Snapshot Story

Torii gates are found outside of Shinto shrines all across Japan. The traditional red-orange color is believed to ward off evil spirits at the entrance of the shrine. The torii pictured here are just a few of thousands located outside a more popular shrine, Fushimi Inari found in Kyoto, Japan. I found it interesting that to preserve the wood these torii are constructed from, the paint contains mercury. Yes, mercury, the toxic natural element! Having a degree in materials engineering, I started to nerd out when I heard this and had to look up the effects of having mercury in the paint. To keep it brief and avoid getting too science-y on you, simply put, a paper published in 2016 explained that the red cinnabar (mercury-sulfide) lacquer that’s used releases small amounts of mercury vapor. While these vapors can become concentrated in enclosed spaces, the standard vapor release does not exceed OSHA safety levels and being outside near the torii will have negligible effects. Okay, in case that bit was not as interesting for you, just know that it’s safe to appreciate the glossy color of these sacred gates.