The Meaning Behind Torii: Discover the 5 Biggest Portals in Japan

Torii are usually reddish or orange portals composed of two vertical pillars and joined by a horizontal beam that surround Shinto shrines in Japan. These portals are world famous and aesthetically pleasing becoming a symbol of Japanese culture.

Torii [鳥居] are placed near lakes, forests, in the city and even on the sea alongside the more than 90,000 Shinto shrines and temples found in Japan. Some are placed in rows and fill even mountains looking like a portal to another world.

In this article we will see the 5 biggest portals in Japan, in addition to their meanings and their architecture. Let's see the most popular, the biggest and the outstanding ones in Japan.

Meaning and origin of a torii

The tori is an architectural ornament that represents the passage of the world to a sacred place. This portal marks the sacred entrance to some Shinto shrine or temple.

The name torii [鳥居] literally means abode of birds. Which makes perfect sense, since birds settle in these usually reddish wooden portals. The Japanese believe that birds help the deities.

Buddhist temples may also have a portal usually marked with the buddhist swastika. This is understandable, as Buddhist temples usually have a Shinto shrine in the same location. The two religions coexist together in Japan.

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

The exact origin of these portals is not known. Some theories claim it was an indigenous invention, others say it was imported from other countries. Other cultures like China and Korea also use similar portals, each with its own characteristics.

A torii is usually red because the Japanese claim that such a color has the power to ward off disease. There are torii made of stone, bronze and other materials as well, but the most common is to find red wooden portals.

Portals spread across the city of Japan

We know that portals mark the entrance to a sacred place, but why do we find several portals scattered across the big cities in japan with no shrine nearby?

Usually when you have a portal, you'll find a shrine nearby, even if it's very small. But some portals around the city serve only as a warning for people not to dump garbage or urinate in the place.

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

Others also use these portals just for their architecture and tradition. They can also be placed to mark the entrance to imperial sites and some castles that usually have a shrine somewhere.

These torii can be found in different sizes, including a size so small that it can be placed on the table somewhere and where no one can walk under it. These portals can be sold and carved with a name to bring good luck to the user.

Floating Torii at Itsukushima Shrine

The floating Torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Japan. And it's also one of the oldest torii gates in Japan (although it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times).

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

The torii is placed a little on the surface of the ocean to give the impression that it is floating. It looks dramatically different depending on the tide and light. It is exactly in this place that one of the most popular photos of Japan comes out.

When the tide is high the Torii appears to be over the sea, but when the tide is low, the view is even more beautiful as you can see the sand and transparent water over the gate. We have already written an article talking about the Miyajima Island.

The article is still halfway through, but we recommend also reading:

Fushimi Inari - The torii mountain

Torii is a typical construction of Shintoism, the main religion of Japan. These red gates represent the entrance to a sacred territory, this structure usually attracts the attention of tourists and Japanese. Inari Mountain is teeming with them, it is estimated that there are over 30,000 torii on the site.

Fushimi Inari is a mountain dedicated to Goddess Inari, responsible for business and other important things. Businessmen from across the Kansai region come to Fushimi Inari to pray for worldly success.

Those who are successful often donate a torii to the shrine which is not cheap at all. They also often engrave their name (or company name) on the torii. The shrine has thousands of portals causing an exciting sight.

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

The mountain is 233 meters above sea level. It has several trails that spread over 4 kilometers and takes about 2 hours to cover the entire mountain.

The mountain is also famous for the thousands of small shrines and temples scattered throughout the site. In these places you usually find some small torii, some statues of foxes, as well as shops and restaurants in the middle of the mountain.

I had the chance to visit this mountain and walk for hours through the thousands of torii that surround the mountain and small shrines scattered around the corners. There are giant portals and very small ones.

I have already written an article about Fushimi Inari, but I will leave below a video of my tour of this incredible mountain located in the traditional and famous city of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.

Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari which is located at the base of the mountain. Inari is the goddess of rice, fertility, agriculture, foxes, and success and prosperity in business.

Some of these structures were built in 711, many are donated and built by successful entrepreneurs aiming for business prosperity. Many people from all over Kansai or Japan often come to the place to pray for success in life. These torii are expensive, a small one usually costs around 400,000 yen and can easily go over 1,000,000.

People also often make offerings with origami, torii miniatures or paper triangles making the face of a fox. These items can be purchased for an absurd price in the shops that surround the entire mountain. The view from the place is unique and worth the effort to climb the mountain and have an interesting view of the forest and even Kyoto.

Hakone Shrine's floating portal

The Hakone Shrine Gate is located on Lake Ashinoko next to a large forest. On clear days Mount Fuji appears behind the torii. Lake Ashinoko is a volcanic crater lake that always appears a different color.

I visited Hakone and had the chance to photograph this great Torii riding the famous Pirate Boat that crosses the lake taking the wonderful cable car to small two villages that give access to other places like hotels, onsens and other cities.

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

Some Japanese portals may be different. There are models that have a rope tied to the surface called shimenawa instead of wood. There is also a torii with 3 base pillars instead of just two.

Meiji Shrine at Yoyogi Park

When visiting the Meiji Shrine located in Shibuya Tokyo, you will see a gigantic, imperial-sized wooden torii. This gate is stamped with the chrysanthemum seal of the Emperor of Japan. Among shrines, this seal is a final status.

You can visit this shrine located in Yoyogi Park via Harajuku or Shibuya Station. The park is huge and you will find more than one portal walking through it. Take the opportunity to take lots of pictures.

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

Japanese portals are divided into two families. The first are the portals that have the upper part of straight wood called Shinmei. The second family has a half curved upper part called Myojin.

Kumano Hongu Taisha - The Largest Torii in the World

Let's end the article by talking about the Biggest Torii in the world located in the shrine Kumano Hongu Taisha in Hongu in Wakayama Province. It's not that popular because it doesn't have a big history involved and it was recently built in 2000.

This is currently the largest torii in the world as it is an incredible 40 meters high and 42 meters wide and is also made of steel. Before the 2000s the world's largest torii was in Sakurai in Nara Prefecture.

Meaning of torii - 5 most important gates in Japan

Hope you enjoyed the article. If you liked it, don't forget to share and leave your comments. What do you think of Japanese portals? Do you know any other interesting portals you want to share?

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