Japanese Sister City Program

Japanese Lanterns

Usage/Symbolism Smaller lanterns are used with Christmas lights and hung outside businesses, while large lanterns are used in temples and festivals.

Lanterns add visual appeal to the gardens and create a light source for gardeners.

**They are typically always created in stone and carefully placed within the garden at select locations, usually on islands or next to important buildings, to provide light and add beauty to the space.

Other Interesting Information Ishidoro (stone lanterns) were introduced to Japan via Korea and China in the Asuka Period (6th century AD), and were used initially as votive lights at temples and later on by shrines. Some centuries passed before they were used for the practical purpose of lighting the grounds of religious precincts. Around the 16th century, stone lanterns were adopted by the secular community and placed in the gardens of tea houses and private residences. The earliest lanterns were designed to hold the sacred flame (the flame itself represents Buddha), but there were no windows or openings to let the light shine forth. The burning lamp is a common metaphor in Buddhist texts; it symbolizes the Buddhist teachings, the light that helps us overcome the darkness of ignorance.

Lanterns in Garden Design. Says the University of Alberta (home of the Kurimoto Japanese garden): “Stone lanterns were originally votive lamps in the front of Buddhist temples. In the 13th century they began serving the same function in the precincts of Shinto shrines. In the earliest Japanese gardens, lantern designs were borrowed from temples, but in the 16th century, with the development of the tea ceremony, tea masters began designing lanterns specifically for garden use. The stone lantern, made primarily of granite, became a permanent feature of Japanese garden design thereafter. Garden lanterns are divided into three general styles. The oldest is the Taima-ji ??? style, named after a temple in Nara that is home to Japan’s oldest extant stone lantern. Over two meters tall, the lamp is comprised of six parts -- pedestal, shaft, middle platform and light compartment, roof and jewel finial. The second style is the Korean temple light. It combines the roof and jewel top, has a very large middle platform and light compartment and a short shaft that gives it a squat appearance. The third style is the creative style especially developed for gardens. This includes a wide variety of shapes unlike anything found in Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines. Representatives of these are the Yukimi or ’Snow Viewing‘ lanterns and Oribe lanterns with no pedestal. Today, Ishidoro stone lanterns are a common feature of private gardens throughout Japan, and these lanterns are often engraved with Sanskrit letters or Buddhist icons.

Research conducted by: Sam Slayton, BSA Troop 138