Cal Poly's Japanese Student Association (JSA) plans to add a torii gate to the arboretum. Credit: Courtesy of JSA

The first time Eddie Pascua heard about a “torii” was when he joined the Japanese Student Association (JSA) in 2019. A torii is a symbolic gateway marking the entrance to sacred shrines in Japan. It is a religious structure that is supposed to be a gateway to the gods, according to Pascua.

For six years, club members had been talking about building a torii gate to represent Japanese culture. However, there was no push to get it done because there were no stakes, but Pascua’s nearing senior project gave him the motivation, the construction management senior said. 

“A lot of people have made me grow within the club, and this is my way of giving back,” Pascua said.

As the newest addition to the Cal Poly arboretum, the torii is projected to be complete in February.

Early drawings of the planned torii show its signature curved arch and red color. Credit: Courtesy of JSA

A torii consists of two red, cylindrical posts called the hashira and a tie beam that connects the two posts. On the top of the gate are the kasagi and shimaki which make the iconic upward curve. The general shape is like an H, except the middle line is at the top and looks like a flattened mountain.

“This project is to honor the Japanese Americans and the Japanese students here on the central coast,” Pascua said. “This is not just a random structure here on campus. We really want to give back to this community that made me feel welcome here at Cal Poly.”

As head of the project, Pascua partnered with construction management transfer Jorge Lara and other students to come up with its design. One Cal Poly alumni traveled to Japan to study toriis and made a design for him, while other civil engineering students worked on calculations to ensure the structure’s stability.  

“What I think is cool is that we’re working together on it to physically show that we are united by our interest in Japanese culture,” JSA President and animal science junior Samantha Valentine said. “It’s the people who are the culture rather than a physical monument.”

After getting approval for the project last year, landscape architecture senior Erika Murase started working on designs for the garden that would accompany the torii gate. She and her fellow architecture classmates started brainstorming in September. 

During Cal Poly’s cultural festival in October, the club started fundraising by selling dango, a Japanese dessert, to help purchase Keli Moore paints and redwood logs for the gate.

“The torii gate itself has such a huge meaning in Japanese culture,” said Murase, who is president of the National Association of Minority Landscape Architects (NAMLA). “They are deeply spiritual.” 

When visiting a torii, one should bow before entering through the gate or walk around, Murase said. These structures originated from Shintoism, an ancient religion of Japan that started in 1,000 B.C.

“It’s more of respecting the purpose of the torii instead of just having it there,” Murase said. “We just want to honor it.”

Location of torii gate in the arboretum. Credit: Courtesy of JSA

The gate’s orientation will face the ocean toward Japan.

“Every torii is honoring a deity, so it’s usually focused upon a landmark in a landscape to honor that god,” Murase said. “That’s why we have it facing Japan across the ocean, to have that symbol within the landscape.”

Murase said she was surprised by the number of people interested in helping with the project. That support was what got this project to where it is now, she said.

Murase gave all of the credit to Pascua from initiating the project in fall and asking Murase to help design the garden. She emphasized the importance of cultural clubs and the work they do. 

“Keep on supporting cultural clubs,” Pascua said. “There should be more of a push to support these kinds of clubs because they mean a lot to a lot of different kinds of people.”