Torii Gates

Torii literally translates into Bird House in English. Torii gates are used to mark the entrances to Shinto Shrines. They usually mark the entrances to the shrine grounds and also the actual shrine itself. Torii gates are usually made of wood and painted vermillion (a reddish orange shade) with the top painted black or made of stone.

When passing through a torii gate it is customary to bow if it is a boundary gate, this shows respect to the deities in the shrine and any ancestral spirits residing. Collectively known as Kami. Some Japanese will also not walk in the middle of the torii but to the side in respect of the kami present.

Entrance to Meji Shrine from Harajuku
Main Torii gate to Meji Shrine

Buddhist temple also may have torii, but these usually mark a shinto shrine located inside the temple grounds.

Inari Gates

Inari Shinto shrines usually have many torii gates each donated to the shrine by a local business. These gates are usually vermilion in color and mark pathways. You do not bow at these gates but simple walk under them as they do not mark the entrance to the shrine but are a part of it.

The most famous of the Inari shrines is the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto with it’s 10,000+ gates that climb the mountain behind the main shrine. If you’ve seen anyone posting for Instagram pictures with a torii gate it is usually here. However even in poor weather the pathway of the gates is crawling with visitors so getting that Instagram picture is extremely hard. If you want the best shot arrive before dawn and hike past the first section of the gates higher up onto the mountain where there are less people.

If you want more information on Fushimi Inari and it’s gates check out our article here.

Had to wait 15 minutes in the rain to get this shot without people at Fushimi Inari.
Had to slow way down in the rain to get this shot at Fushimi Inari
Even in the rain Fushimi Inari can get crowded.

Tokyo has Inari temples also. The main ones that people visit are the gates in Ueno Park at the Hananzono Inari-Jinja Shrine and the Hie Shrine near the Imperial Palace. These ones get crowded also but not the level of crowds as Fushimi Inari. My favorite shrine in Tokyo is the Nezu shrine north west of Ueno park. This shrine is hidden off the main street and there are not a lot of people around. When we visited we had the entire torii path almost to ourselves, there was just a hand full of people there.

Instagramable Shot in the Torii gates of Nezu.

If you don’t want crowds but want to walk under a tunnel of torii gates find an Inari shrine off the beaten path and not in southern Kyoto.


The Bald Traveler

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