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Three Tears Karate

Significance of the Japanese Torii Gate

Posted by Lia Wilson on

A symbol adorning the front of my school patch, a Japanese torii gate, holds meaning and mystique. On our patch, the gate symbolizes "striving for perfection." The symbol always intrigued me, and I've wanted to better understand it.

Large torii gate near entrance of Inari shrine
Large torii gate near entrance flanked by fox statues

On a recent trip to Japan, the opportunity offered itself during several visits to various well-known shrines in Tokyo and surrounding cities. The torii gate is a ubiquitous symbol throughout the country, apparently dating back to around the 10th century. They are plentiful, typically made of stone or wood, with the red and black painted version being very common.

torii gates lining trail at Inari shrine
Series of gates lining the trail at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Standing at the entrance to Shinto shrines, the gate symbolizes the transition between the profane and the sacred. One of the most impressive sights featuring the gates was at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. Thousands of red gates line trails that lead up and around Mount Inari, which stands 233 meters high. The gates are donated and feature the name of the donor and date of donation.

The shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. In addition to the thousands of red torii gates lining the paths around Mount Inari, are fox statues. Considered a messenger of Inari, the fox statues are prevalent throughout and can be seen along the trails.

  torii gates made of stone and wood at Inari shrine

Fushimi Inari is a truly stunning and awe-inspiring sight and provided an incredible opportunity to get a better understanding of a symbol that holds special meaning as a martial artist.

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