Monday, February 18, 2013

Shinto Gates and Martial Arts Schools

Recently, I was asked about decorative oriental gates known in Japanese as torii (pronounced 'tore' 'eeeeee'). These are often found in Japanese and Zen gardens around the Phoenix valley and it wasn't too long ago we saw a interesting torii at Home Depot made into a fountain with water that cascaded down from the cross bar. I love fountains and thought about buying one, but it was a little costly. Hopefully, one day I will find a successful Japanese business man to donate a torii and dojo so I will be able to build an attractive oriental Arizona Hombu with a surrounding Japanese garden with large torii at its entrance. This would be my dream dojo.

Torii (鳥居) is a traditional Shinto gate, which in Japan, marks the approach of a Shintoshrine. Some are also found at Buddhist temples in Japan. The traditional torii has two upright supports with two crossbars on the top that are usually painted vermilion. Many have kanji (Japanese/Chinese characters) displays mounted on a plaque known as a gakuzuka between crossbars, while others have kanji displayed along vertical supports known as hashira.

Traditionally,torii are constructed from wood and gates are interpreted to mark the transition from the spiritual to the physical world. Shrines that are dedicated to a particular Shinto god known as Inari have many torii.

Torii are often donated by successful Japanese businessmen who give gratitude for their success. The origin of the word "torii" is unknown: one suggestion is the gate was designed for birds (tori) to rest upon, which is suggested in the kanji. For instance, part of the kanji used in torii contains a symbol for bird () (see the feet and wings of the bird in this symbol). The second kanji () in torii is possibly derived from 鶏居 meaning 'chicken perch'. This is because birds are considered messengers of gods in the Shinto religion.

A second thought is that toriiis derived from the term tōri-iru (通り入る) meaning pass through and enter. It is unknown whether torii are indigenous to Japan or if they were imported from some other country. If you are interested in building a torii in your Japanese garden, there arebuilding plans available on the internet.

In some traditional martial arts schools (dojo), torii decorate walls or entrances to the dojo. These can be very attractive in a martial arts school.

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