- The distinctive archway which marks the approach or entrance to a Shinto shrine (see Jinja). It typically consists of two round uprights (hashira) supporting a two-layer upper cross-beam (kasagi supported on shimagi) often curving up slightly at the ends in the popular myojin style. A little below the top is a separate under-cross-beam (nuki). The torii appeared in Japan after the introduction of Chinese culture and Buddhism. Until the Meiji period torii routinely displayed Buddhist plaques on the central 'gakuzuka' holder between the two cross-beams. All such Buddhist elements were removed during shinbutsu bunri. The origins of 'torii' (written as 'bird-perch') and the torii shape are speculative. The word may derive from Sanskrit torana/turan, an arch or portal, and entrances to Korean palaces had a torii-like entrance gate. Single poles are used to symbolise deities in Korea and in Japanese language hashira, 'pillar', is the counter for kami (as 'head' is the counter for 'cattle' in English). A shimenawa is often strung across the torii in addition to the crossbeam(s) and the basic shape of the torii may simply derive from a rope strung between pillars or bamboo stakes used to enclose a sacred space (see Himorogi). In the style called churen or shimenawa torii the torii simply comprises two posts and a rope, and this is the arrangement used for a temporary torii if a more permanent torii cannot be used for some reason. Whatever its origin, the torii became popular in temples and shrines and developed its own identity in Japan, with more than twenty different types now in use. Torii range from simple unpainted wooden or stone structures to bright red arches and massive concrete portals. Construction styles vary to some extent with the type of shrine (Hachiman, Inari etc.) but there is no strict correspondence between type of shrine and type of torii, and different types may be found together in a shrine. Simple 'pure Shinto' styles in wood or modern fireproof materials such as concrete were favoured after the Meiji restoration. Although most types of torii have two posts, the 'ryobu' or gongen style has four half-height legs as additional supports to the two hashira and the 'mi-hashira' torii has as its name suggests three posts, set in a triangle. The sumiyoshi torii has square-cut instead of round pillars while the shinmei type shares the stylised simplicity of the Ise jingu (see Shinmei-zukuri). The Ise shrine itself has the unique Ise torii or jingu torii. Shrines frequently have more than one torii and in cases such as the Fushimi Inari taisha in Kyoto a tradition has developed of companies donating torii to the shrine, so that the inner pathways of the shrine now pass through bright red 'tunnels' of serried torii.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.