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tori in bank, torii hunter
A torii 鳥居, literally bird abode, /ˈtɔəriiː/ is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred see sacred-profane dichotomy1 The presence of a torii at the entrance is usually the simplest way to identify Shinto shrines, and a small torii icon represents them on Japanese road mapsnote 1 They are however a common sight at Japanese Buddhist temples too, where they stand at the entrance of the temple's own shrine, called chinjusha 鎮守社, tutelary god shrine and are usually very small

Their first appearance in Japan can be reliably pinpointed to at least the mid-Heian period because they are mentioned in a text written in 9221 The oldest existing stone torii was built in the 12th century and belongs to a Hachiman Shrine in Yamagata prefecture The oldest wooden torii is a ryōbu torii see description below at Kubō Hachiman Shrine in Yamanashi prefecture built in 15351

Torii were traditionally made from wood or stone, but today they can be also made of reinforced concrete, copper, stainless steel or other materials They are usually either unpainted or painted vermilion with a black upper lintel Inari shrines typically have many torii because those who have been successful in business often donate in gratitude a torii to Inari, kami of fertility and industry Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto has thousands of such torii, each bearing the donor's name2


  • 1 Meaning and uses of torii
  • 2 Origins
  • 3 Torii parts and ornamentations
  • 4 Styles
    • 41 Shinmei family
    • 42 Photo gallery
      • 421 Shinmei torii
      • 422 Ise torii
      • 423 Kasuga torii
      • 424 Hachiman torii
      • 425 Kashima torii
      • 426 Kuroki torii
      • 427 Shiromaruta torii
      • 428 Mihashira torii
    • 43 Torii of the myōjin family
    • 44 Photo gallery
      • 441 Myōjin torii
      • 442 Nakayama torii
      • 443 Daiwa / Inari torii
      • 444 Sannō torii
      • 445 Miwa torii
      • 446 Ryōbu torii
      • 447 Hizen torii
  • 5 Gallery
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 References

Meaning and uses of toriiedit

A torii at the entrance of Shitennō-ji, a Buddhist temple in Osaka

The function of a torii is to mark the entrance to a sacred space For this reason, the road leading to a Shinto shrine sandō is almost always straddled by one or more torii, which are therefore the easiest way to distinguish a shrine from a Buddhist temple If the sandō passes under multiple torii, the outer of them is called ichi no torii 一の鳥居, first torii3 The following ones, closer to the shrine, are usually called, in order, ni no torii 二の鳥居, second torii and san no torii 三の鳥居, third torii Other torii can be found farther into the shrine to represent increasing levels of holiness as one nears the inner sanctuary honden, core of the shrine3 Also, because of the strong relationship between Shinto shrines and the Japanese Imperial family, a torii stands also in front of the tomb of each Emperor

Whether torii existed in Japan before Buddhism or, to the contrary, arrived with it see section below is, however, an open question4 In the past torii must have been used also at the entrance of Buddhist temples4 Even today, as prominent a temple as Osaka's Shitennō-ji, founded in 593 by Shōtoku Taishi and the oldest state-built Buddhist temple in the world and country, has a torii straddling one of its entrances5 The original wooden torii burned in 1294 and was then replaced by one in stone Many Buddhist temples include one or more Shinto shrines dedicated to their tutelary kami "Chinjusha", and in that case a torii marks the shrine's entrance Benzaiten is a syncretic goddess derived from the Indian divinity Sarasvati which unites elements of both Shinto and Buddhism For this reason halls dedicated to her can be found at both temples and shrines, and in either case in front of the hall stands a torii The goddess herself is sometimes portrayed with a torii on her head see photo below5 Finally, until the Meiji period 1868 -1912 torii were routinely adorned with plaques carrying Buddhist sutras6 The association between Japanese Buddhism and the torii is therefore old and profound

Yamabushi, Japanese mountain ascetic hermits with a long tradition as mighty warriors endowed with supernatural powers, sometimes use as their symbol a torii5

The torii is also sometimes used as a symbol of Japan in non-religious contexts For example, it is the symbol of the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment and the 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and of other US forces in Japan7


Buddhist goddess Benzaiten, a torii visible on her head

The origins of the torii are unknown and there are several different theories on the subject, none of which has gained universal acceptance3 Because the use of symbolic gates is widespread in Asia—such structures can be found for example in India, China, Thailand, Korea, and within Nicobarese and Shompen villages—historians believe they may be an imported tradition

They may, for example, have originated in India from the torana gates in the monastery of Sanchi in central India1 According to this theory, the torana was adopted by Shingon Buddhism founder Kūkai, who used it to demarcate the sacred space used for the homa ceremony8 The hypothesis arose in the 19th and 20th centuries due to similarities in structure and name between the two gates Linguistic and historical objections have now emerged, but no conclusion has yet been reached5

In Bangkok, Thailand, a Brahmin structure called Sao Ching Cha strongly resembles a torii Functionally, however, it is very different as it is used as a swing5 During ceremonies Brahmins swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars

Other theories claim torii may be related to the pailou of China These structures however can assume a great variety of forms, only some of which actually somewhat resemble a torii5 The same goes for Korea's "hongsal-mun"910 Unlike its Chinese counterpart, the hongsal-mun does not vary greatly in design and is always painted red, with "arrowsticks" located on the top of the structure hence the name

Proposed relatives of the torii
An Indian torana 
A Chinese pailou 
A Korean Hongsalmun 

Various tentative etymologies of the word torii exist According to one of them, the name derives from the term tōri-iru 通り入る, pass through and enter3

Another hypothesis takes the name literally: the gate would originally have been some kind of bird perch This is based on the religious use of bird perches in Asia, such as the Korean sotdae 솟대, which are poles with one or more wooden birds resting on their top Commonly found in groups at the entrance of villages together with totem poles called jangseung, they are talismans which ward off evil spirits and bring the villagers good luck "Bird perches" similar in form and function to the sotdae exist also in other shamanistic cultures in China, Mongolia and Siberia Although they do not look like torii and serve a different function, these "bird perches" show how birds in several Asian cultures are believed to have magic or spiritual properties, and may therefore help explain the enigmatic literal meaning of the torii's name "bird perch"5note 2

Poles believed to have supported wooden bird figures very similar to the sotdae have been found together with wooden birds, and are believed by some historians to have somehow evolved into today's torii11 Intriguingly, in both Korea and Japan single poles represent deities kami in the case of Japan and hashira 柱, pole is the counter for kami6

In Japan birds have also long had a connection with the dead, this may mean it was born in connection with some prehistorical funerary rite Ancient Japanese texts like the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki for example mention how Yamato Takeru after his death became a white bird and in that form chose a place for his own burial5 For this reason, his mausoleum was then called shiratori misasagi 白鳥陵, white bird grave Many later texts also show some relationship between dead souls and white birds, a link common also in other cultures, shamanic like the Japanese Bird motifs from the Yayoi and Kofun periods associating birds with the dead have also been found in several archeological sites This relationship between birds and death would also explain why, in spite of their name, no visible trace of birds remains in today's torii: birds were symbols of death, which in Shinto brings defilement kegare5

Finally, the possibility that torii are a Japanese invention cannot be discounted The first torii could have evolved already with their present function through the following sequence of events:

The Shinmei torii
  • Four posts were placed at the corners of a sacred area and connected with a rope, thus dividing sacred and mundane
  • Two taller posts were then placed at the center of the most auspicious direction, to let the priest in
  • A rope was tied from one post to the other to mark the border between the outside and the inside, the sacred and the mundane This hypothetical stage corresponds to a type of torii in actual use, the so-called shime-torii 注連鳥居, an example of which can be seen in front of Ōmiwa Shrine's haiden in Kyoto see also the photo in the gallery
  • The rope was replaced by a lintel
  • Because the gate was structurally weak, it was reinforced with a tie-beam, and what is today called shinmei torii 神明鳥居 or futabashira torii 二柱鳥居, two pillar torii see illustration at right was born1 This theory however does nothing to explain how the gates got their name

The shinmei torii, whose structure agrees with the historians' reconstruction, consists of just four unbarked and unpainted logs: two vertical pillars hashira 柱 topped by a horizontal lintel kasagi 笠木 and kept together by a tie-beam nuki 貫1 The pillars may have a slight inward inclination called uchikorobi 内転び or just korobi 転び Its parts are always straight

Torii parts and ornamentationsedit

Torii parts and ornamentations
  • Torii may be unpainted or painted vermilion and black The color black is limited to the kasagi and the nemaki 根巻, see illustration Very rarely torii can be found also in other colors Kamakura's Kamakura-gū for example has a white and red one
  • The kasagi may be reinforced underneath by a second horizontal lintel called shimaki or shimagi 島木12
  • Kasagi and the shimaki may have an upward curve called sorimashi 反り増し13
  • The nuki is often held in place by wedges kusabi 楔 The kusabi in many cases are purely ornamental
  • At the center of the nuki there may be a supporting strut called gakuzuka 額束, sometimes covered by a tablet carrying the name of the shrine see photo in the gallery
  • The pillars often rest on a white stone ring called kamebara 亀腹, turtle belly or daiishi 台石, base stone The stone is sometimes replaced by a decorative black sleeve called nemaki 根巻, root sleeve
  • At the top of the pillars there may be a decorative ring called daiwa 台輪, big ring1
  • The gate has a purely symbolic function and therefore there usually are no doors or board fences, but exceptions exist, as for example in the case of Ōmiwa Shrine's triple-arched torii miwa torii, see below14


Structurally, the simplest is the shime torii or chūren torii 注連鳥居 see illustration belownote 3 Probably one of the oldest types of torii, it consists of two posts with a sacred rope called shimenawa tied between them15

All other torii can be divided in two families, the shinmei family 神明系 and the myōjin family 明神系1note 4 Torii of the first have only straight parts, the second have both straight and curved parts1

Shinmei familyedit

The shinmei torii and its variants are characterized by straight upper lintels

Photo galleryedit

Shinmei toriiedit

The shinmei torii 神明鳥居, which gives the name to the family, is constituted solely by a lintel kasagi and two pillars hashira united by a tie beam nuki16 In its simplest form, all four elements are rounded and the pillars have no inclination When the nuki is rectangular in section, it is called Yasukuni torii, from Tokyo's Yasukuni Jinja17 It is believed to be the oldest torii style1

Ise toriiedit

伊勢鳥居 Ise torii see illustration above are gates found only at the Inner Shrine and Outer Shrine at Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture For this reason, they are also called Jingū torii, from Jingū, Ise Grand Shrine's official Japanese name15

There are two variants The most common is extremely similar to a shinmei torii, its pillars however have a slight inward inclination and its nuki is kept in place by wedges kusabi The kasagi is pentagonal in section see illustration in the gallery below The ends of the kasagi are slightly thicker, giving the impression of an upward slant All these torii were built after the 14th century

The second type is similar to the first, but has also a secondary, rectangular lintel shimaki under the pentagonal kasagi18

This and the shinmei torii style started becoming more popular during the early 20th century at the time of State Shinto because they were considered the oldest and most prestigious5

Kasuga toriiedit

The Kasuga torii 春日鳥居 is a myōjin torii see illustration above with straight top lintels The style takes its name from Kasuga-taisha's ichi-no-torii 一の鳥居, or main torii

The pillars have an inclination and are slightly tapered The nuki protrudes and is held in place by kusabi driven in on both sides19

This torii was the first to be painted vermilion and to adopt a shimaki at Kasuga Taisha, the shrine from which it takes its name15

Hachiman toriiedit

Almost identical to a kasuga torii see illustration above, but with the two upper lintels at a slant, the Hachiman torii 八幡鳥居 first appeared during the Heian period15 The name comes from the fact that this type of torii is often used at Hachiman shrines

Kashima toriiedit

The kashima torii 鹿島鳥居 see illustration above is a shinmei torii without korobi, with kusabi and a protruding nuki It takes its name from Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture

Kuroki toriiedit

The kuroki torii 黒木鳥居 is a shinmei torii built with unbarked wood Because this type of torii requires replacement at three years intervals, it is becoming rare The most notorious example is Nonomiya Shrine in Kyoto The shrine now however uses a torii made of synthetic material which simulates the look of wood

Shiromaruta toriiedit

The shiromaruta torii 白丸太鳥居 or shiroki torii 白木鳥居 is a shinmei torii made with logs from which bark has been removed This type of torii is present at the tombs of all Emperors of Japan

Mihashira toriiedit

The mihashira torii or Mitsubashira Torii 三柱鳥居, Three-pillar Torii, also 三角鳥居 sankaku torii see illustration above is a type of torii which appears to be formed from three individual torii see gallery It is thought by some to have been built by early Japanese Christians to represent the Holy Trinity20

Torii of the myōjin familyedit

The myōjin torii and its variants are characterized by curved lintels

Photo galleryedit

Myōjin toriiedit

The myōjin torii 明神鳥居, by far the most common torii style, are characterized by curved upper lintels kasagi and shimaki Both curve slightly upwards Kusabi are present A myōjin torii can be made of wood, stone, concrete or other materials and be vermilion or unpainted

Nakayama toriiedit

The Nakayama torii 中山鳥居 style, which takes its name from Nakayama Jinja in Okayama Prefecture, is basically a myōjin torii, but the nuki does not protrude from the pillars and the curve made by the two top lintels is more accentuated than usual The torii at Nakayama Shrine that gives the style its name is 9 m tall and was erected in 179115

Daiwa / Inari toriiedit

The daiwa or Inari torii 大輪鳥居・稲荷鳥居 see illustration above is a myōjin torii with two rings called daiwa at the top of the two pillars The name "Inari torii" comes from the fact that vermilion daiwa torii tend to be common at Inari shrines, but even at the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine not all torii are in this style This style first appeared during the late Heian period

Sannō toriiedit

The sannō torii 山王鳥居 see photo below is myōjin torii with a gable over the two top lintels The best example of this style is found at Hiyoshi Shrine near Lake Biwa15

Miwa toriiedit

Also called sankō torii 三光鳥居, three light torii, mitsutorii 三鳥居, triple torii or komochi torii 子持ち鳥居, torii with children see illustration above, the miwa torii 三輪鳥居 is composed of three myōjin torii without inclination of the pillars It can be found with or without doors The most famous one is at Ōmiwa Shrine, in Nara, from which it takes its name15 an entrance to a temple

Ryōbu toriiedit

Also called yotsuashi torii 四脚鳥居, four-legged torii, gongen torii 権現鳥居 or chigobashira torii 稚児柱鳥居, the ryōbu torii 両部鳥居 is a daiwa torii whose pillars are reinforced on both sides by square posts see illustration above21 The name derives from its long association with Ryōbu Shintō, a current of thought within Shingon Buddhism The famous torii rising from the water at Itsukushima is a ryōbu torii, and the shrine used to be also a Shingon Buddhist temple, so much so that it still has a pagoda22

Hizen toriiedit

The hizen torii 肥前鳥居 is an unusual type of torii with a rounded kasagi and pillars that flare downwards The example in the gallery below is the main torii at Chiriku Hachimangū in Saga prefecture, and a city-designated Important Cultural Property



  1. ^ Buddhist temples are represented with a swastika They also have a symbolic gate, which is however very different On the subject, see the articles Shichidō garan, Mon architecture, Sōmon and Sanmon
  2. ^ Torii used to be also called uefukazu-no-mikado or uefukazu-no-gomon 於上不葺御門, roofless gate The presence of the honorific Mi- or Go- makes it likely that by then their use was already associated with shrines
  3. ^ The two names are simply different readings of the same characters
  4. ^ Other ways of classifying torii exist, based for example on the presence or absence of the shimaki See for example the site Jinja Chishiki
  5. ^ This example is the main torii of Kashii Shrine, Saga prefecture
  6. ^ At Kamakura's Zeniarai Benten Shrine


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "JAANUS" Torii Retrieved 14 January 2010 
  2. ^ "Historical Items about Japan" Michelle Jarboe 2007-05-11 Retrieved 2010-02-10 
  3. ^ a b c d "Torii" Encyclopedia of Shinto Kokugakuin University 2005-06-02 Retrieved 2010-02-21 
  4. ^ a b Scheid, Bernhard "Einleitung: Religiöse Bauten in Japan" Religion-in-Japan University of Vienna Retrieved 17 October 2010 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Scheid, Bernhard "Religion in Japan" Torii in German University of Vienna Retrieved 12 February 2010 
  6. ^ a b Bocking, Brian 1997 A Popular Dictionary of Shinto Routledge ISBN 978-0-7007-1051-5 
  7. ^ DefenseLINK News: Revised Helmet Patch Immortalizes World War II Troops
  8. ^ James Edward KetelaarOf Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990 p59
  9. ^ Guisso, Richard W I; Yu, Chai-Shin 1 January 1988 Shamanism: The Spirit World of Korea Jain Publishing Company p 56 ISBN 9780895818867 Retrieved 5 January 2016 
  10. ^ Bocking, Brian 30 September 2005 A Popular Dictionary of Shinto Routledge p 319 ISBN 9781135797386 Retrieved 5 January 2016 
  11. ^ "Onrain Shoten BK1: Kyoboku to torizao Yūgaku Sōsho" in Japanese Retrieved 22 February 2010 
  12. ^ Iwanami Kōjien 広辞苑 Japanese dictionary, 6th Edition 2008, DVD version
  13. ^ "Torii no iroiro" in Japanese Retrieved 25 February 2010 
  14. ^ "JAANUS" Toriimon Retrieved 15 January 2010 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Picken, Stuart November 22, 1994 Essentials of Shinto: An Analytical Guide to Principal Teachings Resources in Asian Philosophy and Religion Greenwood pp 148–160 ISBN 978-0-313-26431-3 
  16. ^ "JAANUS" Shinmei torii Retrieved 14 January 2010 
  17. ^ "Torii no bunrui" in Japanese Retrieved 25 February 2010 
  18. ^ "JAANUS" Ise torii Retrieved 15 January 2010 
  19. ^ "JAANUS" Kasuga torii Retrieved 15 January 2010 
  20. ^ "mihashira torii 三柱鳥居" JAANUS Retrieved on May 31, 1958
  21. ^ Parent, Mary Neighbour Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System Ryoubu torii, retrieved on June 28, 2011
  22. ^ Hamashima, Masashi 1999 Jisha Kenchiku no Kanshō Kiso Chishiki in Japanese Tokyo: Shibundō p 88 

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