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 famous throughout the world and aesthetically pleasing, becoming a symbol of Japanese culture.
The torii [鳥居] are placed near lakes, forests, in the city and even in the sea next to the more than 90,000 Shinto shrines and temples found in Japan. Some are placed in rows and even fill mountains looking like a gateway to another world.
In this article, we will see the 5 Biggest portals in Japan, as well as their meanings and architecture. Let's see the most popular, the biggest and the most detachable 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 the abode of birds. Which makes perfect sense, as the birds settle in these wooden portals that are usually red. The Japanese believe that birds help deities.
Buddhist temples can also have a portal usually marked with the buddhist swastika. Something understandable, since Buddhist temples usually have a Shinto shrine in the same location. The two religions coexist together 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 around Japan
We know that portals mark the entrance to a sacred place, but why do we find several portals scattered around the large cities in Japan with no sanctuary nearby?
Usually when you have a portal, you will find a sanctuary nearby, even if it is very small. However, some portals around the city serve only as a warning for people not to dump garbage or urinate on the site.
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 sanctuary somewhere.
These torii can be found in several sizes, including in a size so small that it can be placed on the table somewhere and where no one can pass under. These portals can be sold and have a name carved in order to bring good luck to the user.
Floating torii at Itsukushima Shrine
The Floating Torii of Itsukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima is one of Japan’s most iconic sights. It is also one of the oldest torii in Japan (although it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times).
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 the light. It is exactly in this place that one of the most popular photos in Japan comes out.
When the tide is high, Torii appears to be over the sea, but when the tide is low, it is even more beautiful, seeing the sand and the transparent water over the gate. We have already written an article talking about Miyajima Island.
Fushimi Inari - Torii mountain
Torii is a typical Shinto building, the main religion in Japan. These red gates represent the entrance to a sacred territory, this structure usually attracts the attention of tourists and Japanese people. Inari Mountain is full of them, it is estimated that there are more than 30,000 torii at the site.
Fushimi Inari is a mountain dedicated to Goddess Inari, responsible for business and other important things. Entrepreneurs from across the Kansai region go to Fushimi Inari to pray for worldly success.
Those who are successful usually donate a torii to the sanctuary, which is not cheap. They also usually record their name (or company name) on the torii. The sanctuary has thousands of portals causing an exciting sight.
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 will 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 and very small portals.
I have already written an article about Fushimi Inari, but I will leave you with a video of my tour of this amazing mountain located in the traditional and famous city of Kyoto, the former capital of Japan.
Fushimi Inari Taisha it 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 business success and prosperity.
Some of these structures were built in 711, many are donated and built by successful entrepreneurs aiming at 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 about 400,000 yen and can easily spend 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 at an absurd price in the shops that surround the entire mountain. The view from the site is unique and worth the effort to climb the mountain and have an interesting view of the forest and even Kyoto.
The floating portal of the Hakone Shrine
The Hakone Shrine Gate is located on Lake Ashinoko next to a large forest. On clear days, Mount Fuji appears behind the torii. Ashinoko Lake is a lake with a volcanic crater that always appears in 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.
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 in Yoyogi Park
When visiting the Meiji Shrine located in Shibuya Tokyo, you will see a giant 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 which is located in Yoyogi park through Harajuku or Shibuya station. The park is huge and you will find more than one portal walking there. Take the opportunity to take lots of photos.
Japanese portals are due in two families. The first are the portals that have the top of straight wood called Shinmei. The second family has the upper half curved part called Myojin.
Kumano Hongu Taisha - The biggest Torii in the world
Let’s finish the article talking about the biggest Torii in the world located in the sanctuary Kumano Hongu Taisha in Hongu in Wakayama. It is not so popular because it does not have a great history involved and was recently built in 2000.
This is currently the largest torii in the world for having an incredible 40 meters high and 42 meters wide and was also made of steel. Before the 2000s the largest torii in the world was in Sakurai in Nara province.
I 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 portal you want to share?