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A ( ) is a traditional Japanesemarker gate commonly found at the entry to a Shinto shrine, although it can be found at Buddhist temples as well, such as at Hase-deramarker in Kamakura.

The basic structure of a torii is two columns that are topped with a horizontal rail called the kasagi. Slightly below the top rail is a second horizontal rail called the nuki. Torii are traditionally made from wood and are frequently painted vermilion. When unbarked logs are used for the torii it is called a kuroki, or "black wood" torii. Today, torii made of stone, metal or stainless steel can be found as well.

Torii mark the transition from the sacred (the shrine) to the profane (the normal world) (see Sacred-profane dichotomy). Inari shrines typically have many torii. A person who has been successful in business often donates a torii in gratitude. The Fushimi Inari shrinemarker in Kyoto has thousands of such torii.


One type of torii gate is the Shimmei-style. In a Shimmei-style torii the kasagi bar is a round log that juts out over the edges of the two supporting columns while the nuki bar simply connects the them. One example of a Shimmei-style torii is the torii that is located outside of Emperor Shōwa's gravesite. Another type of torii is the Ise-style, where the nuki is the same as the Shimmei but the kasagi is not round, but pentagonal-shaped. The most popular, and modern, style of torii is the Myojin-style. Myojin-style torii are built with curved kasagi rails that sit on top of a secondary upper bar called the shimagi. There is also a vertical beam called the gakuzuka which connects the shimagi to the nuki. The gakazuka is often the location where a shrine will hang a tablet with its name. The forth type of torii is the Ryoubu-style, which is also known as yotsuashi, or the "four-legged style". This type of torii is similar to the Myojin-style except it has four supporting posts that surround the two columns. The "floating torii" at the Itsukushima Shrinemarker is a good example of a Ryoubu-style torii. Torii usually are not equipped with any doors, although there are a small percentage that do have doors, such as those at Ise Shrinemarker, Kasuga Shrinemarker, and Ōmiwa Shrinemarker.


The origin of torii is unclear, but there are several different theories. They may have originated in India as a derivative of the torana gates in the monastery of Sanchi, which is located in central India. In this theory, the torana was adopted by Shingon Buddhism founder Kukai, who used it to demarcate the sacred space used for the homa ceremony.

Other scholars believe that they are related to the bairou(牌楼) in Chinamarker or the hongsalmun(紅箭門) in Koreamarker.

The origin of the word "torii" is also unknown. One theory is that it was designed as a large bird perch, as hinted by the kanji, which may be derived from 鶏居 meaning 'bird perch'. This is because in Shinto, birds are considered messengers of the gods. A second theory is that it is derived from the term tōri-iru (通り入る: pass through and enter).

Purpose of torii at Shinto shrines

A Myojin-style Torii.
Torii gates mark the entrance to sacred space in Japan. A shrine may have many torii, and the first of the torii is called the ichi no torii, or "first torii". Torii that are found farther into the shrine represent increasing levels of holiness as one nears the inner sanctuary of the shrine. Passing underneath a torii on the way to visit a shrine is, along with washing one's hands and mouth with water, an act of sanctification and purification before approaching the kami to pray.

For this reason, people who are in a state of uncleanliness are not permitted to approach a Shinto shrine for prayer as their uncleanliness would defile the ground. Examples of uncleanliness in the Shinto tradition include a woman who is menstruating or anybody who has lost a relative in the past year. When a Japanese person suffers a death in the family, he or she will go to Buddhist temples instead of a Shinto shrine to offer prayers for one year, including for the essential first visit of the new year, Hatsumōde.

Other uses

Similar structures can be found in Tai societies, and also exist within Nicobarese and Shompen villages. Compare also to torana, in Hindu and Buddhist architecture (Indiamarker, Nepalmarker).

The torii is sometimes considered a symbol of Japan. For example, it is the symbol of the American 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and other US forces in Japan.

With the strong relationship between Shinto shrine and Imperial family, a torii is built in front of the tombs of each Emperor.

See also

External links


  1. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan (1983). torii
  2. Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System (2001). torii.
  3. James Edward Ketelaar.Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. p.59.
  4. See photos of Seoul Sajiktan
  5. DefenseLINK News: Revised Helmet Patch Immortalizes World War II Troops

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