Introduction: Construct a Japanese Torii Gate for Your Garden

Picture of Construct a Japanese Torii Gate for Your Garden

For some time, I had been thinking about building a Japanese torii gate for my garden. A torii gate marks the approach and entrance to a Shinto shrine. It is the division between the physical and spiritual worlds. Shinto is a native religion of Japan and was once its state religion. Probably the most famous torii is the one at Itsukushima Shrine located at Miyajima, near Hiroshima. Mine is a little more modest.

Step 1: Torii Components

Picture of Torii Components

After a bit of poking around on Google, I found that all torii gates are made up of three horizontal components:

- Kasagi: The very top beam of a torii gate. These beams can be straight or curved.
- Shimagi: A second beam directly underneath the kasagi in more complex forms of torii gates. Their ends are either straight or cut with an inward slant and the overall shape of the beam is that of an upside down trapezoid.
- Nuki: The secondary beam of a torii gate. On more complex torii gates, it is held in place by kusabi (wedges). This beam is always straight.

The other components of a torii are the:
- Hashira: The supporting pillars of the torii gate
- Gakuzuka: A centre post that connects the Nuki & Shimagi (optional)
- Kusabi: A wedge used to hold the Nuki in place (optional)
The Shimagi is usually placed below the lintels at a distance about equal to the diameter of the pillars.

The dimensions that I ended up choosing for my torii are somewhat of a trade-off given the thickness of my Hashiras (poles).

Step 2: Hashiras - the Posts

Picture of Hashiras - the Posts

I wanted to build a decent-sized torii so I hunted around for some large posts to use for the Hashiras. I was hoping to use hardwood but found that they are scarce and expensive. I settled for treated pine posts, or Coppers logs as they are known as in Australia, and used 150mm x 3.6m lengths. Although the logs are relatively cheap, about $AU40 each from memory, you have to be selective when choosing them as many are shaped like bananas and others are badly knotted and split. I cut the logs to 3 metre lengths and used a hammer and chisel to start the mortise slots in either side of the posts and then used a large drill to drill through the posts and remove the bulk of the timber from the slots. I spent a bit of time hand-finishing the mortises with hammer and chisel and made sure that the Nuki would slide freely through the slots.

Step 3: Painting the Hashiras

Picture of Painting the Hashiras

The logs, by nature, have numerous splits and, although I had chosen wisely, there were many both small and medium sized splits in them. I filled and sanded the logs three times over to get a reasonably smooth finish on the timber and this was the most tedious part of the construction. Note the jig I used to hold the poles while I painted them. This allowed me to spin the poles while painting them with a roller.

Step 4: The Other Torii Components

Picture of The Other Torii Components

For the Kasagi, Shimagi and Nuki, I elected to use second-hand oregon as I wanted to use wood that was dimensionally stable and was not going to either twist or warp with age. I have used new oregon in the past but unfortunately plantation "oregon", or what ever passes for oregon, is generally of poor quality, in my experience. I was luck enough to source all this timber very cheaply and only paid about $AU20 for the lot, a real bargain. I cut the timber to length and had it professionally dressed all round for $AU33. I cut the shape of the upper-most piece of timber, the Kasagi, by using a table saw to cut the parallel portion and used a hand saw to finish off the ends. Shown are, from left to right, the Shimagi (upside down), Kasagi and Nuki (upside down) all primed and ready for three coats of vermillion finish coat.

Step 5: Bolting It Together

Picture of Bolting It Together

The whole structure is bolted together with galvanised coach screws and washers, four long screws through the Shimagi into the end of the logs (two at either end) and one 100mm screw through either log to lock the Nuki into place.

Step 6: Raising the Torii Gate

Picture of Raising the Torii Gate

Once everything was painted and ready for assembly, I dug two holes about 700 mm deep and 350 mm in diameter in order to concrete the structure firmly into the ground. I then filled the holes with about 100mm of dry rapid set concrete to form a base for the poles. The torii was then assembled on the ground in front of the holes and the coach screws done up snuggly. With the kind assistance of my cousin, we lifted the torii vertical and then carefully lowered the posts into the holes. We attached the temporary supporting braces via the top coach screws to torii in order to stabilise it while the concrete cured enough.

Step 7: Concreting It Into the Ground

Picture of Concreting It Into the Ground

I added enough water to the holes to mix the rapid-set concrete and then quickly leveled up the posts. I then ensured that the posts were standing vertically and that all looked good. This took some time to get it all true. We then mixed up the concrete and filled in the rest of holes. Note that the level of the concrete falls away from the poles in an attempt to stop water pooling around the poles and causing them to rot prematurely.

Step 8: Attaching the Kasagi

Picture of Attaching the Kasagi

The Kasagi is decorative and is held in place by a piece of 30mm quad screwed into place with galvanised screws, at about 150mm centres, from the rear. The Gakuzuka is secured with a 20mm mortise and tennon joint at either end and I skew nailed it to the Nuki prior to painting.

Step 9: The Gakuzuka Plate

Picture of The Gakuzuka Plate

While I was in Japan a number of years ago, I bought a nice little brass plate inscribed with two characters that translate to fresh & fragrant and have attached this to the Gakuzuka using some small brass screws.


DeivisA1 (author)2017-02-03

Muito bom

Therev1953 (author)2016-04-08

It's beautiful! I had always loved how they looked. They seemed to be popular in CA. I perform weddings in my back yard. I had jasmine that grew over a wrought iron arch that finally bit the dust. When my metal arch finally rusted out I had decided I really wanted a Torii to replace it. Now that I know what it represents, I want it even more. What a perfect place to be married moving from your separate lives to one physical and spiritual life together. I live in Louisiana where it's always wet - and our dirt is more clay. Would the gravel method work here or should we make feet screwed into the walkway we had used for the metal arch? Also- what wood would here in the land of tsunamis (floods and hurricanes)?

BlueRock (author)Therev19532016-11-11

Nice thoughts there Therev. Any method of attachment to the ground whereby the Torii is stable will be good. I used treated pine but maybe you have a native timber that is durable that would suitable.

RaduH3 made it! (author)2016-10-18


Thanks for the plans. I made this one for my little garden. Just few small modifications (curved Kasagi, the Nuki was fixed and leveled with some small pieces of wood instead of screws/nails). And the black colour for Kasagi, as I saw on some Torii gate on internet. It looks great. Thanks again for your contribution.

BlueRock (author)RaduH32016-11-11

Wow! yours looks excellent. Great job! I'm glad this instructable continues to give so much joy.

Briscoe_is_a_collie (author)2016-10-03

Hi, I really love this and will be making one myself but from wooden posts 3" x 3" and wood stained, what colour did you paint yours? I know it's 'red' but apart from that what is the shade you used? Thanks

hi, it was Vermilion or fire engine red, I can remember

BaelRathLian (author)2015-05-09

I would like to make one for my desk. About two feet tall. Could you help with this project? My measurements seem to be off.

p3-orion (author)2013-11-26

An excellent writeup; arigato for your research, Wayne_san. However, I believe you are mistaken in one detail, that being the angle of the vertical posts, the hashira.

You said that a plumb line should fall from the outside edge of the hashira (at the height of the lower horizontal bar, or nuki) to the inside edge of the hashira at ground level; that is, the hashira leans in by an amount equal to its diameter. However, in examining numerous photos of traditional Japanese torii, I find that the outer edge of the hashira (at nuki elevation) almost always lies exactly over the CENTER of its base; that is, it leans in by an amount equal to HALF its diameter. I think you will find that this angle is both more traditional and more visually pleasing, and may even be somewhat easier to construct.

Also, while I agree that when there is only one shimagi (upper horizontal bar) it should be one-third wider than the hashira, few larger torii HAVE only one shimagi; most also have the kasagi "roof" over the shimagi. In those cases, the shimagi's width is actually a bit less than that of the hashira. On the ones where I could tell, it appears to be the same width as the nuki, which would make it one-third SMALLER than the hashira diameter. The kasagi on top is wider than either, and I suspect is at least one-third larger than the hashira (as with the single-shimagi torii you mentioned.) However, on torii that have a kasagi which is actually a pitched roof (like the famous one at Itsukushima shrine near Hiroshima) it looks like the kasagi may be substantially wider than that, perhaps as much as 2-3 hashira diameters.

Wayne_san (author)p3-orion2013-11-26

Thanks for the feedback. When I have an opportunity, I'll factor those changes into a new Sketchup drawing to get a sense of how it changes.

I think there are subtle differences by region, period, and craftsman. I can't locate my original notes, but I recall the lean-in being calculated both ways in the gates and references I examined. The kasagi length seemed to be dependent on a line from the base of the hashira to the ends of the shimagi then extended to the ends of the kasagi.

There's software on the market that would enable me to make precise measurement from photos, but I don't own any of it. If I get back to Japan in this life, I'll keep a notebook, pencil, digital camera, shot line, plumb, and tape measure with me. A step ladder might pose a problem on the trains, but I'll need that, too.

Thanks again.

pedro147 (author)2013-10-20

どうもありがとう, Dōmo arigatō Bluerock. May your garden be scented with the perfume of 1000 Japanese maidens

simpatico (author)2012-04-09

I'm interested in building a downsized Torii gate of timber bamboo. Any thoughts on the durability of the bamboo in the ground, using concrete "feet" or not, gravel?

BlueRock (author)simpatico2012-04-16

A bamboo Torri would sure look interesting. I'm not sure on the durability of bamboo though. I've a bamboo screen inset to gate and the bamboo has cracked lengthwise. However, this maybe a result of it coming from a humid environment and seasoning in a dry climate where I live. Based on Arkie's and ejsilver26's comments below, you maybe best advised to go straight in the ground.

arkie (author)2010-04-16

Nice work. Well balanced design. You mentioned (Feb '07) that the concrete had cracked. Would it be possible, considering your climate, to use the material that you excavated for the hole as back-fill? Coupla' shovels at a time and tamp down with an iron bar or wooden post?

An old hillbilly watched me trying to erect posts for a barn. When I started mixing concrete, he asked if the wet slop was going to contact wood. I said yes. He asked if I thought the wood would absorb any moisture and swell. I said yes, I guess so. He asked if the wood and concrete would eventually dry. I said yes.

Then he asked, "When the wood dries, and shrinks, won't that leave a gap between the dry wood and the cured concrete? Won't any rain trickle into that gap and soak your post all the way to the bottom? Don't ya' think that wet wood will encourage mold and bugs and rot?"

He went away. I stopped using concrete.

ejsilver26 (author)arkie2010-05-14

Awesome explanation. I've always been told to ensure that wood doesn't touch concrete, but that is best reason WHY that I have heard. I've been told that they will rot, but not why they will rot. It makes perfect sense.

I'm assuming that treated wood might not be as big of an issue, since it can be treated to resist absorbing wood and rotting. Any thoughts?


arkie (author)ejsilver262010-05-14

I don't want to 'highjack' the thread of BlueRock's excellent Japanese torii, so this will be (moderately) brief.

Totally submerged wood, treated or not, can stay in prime condition for centuries. New Zealand's kauri wood is workable after 45,000 years buried in the wet, boggy ground. Logs from the Louisiana swamps and the American Great Lakes are being recovered and used after centuries underwater. They stayed wet.

Log buildings in Europe have been gathered in outdoor museums and are open to the public. With 4-foot eaves to protect the wood from rain and snow, and stone sills to keep them from ground contact, the buildings are in good shape after 500-600 years. They stayed dry.

The interface between dry and wet is where the damage occurs. I removed a fence for a friend in the Arkansas Ozarks. The posts were made of aromatic Western red cedar... the same long-lasting wood used in cedar chests. The above ground portions of the posts were weathered but strong and intact. As I dug, and wiggled the posts, they snapped off at the rotted areas at ground level; however, digging for the buried portions revealed solid timbers. No evident aging or damage to the underground wood.

The treated lumber available at the limber yard or 'big-box' hardware store normally has a rating (in years) and a notice that it is intended for non-ground contact. Ground-contact rated wood is available, but the price goes up. There is a marine-grade treated lumber which is VERY expensive, but survives the wet-dry cycle for years.

I hope this helps... and my apologies to BlueRock for my wordy reply.

BlueRock (author)arkie2012-01-15

Thanks Arkie, interesting information.

Roger408 (author)2010-04-11

It may depend on your climate, but here in northern California, we need to put 6 inches of gravel in the bottom of a post hole, then add the concrete around the poles to anchor them.  That allows the moisture that gets into the wood to drain away and posts last much longer.  Redwood fence posts done that way last up to 50 years, fully encased in concrete you're lucky to get 10 years before the part in the ground rots away. 

BTW what is the species you call oregon?  Could it be douglas fir? Around here Oregon is  a piece of geography, that little bit of a state just north of us ;-).

BlueRock (author)Roger4082012-01-15

Yes, suppliers here tend to use oregon and douglas fir interchangably.

paxdonnaverde (author)Roger4082011-05-28

Thanks for that excellent tip Roger, I didn't understand the science behind the post-to-gravel method though I've seen it done that way.

Culturedropout (author)2010-04-12

Looks great!  Would it be total sacrilege to use PVC pipes for the uprights?  No more problems with rotten wood. 

BlueRock (author)Culturedropout2012-01-15

Yes, you could use PVC packed with something like soil or gravel to give it rigidity. Thanks for the suggestion.

THYMETOCHAT (author)2010-04-11

Beautifully done!   What an entrance into your garden!  What is the color you used called?  It's PERFECT!  Thanks for sharing.  Great instructable.

BlueRock (author)THYMETOCHAT2012-01-15

Thanks, the colour is vermillion but is probably called something else in your neck of the woods.

tinker234 (author)2011-06-19

wow love it

Carlos Marmo (author)2011-05-22

Be Blessed this Torii!

funwithdiode (author)2010-05-10

 an interesting bit of trivia: it is believed that if you throw a coin and it lands on the top of a torii gate you get instant acceptance into heaven, However! if you miss the top or it falls of you go to hell, there are no second chances and make note that if you knock off somebody else's coin they get sent to hell.

REA (author)2010-04-11

for those curious, this is a myoujitorii style.  for more styles click here.

Jahleim (author)2009-09-18

Is it possible to download this.... It is by far the best and most informative instructions,And Iam doubting I will find anything remotely as informative and so easy to follow. Thanks to the uploader.

BlueRock (author)Jahleim2009-09-18

Click on the PDF icon near the top of the page and you can download the entire instructable in PDF format. Otherwise, move the mouse pointer over the components image, right click with the mouse and select option and save the picture onto your harddrive.

Jahleim (author)BlueRock2009-09-18

Thanks BlueRock. Got the download but had to save target and coy the instructions page by page,painstaking but worth it Thanks.

Dvickery (author)2009-09-11

I am unfamiliar with the terms Copper Logs and Oregon wood. I assume copper logs may refer to what we call pressure treated (cupric arsenide). Oregon wood I have no idea of.

BlueRock (author)Dvickery2009-09-11

Yes, Coppers Logs are pressure treated timber that resists pests and has a degree of rot resistance when buried in the ground. Oregon (also known as Douglas Fir) is a softwood.

D.L.H. (author)2009-08-12

This is well written and instructed good job on it.

Wayne_san (author)2008-08-14

I completely understand the limitations of budget affecting choice of materials. For more classically Japanese proportions of a Torii gate, I recommend: The hashira be made to "lean in" slightly, approximately their own width. A plumb line dropped from the center of the nuki at the OUTside edge of the hashira should just touch the INside edge of the hashira at the ground. The hashira size (diameter) be 1/10 the measure of the opening. The distance between the inside edges of the hashira at the ground be equal to the height from the ground to the bottom of the nuki. The length of the nuki on each side, from the center of the hashira to the end of the nuki, be equal to 1/3 the length of the center portion of the nuki (between the hashira), from center to center on the hashira. The nuki height be equal to the hashira -- and the width should be 2/3 its height -- for example, 150 mm x 100 mm. With those proportions of the hashira and nuki, it will be necessary to make the nuki in 3 sections, 3/5 for the center section, and 1/5 for each of the end sections, plus enough additional length to cut tenons to fit into the mortise in each hashira. Side-by-side or over-and-under tenons will work equally well. The kusabi are absolutely indispensible for this type installation. I also recommend tenons at the top of the hashira, and corresponding mortise in the shimagi. I advocate building a torii gate without metal hardware. So, consider boring through the tenons once assembled and driving a wooden pin through the entire joint. Remember that the hashira will not be exactly perpendicular to the ground, if erected "leaning in" as I've described, so the mortise will need to be adjusted slightly so that it is still parallel to the ground. For a gate with both shimagi and kasagi, the shimagi height and width dimensions should equal the nuki diameter. The space between the shimagi and the nuki should be no less than the height of the nuki (the beam itself, not height above ground, obviously) and no greater than 1-2/3 the height of the nuki. For a gate with shimagi only, the shimagi width should be 10% more than the hashira, and its height should be 1-1/3 the size of the hashira. The ends of the shimagi should touch a line drawn from the outside edge of the hashira at the ground to the end of the nuki (and extended through the horizontal plane of the shimagi). The angles of the ends of the nuki and shimagi are found by cutting according to that same line just described. The length of the kasagi (and the angles of the end cuts for it) are found by drawing a line from the center of the gate at ground level to the outside edge of the nuki, and extending it through the horizontal plane of the kasagi. I have not been able to find the method for determining the curve of the kasagi. I recommend dividing the length into 5ths, with the center 5th level, the next two 5ths (left and right) sloping upward at a 5:1 pitch (that is, for every 5 units of length, elevate 1 unit) giving about an 11 degree angle, and the ends on a 3:2 pitch, giving about a 34 degree angle. Since my gate would be a bit heavier, I recommend no less than 1 mm below ground for every 3 mm above ground. 1 mm blow for every 2 mm above is even better. Dig the holes 35% deeper than needed. Fill that bottom, extra 35% with concrete 24-48 hours before setting the hashira in the ground. While that concrete "foot" is setting, consider standing the hashira in a 5 gallon bucket of water seal - for 24-48 hours. When pouring in the concrete around the hashira, have a mold at the top so that the concrete will rise 10 - 15 cm above ground level. These are all recommendations, made in part from what I have been able to gleen from a variety of resources, including living in Japan for four years. There is a written work, The Five Secret Books of the Master Carpenter, which gives the proportions of the length of the nuki, and the stipulation about the relationship of height and width of the opening that I described above. Although I've seen that reference quoted in English, I was never able to find a copy, not even in Japanese, much less a translation. Cheers.

nickmarrone (author)Wayne_san2009-02-08

Wow, your instructions are excellent. Thank you!

BlueRock (author)Wayne_san2008-09-28

Wayne San, thanks for your comprehensive comments concerning the classical ratios of a Torii.

Patented (author)Wayne_san2008-09-16


Patented (author)2008-09-16

Why did you put this instructables in the skewer gun group?

altomic (author)2008-05-02

looking at your backyard I'd say you live in Melbourne. either doncaster or or towards st albans. anywho torii gates have differing dimensions depending on the area of Japan. Just like tatami have different sizes of Jo very cool instructable by the way. and great gate.

joejoerowley (author)2008-04-17

Cool! Great Instructable! Very Interesting! Thanks Joe

Margot (author)2007-06-12

I lived in Japan and was using this to make a smaller scale model for my home garden. I have it nearly finished but I necessarily had to change dimensions. Why? Because your dimensions have errors (?). E.g., Space between Nuki and Shimagi shown as: 180mm. Dimensions for Gakuzuka shown as: 220mm X 130mm X 60mm. In no way would the Gakuzuka accurately fit into the space between the Nuki and the Shimagi. In proportioning for my small torii, I had some difficulty with other dimensions. This is meant to be constructive. The pictured torii is excellent but the given dimensions do not work. If I am wrong, please tell me. Perhaps there are others seeking to construct a torii, scaled down or up; they may be having difficulty. I really like the site! Margot

BlueRock (author)Margot2007-07-28


Thanks for the comments.

The space between Nuki and Shimagi is 180mm. The Gakuzuka has 20mm tenon joints on either end, therefore, the cut length of the Gakuzuka needs to be 220mm - i.e 180+20+20=220.

You may have had problems with the hashira dimension because its cut length is actually 3000mm, rather than the incorrect 3600mm shown in the diagram above (it butt joins to the shimagi). Sorry about that.

The kasagi dimension is another thing altogether. Due to its upturned ends (30mm), you would need to begin with a piece of timber 2700x160x30. Then 30mm, tapering down to 0mm at the ends, is cut off what will become the top edge of the kasagi. Sorry for the awkward description.

ryden (author)BlueRock2007-11-05

Instead of cutting a strip from the topside, what you should do is mark the curvature on the bottom edge and carefully cut of the lower corners. These corners are then attached to the top. Much less work and no spillage. This is how i make S-shaped gate tops.

Margot (author)ryden2007-11-06

ryden, Thanks for the comment; I had done just that and my torii looks fine. It is painted and ready for installation and celebratiion. Margot

BlueRock (author)BlueRock2007-07-28

P.S. The picture in step 4 shows the tenon joints fairly clearly. In reality, the dimensions are not that critical, whatever is pleasing to your eye is good. Even when correctly interpreted, my dimensions are not what one would consider classical in proportion. They are a tradeoff based on price and availabilty of materials. In ideal world, I would have used much thicker timbers all round, but the price would have blown my budget for this progect.

Bozz (author)2006-09-17

You did a great job.

BlueRock (author)Bozz2007-02-06

Thanks, It continues to give me great satisfaction.

doeric (author)2006-09-29

This is awesome, especially for someone who is a Shintoist. *points to self* Do you think you can give me a scale chart, so I can make a mini-torii for my bedroom?

BlueRock (author)doeric2007-02-06

Just divide all the dimensions by the same number until you have the desired size.

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