12 of Japan’s Most Unique Torii Gates That Will Transport You to a World of Mystery and Wonder
It is said that torii (shrine) gates connect this world with the world of spirits. They are an indispensable part of Japanese culture and have appeared in the country’s poems and prose for millennia. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 12 most beautiful locations featuring torii from all over Japan! Step through these gateways between worlds, and enjoy the mysticism of torii gates that has long captivated the people of Japan.
Dec 15 2020
What Are Torii Gates?
“Torii” is written with the characters for “bird” (鳥) and “to be,” (居) and as the name suggests, it is supposed to invoke the image of a mythical, wonderful place where many different birds live. All Shinto shrines must have a torii gate at the entrance or on shrine grounds, with the structure being composed of two vertical beams connected by two horizontal planks at the top. Over the years, the torii has become more than just a regular gate and permanently etched itself into the very soul of Japanese culture.
1. Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto): 10,000 Spellbinding Torii That Lead to the Land of Gods
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of Japan’s best-known Shinto shrines. It’s famous for the over 10,000 deep vermilion torii that stretch from the foot of Mt. Inari to its peak (also known as the Tunnel of Senbon Torii, or “1,000 Torii”). The shrine is also lovingly called Oinari-san and venerates Inari Daimyojin, the deity of commerce, academics, and bountiful harvests. Every year, people from all over Japan travel to Fushimi Inari Taisha to pray for divine favors, with first-time visitors always being taken by the shrine’s great beauty and the scenery of more than 10,000 torii gates. It takes about 2-3 hours to walk the entire length of the 4km-long Tunnel of Senbon Torii.
All of the gates at the shrine were donated by individuals and organizations praying for good luck and success in business. But when you look at them closely, you can see that they come in different sizes. The size of the torii actually decides the amount of money a person or an organization has to offer to the shrine when donating a gate. There are six sizes in total. The smallest one, #5, requires a fee of 210,000 yen, while the biggest one, #10, comes with a bill for 1,600,000 yen. Once the donation has been made, the names of the donors are written on the vermilion torii in big, black characters. Because of their high price, not many people can afford to donate a torii gate, so most go with a simple o-mamori (luck/protection talisman), which only costs a few hundred yen. If you’re ever at Fushimi Inari Taisha, make sure to take some commemorative photos and buy yourself an o-mamori souvenir.
2. Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima): Where the Mystical Torii Floats on the Water
Itsukushima Shrine, located on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima, is home to one of the most famous torii gates in Japan. Measuring 16m in height and weighing 60 tons, the bright vermilion torii soars above the surface of the water, and it actually has no underground foundation. It stands on the seafloor entirely under its own weight. The scenery of the Itsukushima torii changes depending on the tide, offering visitors two beautiful sights in one location. During high tide, the torii appears to be floating above the sea, reflecting ethereally in the surrounding waters. During low tide, it appears to visitors in all of its glory, allowing them to come over, observe it closely, and take commemorative photos.
The Itsukushima torii has been standing in the middle of the azure sea for 145 years, appearing and hiding with the tide, and slowly becoming a symbol of the very soul of Shinto. With Itsukushima Shrine and the poetically beautiful nature in the background, this torii gate is one of the most unique Japanese works of art ever created. Today, it’s not only one of the Three Views of Japan (the country’s most celebrated scenic spots), but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that continues to capture the hearts of the many visitors to Miyajima.
3. Morito Shrine (Kanagawa): Where a Torii, a Lighthouse, and Mt. Fuji Come Together
A torii, a lighthouse, and Mt. Fuji, all painted in different colors, together form one breathtaking scenery. The gate in question can be found at Morito Shrine, itself built on the deserted island of Najima (Hayama) in Kanagawa Prefecture. Next to it stands the Hayama Lighthouse (nicknamed Yujiro), built in memory of the famous actor Yujiro Ishihara. When the torii gate, the lighthouse, and Mt. Fuji are bathed in the light of the setting sun, they create one of the most beautiful landscapes in Japan. It’s easy to lose track of time admiring it.
Those who enjoy a bit of exploration can reach the island by rental kayak or canoe between July and August. Do not miss the spectacular sights offered by Najima’s Morito Shrine.
4. Amano Iwato Shrine (Miyazaki): A Mysterious Torii Hidden Inside a Cave
Amano Iwato Shrine is located about 10km from the Takachiho town center, inside Amano Yasukawara Cave. It is a sacred, mystical, and beautiful place known as the Cave of the Goddess of the Sun, and it’s well known for the legends that say it is the very birthplace of torii gates. According to lore, the goddess Amaterasu hid away in this cave after being wronged by her younger brother Susanoo, plunging the world into darkness. The other gods got together and tried everything to get her out, finally succeeding in the end and bringing light back to the world. Because of this myth, the locals built a shrine inside the cave to honor Amaterasu.
The beautiful scenery of the Amano Iwato Shrine includes huge boulders and towering, curved trees bathed in sunlight. There is also an old torii gate at the entrance to the mystical Amanoyasukawara Cave, which is surrounded by stacks of rocks. It’s said that if you stack rocks while praying here, your prayers will be answered. Try it out if you ever get the chance to visit the shrine!
5. Motonosumi Inari Shrine (Yamaguchi): A Beautiful Seaside Road of 123 Torii Gates
It is said that the Motonosumi Inari Shrine was built in 1955 thanks to a revelation from the spirit of a white fox, a divine animal connected to Inari, an important Japanese deity. The legend goes that one day, a white fox appeared next to Hitoshi Okamura, a local fisherman, telling him to hold a ceremony celebrating a spirit who has been helping out the local fishing industry. The resulting Motonosumi Inari Shrine is today said to bestow all sorts of divine favors: success in business, rich fish hauls, safety at sea, success in love, children, warding off evil, wealth and happiness, traffic safety, academic success, and wish fulfillment. The most unique thing about the shrine is the 100m-long row of torii gates stretching to its main hall. There is a collection box atop the last torii, and it is believed that if you manage to throw your coin inside it, whatever you pray for will come true.
In 2015, the Motonosumi Inari Shrine was chosen as one of CNN’s “31 Most Beautiful Places in Japan.” It’s a popular tourist destination that attracts thousands of visitors every year.
6. Yaotomi Shrine (Aichi): A Majestic Bridge Leading to a Shrine on the Sea
Located on the small island of Takeshima (circumference 680m), the mystical Yaotomi Shrine is connected to the mainland by a 387m-long bridge, at the foot of which you’ll find the shrine’s majestic torii gate. There are also many smaller torii all over the island, all made from white cement. Takeshima is also home to what appears like a temperate forest in miniature, full of 65 families and 238 species of rare plants.
Yaotomi Shrine was built in 1181 (Heian Period) by the famed poet and nobleman Fujiwara no Toshinari, and today it is part of the registered natural monument of Takeshima. The shrine deifies the beautiful Ichikishima-hime-no-Mikoto, the deity of good fortune, childbirth, and marriage, as well as the Buddhist goddess Benzaiten, patron of knowledge, arts, and sciences, and one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. It’s said that if a couple crosses the bridge leading to the island while holding hands, they’ll be blessed with eternal happiness. If you ever get the chance, definitely visit Yaotomi with someone you love.
7. Sakurai Shrine (Fukuoka): A Shrine and “Married Couple Rocks” That Overlook the Pacific Ocean
With the blue sky and ocean in the background, the beautifully white torii of the Sakurai Shrine stands amidst the Futamigaura Bay. (The gate was actually repainted white by local residents in the spring of 2018.) Around 150m from the shore, you will also find the famous Meoto Iwa, or “Married Couple Rocks,” which are connected by a sacred shimenawa (straw rope), 30m in length and weighing 1t, that is replaced every May. The rocks themselves measure 11.2m and 11.8m in height, respectively. Since time immemorial, these have been considered a sacred component of the Sakurai Shrine.
The torii on the water blends in harmoniously with the waves while the Married Couple Rocks represent the perfect kind of love, one that might not even exist in this world, all against the background of the Pacific Ocean. It’s no wonder that this place has been chosen as one of the most beautiful sunset spots in all of Japan. When the sun goes down over Futamigaura Bay, the torii and the rocks stand out against the red-painted sky, creating a moving, otherworldly scenery.
8. Oarai Isosaki Shrine (Ibaraki): One of Japan’s Most Singular Sunrise Spots
Oarai Isosaki Shrine dates back to the mid-9th century and is home to the Kamiiso torii, considered one of the most beautiful sunrise spots in Japan. The gate famously stands on an island rock off the coast and faces the vast Pacific Ocean. The shrine venerates Onamuchi-no-Mikoto, the deity of peace, health, and prosperity.
Every year, people gather here during the New Year to witness Oarai Isosaki Shrine’s sunrise. It’s one of the most important and sacred local customs. If you ever get a chance to visit Ibaraki, be sure to include the shrine in your itinerary.
9. Takayama Inari Shrine (Aomori): Walk the Sacred Road of Thousands of White Fox Statues
The Takayama Inari Shrine was built by the Ando clan, which held political power in Japan from the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333) through the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573). The shrine was built right in the center of Mt. Byobu and was remodeled during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). It offers amazing views of Mount Iwaki, Lake Jusan, and the Sea of Japan. Just like Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, this shrine also venerates Inari, and the road leading to the place where the deity is enshrined is lined with 202 red torii gates (as of May 2018). The red of the torii really stands out in spring against the background of pink sakura cherry trees, and in summer against the verdant trees and plants. In fall, the torii and the autumn foliage create a romantic scenery, while in winter, the gates contrast beautifully with the white snowscapes. Depending on what season you visit the Takayama Inari Shrine, you are guaranteed a different kind of beautiful sight.
There is one other unique thing about the shrine that may surprise you. In the garden at the start of the line of torii, there are thousands of stone fox statues, which is why the area is also sometimes called the “fox graveyard.” Why are they there? According to myths, Inari is the deity of foxes, and whenever it appears, it’s always accompanied by one white fox. That’s why all Inari shrines are protected by a fox statue with a red apron tied around its neck.
10. Ebisu and Daikoku (Hokkaido): The Lonesome Torii Atop the Rock in the Middle of a Blue Sea
In the small town of Yoichi, about 10m from the shore, there stand two rocks. Ebisu is tall, long, and dangerously narrow at the bottom, while Daikoku is bigger, rounder, and steadier. What’s interesting about them is at the top of Daikoku you’ll find a small yet mystical and beautiful torii gate.
Ebisu was named after one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, while Daikoku’s name comes from the fact that it’s big (“dai” in Japanese) and black (“koku”). Although the two are very different, they seem to complement each other, which is why they’ve been called Hokkaido’s Married Couple Rocks. The original scenery is irresistible to any shutterbug.
11. Shirahige Shrine (Shiga): A Torii Floating Above Japan’s Biggest Lake
The name “Shirahige” literally means “white beard/mustache” and is meant to bring to mind the image of an older, wise deity. It’s possible that the name is connected to the deity of longevity that’s worshipped at the site. The shrine itself dates back thousands of years and is located on the northwest side of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. It’s a known power spot that attracts people praying for fame, marriage, and health. The area is also famous as one of Japan’s most beautiful and picturesque sunset spots, loved by shutterbugs the world over.
The shrine’s torii is 12m in height (measured from the surface of the water) and 7.8m in width, standing 58.2m from the highway. Unlike torii floating above the sea or the ocean, there are no tides to worry about, so you can visit this Lake Biwa gate whenever you want.
12. Taikodani Inari Shrine (Shimane): The Mysterious Beauty of a Majestic Mountain
The shrine is located in the town of Tsuwano, which was a prosperous castle town during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). In 1773, in order to protect the town and bring forward peace, the lord of Tsuwano ordered the construction of a shrine modeled on Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha. That’s why the area has since been known as Little Kyoto and why Taikodani is considered one of Japan’s five most important Inari shrines.
The row of bright red torii gates goes through the heart of nature until it reaches the top of the mountain. Every year, millions of worshipers visit the shrine to pray.
Have you visited any of the 12 torii that we introduced? Which one left the biggest impression on you and which one would you most like to see in person? Share your thoughts and experiences with tsunagu Japan.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.