Saturday, 24 June 2017

Torii Gates - Big and Small

The 12th century stone torii in Yamagata city left with a more modern red torii right
Motoki no Ishi Torii (left) in Yamagata City
Everyone is familiar with the traditional Japanese gate or torii (鳥居) most commonly found at the entrance to a shrine (or sometimes temple). In a previous post, I talked about the boundary between the profane (impure) and the sacred (pure) which the gate typically marks. The oldest torii in Japan is a stone one in Yamagata that dates back to the 12th century (pictured right). One of the most well-known is the famous "floating" vermilion torii at Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, Hiroshima, historically listed as one of the three most scenic views in Japan (nihon sankei =日本三景). In terms of popularity though, the thousand torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto are unsurpassed. Torii are (usually) large enough to walk through, though one is apparently not supposed to walk dead centre (seichū =正中)through the gate as this is the path of the Gods. The images below show: from left to right, a gate leading up to a small neighbourhood shrine, three gates in the centre of a large shrine in a park (note the shide purifying paper), and a solitary gate in the middle of a field in front of a tiny shrine.

Three pictures of torii gates in different areas of the local neighbourhood
L to R, (1) torri in a small neighbourhood shrine, (2) three torii in a park shrine and (3) a solitary torii in a barren field
However, less well known are the tiny torii dotted around the neighbourhood in difficult to see places: by the side of a road, in the undergrowth next to a fence, or hidden away on a small path (pictured below - look carefully!). Why are they there? Believe it or not, the reason is apparently to deter passers-by (and/or their dogs) from urinating (shōben =小便) and dumping rubbish (fuhōtōki =不法投棄)! Because the torii signifies sacred ground (even though there is no actual shrine present), doing either of these actions would presumably consecrate the site, thereby angering the gods. I wonder how effective they are at subconsciously deterring these kind of actions?

Picture on the left showing a tiny red torii in a bamboo grove behind a fence and on the right the same kind of small torii again behind a fence inside a company parking lot
Two tiny torii on the road leading to the station, as a deterrent to passers-by not to urinate or throw rubbish!