude, this adventure was only two days after I ran the Okinawa marathon. I sure didn’t expect that I would be climbing tons of stairs after such a major event, but it actually wasn’t so bad.
At one point early on the path split into two. Which side do you think we chose?
We chose the left side. There were also other places where the trail branched off, but since we only had limited time in Kyoto and this was our only full day, we tried to follow the major paths to one of the main vantage points. We did not go all the way up to the top.
Along the way, however, we saw the beautiful smaller shrines, such as this one:
Can you tell what kind of animal is guarding the shrine?
Foxes will be present at almost all Inari shrines, since they are thought to be the god’s messengers. Usually in pairs, one is supposed to be male and one female. They will be holding something in their mouths or beneath a paw- usually a key (to the rice granary) or a jewel or scroll. The red bibs are put on by worshipers as a sign of respect.
I found these little fox offerings to be very whimsical and interesting. I just assume that worshippers pay for one of these faces which they decorate and hang on the shrine. Every one of them very unique.
Before we got to our vantage point, Rita asked me if I wanted to do a jumping picture. I hadn’t done one since….maybe since I was pregnant with Leif ?? And I’m not sure if I’ll continue the theme or not, (especially without Aleida to take pictures of me) but it was fun:
Can you tell it was extremely cold? It wasn’t until we got to the vantage point and the sun had come out…and after all the exertion of the climb that I felt warm for the first time and actually took off that hat.
The picture doesn’t really do the view justice. What felt really incredible was the contrast between the long solitary walk through the Torii gates and then coming out into the open and looking out onto the rest of modern Kyoto. Along the hike it almost felt like I had gone back in time, especially when the path opened up briefly onto mystical scenery such as this:
Everything feels very quiet, serene and spiritual. We talk about mountains being a place where people go to worship God, however in this era, it seems like churches and temples are symbolic structures which replace that kind of actual pilgrimage. Here though, the place of worship was not just built on a mountain, but part of the mountain. It is truly incredible how the manmade structures of the Torii gates contrast yet also fit into the natural scenery of Inari mountain and created such a beautiful sanctuary for repose and worship.
Rita and I standing at the foot of yet more steps ascending the mountain. We enjoyed the view for a while, and then turned around at this point.
Ok, I guess I should admit that before turning around, I stole a quick picture of a group of young Japanese women. I just had to show the appropriate footwear that one should have for climbing hundreds and hundreds of stairs.
These also weren’t the only pair of fashionable high heels I saw– just the only ones I got a picture of!
When we got to the bottom and had been distracted by some sort of music and monks who were doing a sort of dance or something, two girls approached us and asked us to answer some questions on camera for a project they were doing for their University class. Here I am being interviewed. Luckily they spoke English very well.
Leif, Rijen and I have been sick this week- with different ailments, so tonight Rijen and I weren’t taking much leadership with getting the kids to bed. He was resting on the couch and I was feeling fatigued and also wanted to sit down so I thought I would at least get the photos uploading to wordpress since with our internet speeds around here that can take forever. (Another reason why I hardly ever blog anymore). I had taken Leif’s clothes off which had gotten messy during dinner but hadn’t yet reached the step of changing him for bed.
So…while we were not monitoring the kids, out walks Leif in this get-up pushing Fiona’s baby stroller.
It was so funny to us- just because Leif had such a random collection of things hung on that stroller- a plastic samurai sword, Fiona’s birthday bag filled with other miscellaneous toys- wearing his raccoon hat….
I always bemoan the fact that I can never get the kids to play happily on their own without needing my assistance constantly or every 5 minutes— until it is bedtime, and then magically they each get absorbed into their own little game. Leif was having a ball pushing around his fox, which actually fits in very well to this post. The stuffed fox you see in the stroller was purchased for Leif by our friend and neighbor Shannon, who had visited Fushimi Inari a few months earlier. Normally Leif’s little foxy guards his crib, but tonight I guess Leif felt like he needed a little ride.
Yellow -黄色= Kiiro
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