Gamers Raise $260K to Repair Torii Gate on Japanese Island of Tsushima

fans of 2019's "ghost of tsushima" help crowdfund repairs for ancient shintō gate

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A video game set in 13th-century Japan recently inspired global fundraising, Gaming Bible reported. A torii gate, a sacred Japanese structure, was destroyed in September by a tropical storm and its repairs were crowdfunded by gamers. The game involves the Mongol invasion of Japan.

Torii gate in Japan
Torii gates are constructed of two vertical posts connected by two posts on top, representing the border between the secular world and the sacred world before a Japanese Shintō shrine. Photo By oatjo / Shutterstock

According to the British video gaming website Gaming Bible, one of last year’s best-selling games, Ghost of Tsushima, has inspired gamers worldwide. “Late last year, Ghost of Tsushima fans worked together to ensure that a torii gate that was destroyed in a tropical storm on the real-life island of Tsushima could be fully repaired via a successful crowdfunding campaign launched by Yuichi Hirayama, a priest at Tsushima’s Watatsumi Shrine,” the article said.

“The campaign came to an end on [January 10] with more than 540% of its goal raised.” The article said Hirayama sought about $47,500 USD for repairs to the sacred structure and received $260,000.

In Ghost of Tsushima, gamers play as Jin Sakai, a noble samurai in the 13th century who must forsake samurai traditions and beliefs to fight back against Kublai Khan’s invasion of Tsushima. Torii gates, samurai culture, and the Mongol invasion are all featured in the game, and each was a major part of the era in real life.

Shintō and the Torii Gates

Torii gates, like the one destroyed in September, serve as symbolic gateways to the most sacred areas of Shintō shrines. Shintō is a set of indigenous religious beliefs in Japan.

“This belief system held that there were gods known as Kami who were playing a role in the lives of people,” said Dr. Dorsey Armstrong, Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University. “These kami might take the form of spirits of the mountains, sea, rivers, trees, rain, and other natural phenomena, or concepts like health and fertility, and there was also a significant element of ancestor worship in this belief system.”

However, Dr. Armstrong said, in the 13th century, Japan underwent massive changes as a nation and in every aspect of its culture, and religion was no exception. Various sects of Buddhism grew in popularity just as power shifted from the emperor and his civil servants to the warrior class of samurai. Around this time, Genghis Khan’s descendants sought to expand his empire.

The Khan Invades

“After his death, Genghis Khan’s sons and grandsons would each control various portions, or khanates, and it’s under one of these grandsons—the infamous Kublai Khan, whom many of us encounter for the first time in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famously and infamously unfinished poem—that the Mongol empire would reach its greatest heights,” Dr. Armstrong said.

“Kublai Khan was certainly ambitious, and like his grandfather, he turned his attention to lands yet to be conquered. One of these was Japan.”

Dr. Armstrong said that Kublai Khan’s first attempt to invade Japan occurred in 1274. However, the samurai forces gave him heavy losses after just eight hours of conflict. Soon afterward, a storm approached that threatened to leave Khan’s forces with nowhere to run. He chose to retreat rather than place his troops facing the samurai forces and with their backs to an angry sea. Up to one-third of his forces were lost in the typhoon that followed.

Oddly enough, history repeated itself, almost to the letter, in 1281 when Kublai Khan tried to invade Japan again. Again he clashed with samurai, again a mighty storm approached, and again he lost many of his ships.

“The Shintō priests attributed both successes on the part of the shogunate to the ‘divine wind’ that had sprung up on both occasions and had saved the Japanese from the Mongol invasion,” Dr. Armstrong said.

“But while the shogunate’s existence was, in large measure, responsible for the defeat of the Mongols, the stresses caused by the defense [that] the samurai mounted would contribute to instability and the shogunate’s eventual collapse.”

Ghost of Tsushima is available on the PlayStation 4.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University

Dr. Dorsey Armstrong contributed to this article. Dr. Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an AB in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach.