Japanese Gate Typology (32)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon
  12. Taikomon
  13. Nijūmon
  14. Sanmon 
  15. Niōmon 
  16. Nitenmon
  17. Sōmon 
  18. Wakimon 
  19. Chokushimon
  20. Onarimon 
  21. Tansōmon 
  22. Zuijinmon 
  23. Miyukimon 
  24. Agetsuchimon 
  25. Mukai-karamon
  26. Hira-karamon 
  27. Nagayamon 
  28. Ryūgūmon 
  29. Amigasa-mon
  30. Sukiya-mon  
  31. Torii  (Part I) 


Torii (Part II)

Last post we looked at torii which have straight framing members, categorized as Shinmei torii (神明鳥居). Today we look at torii with curved horizontal members, myōjin torii (明神鳥居), and like the shinmei type, there are several sub-types of torii falling under this banner. We’ll consider them one by one. Myōjin torii are the most common type of this gate form encountered.

San-nō torii (山王鳥居). The word san-nō literally means mountain () king ().  This is a torii which has a gable like structure on top of the upper lintel, kasagi:

Only a slight curve to the kasagi on this one. This form of torii is particularly associated with Hie Taisha (日吉大社), a large shrine located at the foot of Mt. Hie in Shiga Prefecture. The one pictured above is from that shrine, as is this one:

An interesting fact about the name, san-nō concerns the two characters used: 山王. You can see that the first character has three vertical line predominating, while the latter has three horizontal lines dominating. If you exaggerate the form of the mountain king gate’s ‘roof’ in either a horizontal or vertical manner, it is thought that either character is thus indicated. So the form of the gate is itself suggesting the characters by which it is named.

Miwa-torii (三輪鳥居). The gate of the three () rings (). This is a gate with three sections, the center of which has plumb posts. Here’s one from Ushijima Jinja (牛島神社), also known as Ushi Gozen-sha (牛御前社), located in Tokyo:

The flanking openings are called ekidorii (掖鳥居) or sodetorii (袖鳥居), eki meaning ‘sides of the body’ and sode meaning ‘sleeve’.

Another miwa-torii, made in stone, at Mitsumine Jinja (三峯神社) in Saitama Prefecture:

Inari-torii (稲荷鳥居). Also known as daiwa torii. Inari shrines are dedicated to the fox deity:

While Inari shrines can have a variety of different torii, ‘Inari type’ gates are characterized by a few details which set them apart:

  • a circular support plate, or daiwa (台輪) is placed atop the two main posts to keep moisture away from the posts’ end grain.
  • the support stones for the main posts are shaped like upside-down bowls
  • the ends of the kasagi and shimaki beams are beveled downwards, while the ends of the penetrating tie, nuki, are cut square

Here’s an example from Fushimi-Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) near Kyoto:

This shrine is also famous for the thousand-torii (千本鳥居) pathway as it is called which forms a veritable tunnel of myōjin torii:

As you can see, these torii, which are votive offerings (or ‘hōnō‘(‘奉納’) – see the characters, reading right to left, on the posts?), are made in wood, stone and steel:

More pathway madness:

Ryōbu torii (両部鳥居). The word ryōbu means ‘both sides’ – this is a torii with a pair of support posts (hikae-bashira), front and rear, and associated cross ties (nuki), which help keep the structure upright:

As you can see, with the presence of daiwa, and shape of foundation stones, these are a development from the Inari type.

Here’s an example, probably the most famous torii in all of Japan, located at Itsukushi Jinja (厳島神社) in Hiroshima Prefecture:

Notice the use of housed sloping caps above the wedges used to lock the tie beams to the posts.

Another example of a ryōbu torii, this one located at Kehi Jingu (気比神宮) in Fukui Prefecture:

This one has a pleasing combination of round section main posts and octagonal section support posts. The fact that the main posts are inclined, uchi-korobi, while the support posts are plumb, makes for compound mortises where the ties penetrate the posts.

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at assorted unusual examples of torii. Hope you’ll return for the tour, and thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way. On to post 33.

2 Replies to “Japanese Gate Typology (32)”

  1. It would be interesting to know what kind of paint they are using on gates. Looks that gates are anyway exposed to weather, so after couple of years they should look terrible. Japan climate is probably quite humid ?

  2. Priit,

    thanks for the comment. I believe that the paint used is a variety of lacquer, which is reasonably durable and water resistant, however you are correct that it is only a matter of time before the usual paint degrade issues become obvious. Cycles of water and sun destroy paint, and wood swells and shrinks, eventually cracking the paint.

    Torii are inherently non-durable structures, and hence versions made in metal, concrete or stone make a lot of sense.


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