Topics: Torii, Shinto, Shinto shrine Pages: 6 (2142 words) Published: April 13, 2013
Every visitor who has ever been to Japan must have seen a post and lintel structure that is commonly painted in black and red. The structure is called a Torii (鳥居) (fig.1). It is a Japanese shrine gate that is usually found to be the entrance of or within a Shinto Temple. On a map of Japan, the icon of a Torii appears as the symbol of the location of a religious temple located. Just like a Torana in India, a PaiFang in China, and a Hongsalmun in Korea, people think Torii is just a gate to a temple. Even many of the local Japanese people don’t know the meaning or cultural background of the Torii because it is so common and can be seen everywhere in daily life. The Torii’s architectural features, symbols, function, and origins demonstrate that the Torii is not just a gate of Jinnjya (Temple) but also a symbol of Japanese religions, culture, and people’s wishes and spirits. The Torii, such simple structure that is as common as air and water to Japanese people, actually conveys the deep and abundant historical background of the essence of Japanese Shinto and Buddhism. It is a key to understanding the history and origin of the religions in Japan. There are two principle religions in in Japan: Shinto and Buddhism. The origin of the Torii is unclear. Due to its architectural similarity with objects that serve the same function found in many other Asian countries, it has been suggested that the Torii might have been inspired by the Indian Torana, Chinese Pailou (牌坊, páifāng) or Korean Hongsalmun (紅箭門). Until today, there is no strong evidence can prove that whether the Torii is an original symbol of Japan or a design that was inspired by similar structures from foreign countries. However, the most reasonable suggestion could be that the Torii, based on its functions, was originally Japanese people’s idea that was related to Shinto; in case of its appearance, it was inspired or revised based on the importation of Buddhism. In the history of Japanese religion, Shinto is Japan’s indigenous faith. The oldest Torii was found at the Nonomiya Shrine in Kyoto, Japan (fig.2). The shrine was built in 800, and the Torii is made of wood that remains in wood’s natural shape and texture. The oldest Torii in stone was found at Hachiman Jinja and dates from around the middle of the 12c. Both of the currently existing Torii evidences were found after 6th century, which is after the estimated time period that Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Thus, it has been hard to prove that Torii existed before Buddhism came to Japan. However, it is obvious that most of the Torii exist in front of a Shinto shrine but not at Buddhist temples. The way that general Japanese people use to distinguish Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples is – Shinto shrines have Torii but no statues; Buddhist temples have no Torii but have Buddha statues. Moreover, the meaning or function of a Torii serves the principle idea of Shinto. The word Torii literary means “a perch for a bird” which is supposed to separate the sacred world from the secular world. Some documents report that Shinto believes that the soul rests before moving on to the afterlife, and a Torii is meant to be a resting place for souls. Also, there are other sayings indicated that in Shinto, birds are considered messengers of the Kami (deities), and Toriis were designed for their rest. The representation of birds has also been described in traditional Japanese myths, in which birds are messengers between the spirits and humans. One story mentioned that a bird or a bird woman was sent by Kami from heaven to secular world as a messenger. In another, when the warrior hero, Yamatotakeru, dies his spirit was taken to heaven by doves. The symbolism of birds is between spirits and humans, which suggest that birds should be stopped at the boundary between the sacred world of the shrine and the profane world outside. Thus, the function of a Torii would be a perch to stop birds from entering the sacred Shinto shrine....
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