The entrance to nearly all jinja is marked by the traditional torii gate, with the distinctive double lintel. As I have mentioned before, there is no rule for what torii should be made of. Wood is the most traditional material; the most traditional of all is wood with the bark still on. However, stone is also common, as is bronze. Very large torii are often made of steel, and you can get plastic torii, which are very durable, and do not look very plastic. (You can also get plastic torii that look very plastic, but most jinja do not get those.)
However, there was an article in Jinja Shinpō in May about a jinja that has a torii made of porcelain. Now, you might think that this is not an ideal material for this purpose, as it would get broken and bits would come off.
And you would be right, because the article was about restoring the torii. Bits had indeed come off in accidents over the 130 years since the torii was erected, and the jinja had been carefully saving them. Thus, when it became necessary to restore the torii, they could have the professionals glue them back on. (
The jinja in question is in Shiga Prefecture, which is just to the northeast of Kyoto, so they were able to make contact with a company that specialises in restoring cultural items quite easily. No, it’s in Saga prefecture, in Kyushu, so I’m not sure why they were in contact with a company in Kyoto. This does explain why I misread the prefecture name, however.)
The torii is made of porcelain because the jinja’s name means something like “ceramic mountain”, and so the jinja’s adherents in the late nineteenth century decided that it would be appropriate. (The name of the jinja I visit in Miyagi Prefecture means “gold mountain” — but there is no torii made of gold. So this sort of practice, while common, is not universal.) It is white, with blue “chinese flower” designs, which is also a very unusual colour scheme for a torii. This probably makes it very distinctive, and apparently it can be seen from just about anywhere in the town where the jinja is (probably a small town…).
This is another example of the absence of strict rules for most aspects of Shinto. I said in an earlier post that almost all torii that are not red are the colour of their material, but here we see a partial exception; the white is the colour of the porcelain, but the blue designs are not. Almost any generalisation you make about Shinto has exceptions. (And that generalisation is probably its own exception…)