Views Insider’s Guide to Shintō Shrines
Torii: Gates to the Sacred Spaces

Toya Manabu [Profile]

[2016.06.27] Read in: 日本語 | FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL | Русский |

The torii gate at the entrance to a shrine's grounds is a sight known to everyone who has visited Japan. Whether made of wood or concrete, unvarnished or painted bright red, the torii is a sign that the worshipper is leaving the profane world behind.

The torii is a gate that stands at the entrance to the sacred area around the shrine. The distinctive form of the torii is recognized by people around the world as an icon marking the presence of a Shintō shrine. The torii signals that you are about to enter hallowed space, and it is customary to bow one’s head before passing beneath it.

The size and number of the torii depend on the scale of the shrine. When a shrine has multiple torii, the outermost, situated at the entrance to the shrine precinct, is typically the largest. It is called ichi no torii, or first gate. Each subsequent gate (ni no torii, san no torii, etc.) marks a transition to ever more sacred space as one approaches the sanctuary.

The basic form of the torii is two posts topped by a lintel called the kasagi and joined by another horizontal member, the nuki, directly beneath the kasagi. Different lineages display their own variations on this theme, such as torii with a rudimentary roof (ryōbu torii) and triple-arched gates (miwa torii). The practice of painting the entire torii bright vermilion is limited to certain shrine lineages, and unpainted wood is typical of most lineages. Stone gates are not uncommon, and torii of metal, concrete, and fiber-reinforced plastic are on the rise.

Ise Shrine, Mie Prefecture

Usa Jingū, Ōita Prefecture

Hiyoshi Taisha, Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

One of the famed torii arcades at Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Stone torii at Nogi Shrine, Tokyo

The Kamiiso torii at Ōarai Isosaki Shrine, Ibaraki Prefecture

(Photo of Nogi Shrine by All other photos by Nakano Haruo. Illustrations by Izuka Takeshi.)

▼Further reading
Your Virtual Guide to the Shintō Shrine (Series Top) Foreign Tourists Flock to the Gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine A Year in the Life of Ise Shrine (Photos)
Japan’s Religious Ambivalence: The Shaping and Dismantling of a National Polity The Japanese World View: Three Keys to Understanding “Kami”: The Evolution of Japan’s Native Gods
  • [2016.06.27]

Writer and Shintō priest. Born in Saitama Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of Shintō Studies at Kokugakuin University. Author of Shintō nyūmon (Introduction to Shintō), Fuji-san, 2200-nen no himitsu (Mount Fuji’s 2,200-year Secrets), and other works.

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  • “Shōzoku”: The Shintō VestmentsThe clothing worn by priests and priestesses at Shintō shrines is unlike anything you will see elsewhere in Japan. Here we describe the styles of traditional vestments that are part of the Shintō experience.
  • “Shamusho”: The Shrine OfficeWhen not engaging in religious rites, priests and shrine personnel may rest in the shamusho, or shrine office. Here visitors can also obtain talismans to protect their homes and selves with the blessing of the shrine’s kami.
  • “Shintai, Shinboku”: The Divine Object or TreeAt the heart of the shrine, never viewed by visitors, is the shintai, the “divine body” of the kami. At some shrines this is an object, like a jewel or sword; at others, it is a natural feature like a mountain or shinboku, a divine tree.
  • “Honden”: The Main Sanctuary StructureThe structure called the honden is the heart of the Shintō facility, where its kami is enshrined. Observing the details of honden architecture can tell the visitor much about the nature of the shrine and its deity.
  • “Tamagaki”: Fence Around the Sacred SpaceA fence called the tamagaki encloses the shrine's innermost sanctum, setting it off from the outside world and marking a border between the sacred and the profane. Some shrines feature more than one tamagaki, which in its earliest form was a living hedge surrounded by a brushwood fence.

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