I torii sono porte sacre che separano la zona profana dalla zona sacra del tempio. Segnano l’ingresso nell’area del santuario e il passarci sotto è un modo per purificare l’anima, passo necessario per poter pregare i kami (gli spiriti) ospitati nel tempio.
Sulla loro provenienza esistono varie ipotesi: quella principale li fa risalire alle porte, chiamate torana, esistenti in India e usati nei templi induisti. I torana sarebbero stati poi adottati dal buddismo che l’avrebbe portato quindi in Giappone. Altri studiosi, invece, propendono per una origine coreana o cinese. Comunque, in ogni caso, sembra che i torii non siano un elemento autoctono, ma il loro utilizzo sarebbe stato portato nel paese dall’esterno, in un periodo molto antico.
La mitologia giapponese collega i torii al mito di Amaterasu, ma questa associazione, che intenderebbe dare un’origine indigena dei torii, è ritenuta poco credibile. Anche sull’origine del nome, non c’è chiarezza: molti collegano il nome torii al vocabolo giapponese “Tori” (uccello) e quindi, in origine, il torii sarebbe stato un enorme trespolo per gli uccelli che, secondo lo scintoismo, sono messaggeri degli dei. Altra ipotesi lo fa derivare dal termine nipponico “tori-iru” (entrare).
Come abbiamo detto i torii si trovano all’entrata dei luoghi sacri (templi, tombe) e non sempre da soli, ma in gruppi di tre o anche più. Nel grande tempio dedicato al dio della fertilità, o del riso, Inari, a Fushimi, ci sono, addirittura migliaia di torii che, messi uno dietro l’altro, formano un tunnel che il pellegrino deve attraversare, purificandosi, per raggiungere la parte più sacra del tempio.
Altro torii famoso, e usato spesso per attirare turisti in Giappone, è la porta che è posta davanti al tempio scintoista di Itsukushima posto sull’isola di Miyajima. La porta sacra, notevole anche dal punto di vista visivo, è posto in modo tale da essere circondato dal mare in occasione dell’alta marea facendolo sembrare sospeso sull’acqua.
Queste particolari strutture, non si trovano solo davanti a templi, ma indicano anche l’accesso alle tombe imperiali come quella davanti alla tomba dell’Imperatore Showa (Hirohito). Non possiamo poi non citare il grande torii presente sulla strada che porta al santuario dedicato all’Imperatore Meiji a Tokyo.

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