Torii   鳥居

Date of publication :

Kinko-inari shrine in Hiroshima

Oarai torii in the sea

Fireworks near the sanctuary itsukushima in Miyajima

Fireworks (hanabi) near Itsukushima Shrine.

A view of Kobe from Kitano Tenman-jinja

A doorway into the Japanese soul

Japanese shrines often have a kind of door before the actual door: the torii. These red gates mark the boundary between the material outside world and the sacred space of the shrine, and have become particularly iconic symbols of Japanese religion.

A double-lintelled door

The torii was originally derived from the torana, a free-standing arched ceremonial gateway from India which announces the entrance of a sacred enclosure or city. These gateways would also have influenced the creation of the paifang, or Chinese gateway, which also has a certain resemblance to the Japanese torii.

Torii are usually made of wood, and painted red. Some variants with the base painted in black also exist, like stone torii

Mishima shrine

A torii consists of two lintels: an upper lintel, whose ends can be curved upwards, called the kasagi, as well as a lower lintel, which is called the nuki. They are supported by two pillars, called hashira in Japanese, which in some cases may be accompanied by a smaller pillar at the front and rear, oriented on a line perpendicular to the lintels.

There are an huge number of different types of torii gate, but they can be subdivided into two main categories: shinmei torii (right torii) and myojin torii (curved torii).

The torii gate at Shitennoji temple

A symbol of Shinto?

The question of whether the introduction of torii in Japan was due to the arrival of Buddhism to the country remains unanswered. Torii are usually placed at the entrance of Shinto shrines, but there are examples in Japan where these same gateways can be seen at Buddhist temples, which is the case of Shitennoji temple in Osaka, the oldest Buddhist temple in the country. The temple was erected in 593 under a patron of Japanese Buddhism, Prince Shotoku. A huge stone torii, which replaced the original wooden torii after a fire in 1294, can be found there.

Read moreShitennoji Temple

Iconic torii in Japan

The torii found at some shrines have become iconic. One example is the torii of Itsukushima Shrine, located on the shore of Miyajima island, in Hiroshima. Traditionally, travelers had to go under this torii before setting foot on the sacred land of the island. It's also one of the "three most famous views of Japan". Another example are the torii tunnels of Fushimi Inari-taisha, a shrine dedicated to the Inari deity. Several thousand torii are lined up to create tunnels on the paths up the hill where the shrine is located.

Read moreFushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari

The torii of Fushimi Inari.

Comments Read comments from our travellers