Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

July 24, 2013

Another way to use a Shinto gate (Kyoto Streets)

Torii gates are symbols of Shinto shrines and mark their sacred space from the mundane world. The basic structure consists of two pillars with a top rail and a little below that a second horizontal rail piercing both columns, providing stability to the structure.

The greatest orgy of torii gates can be seen on the mountain behind the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, where companies and individuals have donated thousands and thousands of vermilion torii gates that have been set so closely together that they form tunnels leading up to the mountain.

Vermilion tunnel
[Torii gates forming tunnels on he mountain behind Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto - Photo Ad Blankestijn]

In the shops in the street in front of the Fushimi Shrine also minature models of those red torii gates are for sale. You can buy one together with two ceramic foxes (the messenger of the deity of the shrine) to decorate in your home, in the same way as you see them used in small shrines on the mountain.

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto
[Miniature torii gates on a shrine in Fushimi Inari, Kyoto - Photo Ad Blankestijn]

But on this wall of a ryokan in central Kyoto I saw another way to use these small wooden copies of the sacred gate.

[Miniature torii gates affixed to the wall of a ryokan in central Kyoto - Photo Ad Blankestijn]

No, this is no decoration and it also does not signify that the persons living here are fervid parishioners of the Fushimi shrine!

The truth is more down to earth. The symbolic torii functions in the same way as the inuyarai lattice boards you see on traditional Kyoto houses, that is to say: to prevent passersby from soiling the wall, throwing away garbage and letting their dog use the spot as a toilet.

Even inebriated gentlemen seem to be so sensitive to this sacred symbol that they go and pass their water elsewhere.