For an architectural history class that I am in this semester, we are required to build a structure that will give some insight to building techniques from around the world. I decided to build a Japanese Torii Gate. A Torii Gate is a traditional Japanese gate which symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred. The function of the Torii is to make the entrance to a sacred space, and usually a Torii is usually found at the entrance of a Shinto Shrine or a Buddhist Temple. However, it is still undetermined whether Torii existed in Japan before Buddhism or if they arrived with it. The reason I selected this structure is because Torii (or structures very similar to a Torii) can be found in many different countries with a variety of materials, yet their basic design and function as a gateway is the same. Also, I really enjoyed the style and thought it would be a good addition to the backyard landscaping.
The first Torii in Japan was simply two posts connected by a decorated rope, however all other Torii styles can be categorized into two families: the Shinmei family (only straight structural members) and the Myōjin family (straight and curved structural members). The Torii in Japan were traditionally made from wood or stone, but today they can be also made of reinforced concrete, copper, stainless steel or other materials. The Torii is usually either unpainted or painted vermilion with a black upper lintel.
The Torii family I have chosen to build is from the Myōjin family (straight and curved members). For the Tori gate, I have decided to use treated lumber from the local lumber yard. My Torii Gate has two posts which are 10’ tall called the Hashira. Then, there is a connecting piece, the Nuki, which is about 6’ long and fits perpendicular to the posts. The Shimagi and Kasagi are also 6’ long and sit on top on the structure as a lintel piece. Finally, the Gakuza is the small decorative piece in the very center of the structure which we have used to hang decorations from. Thankfully my father offered to help me build this Torii Gate. We constructed the structure using the least amount of nails, screws, and power tools as possible and tried to follow some traditional Japanese woodworking methods I found online. For example, instead of just cutting the Nuki piece to fit between the posts, we decided to cut it the traditional way by cutting holes through each post the exact size of the Nuki, then sliding it through and not securing it with any screws or nails. It was pretty difficult, but we had to cut and chisel the holes through the posts so perfectly that the Nuki would stay in place on its own – and it did! Once we had the structure built, we had to dig holes about 2’ deep in the ground to set the Torii in. And once the Torii was set in, we used Quickrete in the holes to hold the structure in place permanently. Like traditional Torii gates, we painted the structure red with a black upper lintel. From this project, I learned quite a bit about Japanese wood working, Shinto Shrines, and Torii Gates. Also, my parents really like how the Torii Gate fit into their existing landscaping.
IMAGE 1: Japanese Torii Gate Construction by Author.