Definitions

torii

torii

[tawr-ee-ee, tohr-]

Torii at Itsuku Island, Japan.

Symbolic gateway marking the entrance to Shintō shrines or other sacred spots in Japan. It has many variations, but it characteristically consists of two cylindrical posts topped by a crosswise rectangular beam extending beyond the posts on either side and a second crosswise beam a short distance below. The top beam often curves upward. Some authorities relate the torii to the Indian torana, others to Manchurian and Chinese gates. Often painted red, the torii demarcates the boundary between sacred and ordinary space.

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A is a traditional Japanese gate commonly found at the entry to a Shinto shrine, although it can be found at Buddhist temples as well. It has two upright supports and two crossbars on the top, and is frequently painted vermilion. Some torii have tablets with writing mounted between the crossbars. Traditionally, torii are made of wood or stone. In recent times, makers have started to use steel and even stainless steel. 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 shrine in Kyoto has thousands of such torii.

The origin of the word "torii" is not known. One theory is that it was designed for birds to rest, as hinted by the kanji, which may be derived from 鶏居 meaning 'chicken 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).

History

Torii may have originated in India. The Indian gateway archs, the torana, reached East Asia with the spread of Buddhism. Some scholars hold that it derives from the torana gates at the Buddhist historic site of Sanchi (3rd century BCE - 11 century CE). Through Chinese influence the gates reached Japan.

Purpose of torii at Shinto shrines

Torii mark the entrance to sacred space in Japan. 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 grounds. 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 1 year, including for the essential first visit of the new year, Hatsumoude.

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 (India, Nepal).

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

References

  • Historical Items about Japan. Michelle Jarboe. Retrieved on 2007-06-18..
  • Torii. Encyclopedia of Shinto. Kokugakuin University. Retrieved on 2006-10-10..
  • Torii-Gate. NYC24. Jim Higdon. Retrieved on 2007-06-18..
  • Torii Gate. Humanities Department. University of California Santa Cruz. Retrieved on 2007-06-18..

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