We’ve been walking in the dim light of an impenetrable bamboo forest for what seems like an eternity, but just as the trail succumbs to nature’s grasp, we see a light just around the bend.
Has our journey finally come to an end?
Not even close.
Start from the beginning: Paying a Visit to the Fox of Inari Town
We emerge from the dark forest through a barely-perceptible gap in the wall of bamboo stalks, and immediately shield our eyes from the blinding light of the sun. It felt like night had fallen in the forest, but the sun still stands tall high above us.
When our eyes finally adjust to the shock of the bright sun, we find ourselves standing in the middle of a lush valley blanketed with carefully cultivated plots of land for crops of all kind.
This hidden valley is almost completely encircled by the bamboo forest we just came out of. Beyond the tree line, the forest is mired in shadow, but here in the valley, the sun shines gently upon the verdant landscape.
It’s peaceful and quiet as we walk through the valley. Even the wind is nearly silent as it rushes past the bamboo trees at the edge of the forest, causing them to slowly sway back and forth as if beseeching us to return into their embrace.
Ignoring the forest’s appeals, we eventually we arrive at a paved path– the first we’ve seen since leaving the temple behind and entering the forest.
The path is long and we are dumbstruck when we discover where the path leads. Moments ago, we were standing in a lush valley isolated from all civilization, and now as if by magic, we’ve been transported to the middle of a Japanese suburb.
We turn around for one last glance at the hidden valley, but it’s no longer in sight. We must have turned a corner at some point along the path, because all we see now are homes in all directions.
It’s as if the valley never existed.
The road through the neighborhood is narrow, barely wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side. It snakes around the homes, making sharp turns left and right.
We eventually come across a map of the neighborhood hidden under a rusted and bent awning, which we use to navigate our way through the maze of homes and well-tended yards.
Once again, it feels like mere moments have passed before we find ourselves suddenly standing in front of Inari’s small train station where our journey began what seems like a lifetime ago.
We ride back to Kyoto in silence, reflecting on the day’s events. It began with a quest for sushi, but led to so much more– a walk through glowing red tunnel without an end, stumbling upon abandoned shrines in the darkness of a bamboo forest, and discovering a hidden valley that we may never find again.
We look at each other and smile. Our journey to Inari is not one we will soon forget.