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Walt Disney World Architecture in Real Life: The Torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine

By: Kendall Foreman

A photo of the vermillion torii gate in the waters of the World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
The Torii Gate in World Showcase which was inspired by the Torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine in Japan.

The rising of the sun over the waters of the western Pacific Ocean is a sight so spectacular and meaningful throughout Japanese culture that it is captured in that nation’s flag. The beautiful hues reflected over the open sea are a sight to behold from many locales across the archipelago, but there is one place in particular where waves meet with a man-made structure in the light of the dawn and dusk to create an almost otherworldly tranquility.

The Torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine rises from the Seto Inland Sea and appears almost as if it is floating alongside the island of Miyajima. Conveying a quiet strength, the structure serves to distinguish between the sacred and the commonplace. This is the same purpose for the over 30,000 Torii gates found at Shinto shrines throughout Japan.

While many of these sites are frequented by tourists to the island nation, the Itsukushima Shrine, including both the gate and its multiple buildings, is especially breathtaking because of the combination of the man-made structures with water in the foreground and the mountain backdrop. According to UNESCO (which has designated Itsukushima as a World Heritage Site), these three together “have become recognized as a Japanese standard of beauty.”

The first buildings to be constructed at the shrine were believed to have been erected in 593. They were later re-built and expanded upon in 1168 during the Heian period. This was done in the shinden-zukuri style of architecture where the central building, or shinden, is connected to adjacent buildings by corridors. While the complex and gate have been reconstructed and repaired over the centuries, effort has always been made to remain faithful to the original style.

Such adherence was also maintained when the gate of the Itsukushima Shrine was recreated in World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot in Walt Disney World. As is the original, Florida’s version of the gate is constructed in the Ryobu-torii style, which means that its two pillars are supported by two shorter pillars on each side. Also like its inspiration, its distinctive vermillion hue stands out boldly even when viewed from across the water.

When constructing the representation, Imagineers even went so far as to include faux barnacles on the lower portions of the pillars to give the impression that it has been standing in saltwater for centuries. Guests viewing Epcot’s Torii Gate from the promenade also take in pristinely manicured gardens. These touches of natural beauty give viewers just a glimpse of the stillness of Itsukushima in the midst of a hurried theme park.

Photo from the personal collection of Melanie Whitfield.

Kendall has been a member of the WDW Radio Team since 2013. Today, you can read her work on the WDW Radio Blog or hear her join Lou for a number of WDW Radio podcast episodes. Kendall’s affection for Walt Disney World began with her very first family visit in the 1990s and has continued with each magical vacation since. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.