Torii is the name of the peculiar gateway, formed of two upright and two horizontal beams, which stands in front of every Shintō temple. According to the orthodox account, it was originally a perch for the sacred fowls (tori="fowl;" i, from iru,="dwelling"), which gave warning of daybreak; but in later times—its origin being forgotten—it came to be regarded as a gateway or even as a merely symbolic ornament, so that whole avenues of torii were sometimes erected, while the Buddhists also adopted it, employing it to place tables on with inscriptions, and ornamenting it in various newfangled ways, such as turning up the corners of the transverse beams, etc., etc. Accordingly, when the "purification" of the Shintō temples took place after the restoration of the Mikado in 1868, one of the earliest official acts was the removal of these tablets. Ever since that time, too, the simplest form of torii has alone been set up, because alone considered ancient and national.
The present writer's opinion, founded partly on a comparison of the Japanese and Luchuan forms of the word (Jap. torii, Luch. turi), is that the orthodox etymology and the opinions derived from it are alike erroneous, that the origin both of the word and of the thing is obscure, but that indications deserving consideration point to the probability of both having been brought over from the Asiatic continent. The Koreans erect somewhat similar gateways at the approach to their royal palaces; the Chinese p'ai lou, serving to record the virtues of male or female worthies, seem related in shape as well as in use; and the occurrence of the word turan in Northern India and of the word tori in Central India, to denote gateways of strikingly cognate appearance, gives matter for reflection. Finally, we have the fundamental fact that almost every Japanese art and almost every Japanese idea can be traced back ultimately to the Asiatic mainland,—an intellectual dependence so constant as to raise a strong presumption in favour of a Chinese or Buddhist (that is Indian) origin for any obscure individual item.
Mr. Aston, a great authority in such matters, agrees in believing that the thing—the torii itself—was imported from abroad (probably about A.D. 770), but holds that it was fitted with a pre-existing native name, which would have originally designated "a lintel" before it came to have its present sacred association.
Books recommended. The linguistic argument (appreciable only by specialists) will be found in a paper by the present writer in the "Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain" for 1895, entitled A Preliminary Account of the Luchuan Language. See also Toriwi and its Derivation, by W. G. Aston, in Vol. XXVII. Part IV. of the "Asiatic Transactions," and Notes on the Japanese Torii, by S. Tuke, in Vol. IV. of the "Transactions of the Japan Society of London."
- See p. 422.