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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

singular and plural, "gateway to a Shinto temple," Japanese, according to OED from tori "bird" + i "to sit, to perch."


n. A traditional Japanese gate at Shinto shrines.


A is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred (see sacred-profane dichotomy). The presence of a torii at the entrance is usually the simplest way to identify Shinto shrines, and a small torii icon represents them on Japanese road maps. They are however a common sight at Japanese Buddhist temples too, where they stand at the entrance of the temple's own shrine, called and are usually very small.

Their first appearance in Japan can be reliably pinpointed to at least the mid- Heian period because they are mentioned in a text written in 922. The oldest existing stone torii was built in the 12th century and belongs to a Hachiman Shrine in Yamagata prefecture. The oldest wooden torii is a ryōbu torii (see description below) at Kubō Hachiman Shrine in Yamanashi prefecture built in 1535.

Torii were traditionally made from wood or stone, but today they can be also made of reinforced concrete, copper, stainless steel or other materials. They are usually either unpainted or painted vermilion with a black upper lintel. Inari shrines typically have many torii because those who have been successful in business often donate in gratitude a torii to Inari, kami of fertility and industry. Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto has thousands of such torii, each bearing the donor's name.

The Japanese torii is derived from the Indian Torana which also inspired the Chinese Paifang.

Torii (disambiguation)

The Japanese word can refer to several things:

  • Torii, a traditional Shinto shrine gate
  • Torii family, a samurai clan
  • Torii school, a school of ukiyo-e artists
  • Torii Hunter, a baseball player

Usage examples of "torii".

On either side of the soaring torii gate, flames leapt inside huge stone lanterns.

The enormous crimson camphorwood torii, symbol of the Shinto shrine, rose over the heads of the still assembling guests who, according to the final count of RSVPs, were going to number over five hundred.

On his way up to the inner sanctuary Sato passed beneath the crimson-lacquered Myojin torii gate and, just beyond, paused to drop something in the offering box.

He skirted the red lacquer torii which stood guard over the grounds and took the high, winding path that would lead him through the foothills of the thickly wooded slopes of the Yoshino mountains.

The old woman, her back bent, hobbled down the stone path, stopped before the red torii, and pulled the thick hemp rope, setting the bronze bell to tolling.

The road forked at the foot of the steps to the shrine, and they took the right-hand route that led down an increasingly narrow street, past isolated stores and residential houses until it petered out at the edge of a flight of steeply winding steps overarched by a procession of vermilion torii gates.