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Home » 4. Jinja (Shrines) » Shrine Architecture
Torii
A formalized gateway arch signifying entrance to a sacred area. Shrines may have one or multiple torii. When multiple torii are present, the largest one is normally called the "first torii" (ichi no torii), and stands at the approachway indicating entry to the overall shrine region. Torii may also be found at various points within the precincts to indicate increasing levels of holiness as one approaches the main sanctuary (honden). A torii is usually formed from two upright posts topped by a horizontal kasagi (cap beam) that extends beyond the uprights on either side; beneath the kasagi a horizontal tie beam (nuki) is mortised through the uprights and links them together. Based on this elemental form, a variety of formal styles are found at shrines, depending on the overall style of shrine architecture employed and the character of the central deity (saijin) enshrined there.

In addition to those found as independently standing architectural elements, torii may be found as integral parts of sacred fences (tamagaki) and incorporated into the entrances of arcades encircling some shrine structures.

The most common construction materials used are wood and stone, but no particular restriction is imposed, and depending on the scale and application, metal, concrete, plastic and other materials may be used.

The origin of torii has been explained by numerous theories; some claim that they are indigenous to Japan, while others view them as having being imported from abroad. No single theory has gained general acceptance. Likewise, no general theory has been accepted regarding the origin of the word torii. Some theories suggest the term came from expressions signifying something like a "bird perch" (tori-iyasu or tori-ita), while other theories have suggested that the name originated in the expression "pass through and enter" (tori-iru). At any rate, based on their actual present-day function, they can be considered an expression of the division between profane and sacred realms. They are found not only at shrines but at Buddhist temples as well, for example in the famous stone torii of the temple Shitennōji (in Osaka); as signified by their use as a map symbol, however, they are generally considered to signify the presence of a Shinto shrine.

-Mori Mizue
Shirahige jinja and its shintaizan. Torii of this form are known as Ryōbu Torii.

Shiga Prefecture, 1999

©Fujii Hiroaki

Torii of Ise jingū (naikū). Torii of this form are known as Shinmei Torii.

Mie Prefecture, 2001

©Fujii Hiroaki

The torii located at the entrance to Hie Jinja. The architectural style of this particular example is known as a sannō torii.

Tokyo, 2005

©Ōsawa Kōji

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