These aesthetic structures are seen throughout Japan…but what are they, and why are they everywhere?
The most famous of all torii gates, at least for travellers to Japan, is the one that sits in the ocean. It’s at Miyajima (or Itsukushima, same place), which is an island off the coast of Hiroshima. When the tide comes in, the torii gate looks like it’s floating. It’s beautiful…But why is that torii gate there, anyways?
Torii are the gates to the spirit world
They pretty much demarcate anything holy. So, Miyajima? That entire island is holy. It’s considered sacred, so that’s why the gate is in the ocean – to capture the whole island. When you pass through a torii in Japan, you’re moving from the regular world, through to the sacred world…All according to Shinto Buddhism!
Torii are originally white for sacredness, but are made red because…
Red is the color of vitality and protection against evil! The red paint also contains mercury, which ensures that the gate can be preserved for a long period of time. That’s pretty much it! They’re not always red – sometimes they’re concrete, sometimes they’re wood…but they’re usually red.
The biggest torii gate in Japan is in Wakayama Prefecture!
Wakayama is just next door to Osaka. The torii gate here is made out of steel and stands at a massive 40 meters high and 42 meters wide. It was built in the year 2000, so this is a fairly modern record size gate!
The one use that not many people know about…
This is the best fact. When you’re wondering around Osaka, keep your eye out for these plain printouts of basic drawn torii gates. They’re stuck on street lights, vending machines, and on other random knee-high objects. What do they mean? Something sacred and holy?
It means, “Do not pee here. If you’re drunk, don’t even think about it”. Yep, people also occasionally pee on the streets in Japan, believe it or not.
Some famous torii gates in Japan
- Itsukushima (or Miyajima).
- Fushimi Inari Shrine, where parts of Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed.
- Hakone Shrine, where the torii gate sits in a lake and you can see Mt. Fuji rising behind it.
- Meiji Shrine, which is in Tokyo. It has the seal of the Emperor on the top of the gate, which is a pretty big deal.