People, who want to have a better understanding of the Torii, must first know Shinto’s fundamental belief (神道) that is the shamanic religion. This is the ethnicity of the people of Japan. This is a religion heavily based on its rituals and practices, held at the local shrines, built where the Shinto kami (神) is believed to reside. This is the critical principle needed to understand the meaning of the Torii.
The Meaning of the Torii
After this elementary introduction to the Shinto religion, we can now finally explore the Torii’s meaning. The object represents a gateway that signals the transition from the profane to the sacred, as it is usually located at the entrance to Shinto shrines. However, it isn’t strange to find them even at the entrance of Buddhist temples. The first documentation of the Torii is from the middle Heian period, in 922 when Buddhism had already been introduced in Japan. Because of this, and the survival of similar structures in the rest of Asia, normally associated with Buddhist sites, it is rather hard to find a clear cut origin of the Torii. The reason for that is that there are many theories, none of which seems to satisfy its origin. However, it is a matter that today, this gate, though present in Buddhist sites, is more closely associated with Shinto. For instance, the Shinto shrines are signaled on maps with Torii icons.
Moreover, it’s important to mention that this gate doesn’t necessarily mark the entry to a shrine. It is sometimes used only to mark an area believed to have a profound religious meaning, such as the Torii of the Meoto Iwa.
Anatomy of the Torii Gate
After explaining why the Torii is found in some places rather than others, we can discuss what makes up a Torii. These magnificent gates’ structure comprises several elements, depending on its style (shinmei or myosin). The most important parts of the gate are its pillars Nashira (柱), the Kasagi (笠木), the beam placed on the two pillars, and the nuki (貫), a tie-beam that keeps the structure together. These are the fundamental elements present in all the known variants of the Torii styles, except for the Shime Torii. This gate is only built by two pillars and a shimenawa (rice cord) tied to the pillars’ extremities. This gate also consists of other elements such as the Ishinomaki (島木), a second horizontal lintel placed under the Kasai, the Daiwa (大輪), placed around the top of the pillars, a decorative ring place, the kusabi (楔), two mostly attractive wedges holding the nuki in place and the gakuzuka (額束) a supporting strut connecting the nuki to the Kasai or Ishinomaki. There are some occasions when a tablet covers the gakuzuka with the name of the shrine.
The most famous Torii Gate
All over the whole of Japan, there are many famous Torii that are worth visiting. One such gate is the Nakayama Torii. This gate is quite peculiar because it is white and red, whereas the traditional structures are either red and black or stone colored. Another famous gate is the One-legged Torii in Nagasaki. This gate was left one-legged since the other half was shattered as a result of an explosion of the nuclear bomb. The Meoto Iwa, also called the Married Couple Rocks, is also a popular Torii. This is extraordinarily complex, as it incorporates two rock stacks in the off of Futami, Mie, which is tied by a shimenawa, with a gate placed on top of the bigger stack. Of course, we cannot fail to mention the Fushimi Inari shrine, with its many gates that led up the mountain to the shrines placed in the area.
Torii Gate as a tattoo design
The Torii gate represents a symbol of transition and power.
When used in tattoo art, this famous landmark symbol of Japan is usually in the other symbols that are part of the Far Eastern religion and philosophy. The Torii is recognized as a symbolic Shinto gateway or an entry into a sacred space or point on the landscape. These tattoos are often done in red because it’s an important symbolic color. They are spread throughout Japan but probably originated in China and, perhaps, in India. As a tattoo, the Torii gate is a symbol of a separation between the mundane world and the divine and an actual movement from one to the other in the landscape.