Archive for March 3, 2011

Sacred gates, Torii

You can see a gate when you visit shrines, which is called a torii. We have a lot of theories how come they started calling a torii. However, at least a Torii indicates a sacred gate. The chinese characters to torii means “bird”(tori) and “to be”(i).

Forms of Torii
The two main types of torii are a shinmei type and a myoujin type.

The toriis of Ise Jingu shrine are famous for shinmei type. Take a look at the photo. This is the torii in Atsuta Jingu shrine.


You can see two crossbeams put on two pillars. The upper crossbeam is called kasagi, and the lower crossbeam is called tsura(nuki). The upper crossbeam is single. The length of the lower crossbeam is equivalent to that between two pillars. They are entirely composed of straight lines.

Ise Jingu shrine, the first graded shrine in Japan has this type of torii. Atsuta Jingu shrine, the second graded shrine in Aichi prefecture, also has the same one.

This is a torii at Ise Jingu shrine.

Let me show you another famous type. This is a myoujin type. The torii of Itsukushima shrine in Hiroshima prefecture.


While a shinmei type reminds you of straight lines, a myoujin type has a curved form. You can see the two upper crossbeam. shimagi, another crossbeam, is under kasagi. tsura(nuki), on the contrary, is more lengthened than between two pillars. It is said that Buddhism architecture influenced this type.

Colors and materials of Torii
Woods, stones, and steels are used in torii. The first torii at Yasukuni shrine is made of bronze. Here, it is.


Buddhism architecture also had influence on the colors of torii. The most of toriis, especially shinmei type, were not painted or lacquered, however, they changed their styles as Buddhism was inported from Asian Continent.

I would like you to make sure what type of torii at shrines in your town is. I hope you find it enjoyable.

Incidentally, a torii at Omiwa shrine which is treated as the oldest shrine is so simple. There’s no kasagi and shimagi, just only a shimenawa. This is also torii.

Categories: Japanese Culture
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