5 torii gates not to miss in Kyoto
Torii gates mark the transition from our ordinary world to the extraordinary world of the gods, so you'll find them at the entranceways to Shinto shrines. Being so prominent, they are sometimes used like signage to show visitors what the shrine is all about. Here are 5 unique torii you should visit in Kyoto:
1. Bamboo Torii
Fushimi Inari is home to more than 10,000 torii, each of them a "thank you" to the gods on Mt. Inari. Most are painted bright vermillion. At the entrance to the Dainippon Daidokyo Headquarters next to the Mimamori Fudomyoo, however, you will find a row of unpainted and unvarnished bamboo torii.
The Dainippon Daidokyo also has the distinction of being the only Taoist organisation on Mt. Inari. Formerly a sect of Tenrikyo, a new religion founded in Nara in 1911, it was considered heretical by the orthodox Tenrikyo, and moved to Inariyama. At its peak in the 1970s, it had more than 150,000 followers across Japan. You'll notice yin-yang symbols all around because the Dainippon Daidokyo includes elements of Taoism in its teachings.
Dainippon Daidokyo 大日本大道教
〒612-0805 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Fushimi-ku, Fukakusa Kaidoguchichō
Free entry. Open 24/7 but beware of wild boars at night.
2. Torii with an Evil-Repelling Star
Another shrine with Taoist connections is the Seimei Shrine in Kyoto's Kamigyo ward. Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan's figure skating darling, comes here to pray for strength and focus. Here he is, skating to "SEIMEI", an instrumental piece dedicated to the Seimei Shrine.
The torii at the entrance features a pentacle, a five-pointed star symbolising the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Thought to have been designed by Abe no Seimei (921-1005), a oracle for the Emperor, the pentacle is still used to repel evil.
Abe no Seimei is famous in Japan because there have been numerous books, manga, and movies about him. Here’s the star in action in the trailer for Onmyoji, a 2001 film about the man:
The Seimei Shrine has a well aptly named the Seimei-i, which according to legend, was created by Abe-no-Seimei by magic.
Seimei Shrine 晴明神社
〒602-8222 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Kamigyō-ku, Seimeichō 806
Free entry. Open 9:00am - 8:00pm all year round.
3. Rake-in-the-money torii
Kyoto Ebisu Shrine is one of three Ebisu Shrines in Japan dedicated to Ebisu, the god of business and fishermen. This shrine is fondly known as “Ebe-ssan” among Kyotoiites.
In the middle of the torii gate is Ebisu's smiling face and a rake beneath him. It's full of coins because local tradition has it that if you hurl a coin up and it stays there, you'll rake in wealth for the rest of the year.
Kyoto Ebisu Shrine 京都ゑびす神社
〒605-0811 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Higashiyama-ku, Komatsuchō 125
Free entry. Open 8:00am - 5:30pm all year round, except on festival days from 8-12 January.
8 January: 9:00am - 11:00pm,
9-10 January: 9:00am - 2:00pm,
11 January: 2:00pm - 12:00 midnight,
12 January: 9:00am - 10:00pm.
4. Golden Torii
To be doubly sure that you'll do well on the wealth front, visit the Golden Torii at Mikane Shrine. Enshrined there is Kaneyama-hikonokami, the god of minerals, who gives grace to anything made of metal, including gold. The Mikane Shrine used to be a fixture among mining magnates, but today visitors wash their coins and credit cards with the water from this shrine:
The torii used to be quite ordinary, but then it collapsed in a storm in 2006. Devotees donated gold foil for the new gate, which is what you'll see gleaming across the entrance if you visit.
Go in late autumn to see the gingko tree there turn a brilliant shade of gold.
Mikane Shrine 御金神社
〒604-0042 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Nakagyō-ku, Oshinishinotoincho 614
Free entry. Open 24/7.
5. Torii With Ends Sticking Out into Buildings
Head over to Nishiki Market for a look at Nishiki Tenmangu's torii. Unlike the other four, which are interesting because of what you can see, Nishiki Tenmangu's torii is famous for what you can't see: the ends of both sides of the torii.
Built in 1935, the torii used to be at the centre of a wide approach leading from the eastern end of the market to the shrine. But the city office had drawn the boundaries of the shrine based on the width of the pillars of the torii and not the full extent of its sides. So when buildings came up beside the shrine in the 1990s, their walls came up right against the pillars of the torii and the top part of the torii are now buried in the neighbouring buildings.
Nishiki Tenmagu 錦天満宮
〒604-8042 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto-shi, Nakagyo Ward, Nakanocho 537
Free entry. Open 8:00am - 8:30pm all year round.