Introduction to Japanese Stone Lantern
Why do so many first time visitors to Japan- even those with no interest in trees or flowers- suddenly fall in love with the gardens? The answer goes well beyond aesthetics to a highly developed tradition of subtle communication that emanates calm.

To the Japanese, gardens are vital lifelines to mental refreshment. Partly because the country is so crowded- 80% of the population lives on 3% of the land- the Japanese find it essential to have a close link with nature.
 

Even in Tokyo where the eye can be exhausted by the riot of neon, concrete and metal, it is easy to find tranquil retreats. But more profoundly, whether the escape is a narrow strip of earth along a property line or one of the nation's three most famous landscape gardens, all Japanese gardens convey spiritual and philosophical messages. All are designed with the essential cultural understanding that man and nature are one and all aim to express the religious belief that the whole universe is contained in its smallest part.

A private Japanese garden is not an isolated entity. It is designed to be an integral part of the house and extension of the interior, not a garnish around the foundation line.

Because these intimate gardens are a continuous view through the seasons, they are not supposed to change drastically during the year.
 

Stone Lanterns
One garden ornament of immediate universal appeal is the stone lantern, ishi-dôrô. Imported with Buddhism from India by way of China, lanterns originated on temple ground to hold fire, a sacred symbol of life, and were initially large and ornate. Sen no Rikyu, the innovative 16th century tea master, decided to use lanterns in his teahouse gardens since he liked their gentle light for evening tea ceremonies.

The tea garden prepares the visitor for the spiritual experience of the tea ceremony where humility is supposed to bring serenity. Eventually, the lantern became an ornament in residential gardens and later, by strategic positioning, became a key element in drawing the visitor's eye to scenery beyond the garden.
 
Of the many different lantern designs seen today, yukimi-dôrô , recognized by its wide-brimmed roof designed to collect a deep pile of snow. A lantern with a hexagonal top is usually located at the crossroads of paths, since it casts light in several directions.
 
Others take their names from the shrines where they originated, like the Kasuga named after the famous shrine in Nara.
 
Every lantern is composed of five parts, originally five basic shapes meant to symbolize the five elements of the universe in ancient Japanese cosmology- sky, wind, fire, water and earth.
 
In a Western garden, an ornamental lantern can be readily placed in a spot that might need light such as  path or a gateway, or at the edge of a pond lighting an imaginary boat landing. A flat rock underneath makes a stable base
.

 

Rokkaku Yukimi Stone Lantern
Rokkaku Yukimi

Kasuga Stone Lantern
Kasuga

In general, the following 4 different types of stone lantern can be distinguished:


Yukimi-Gata


Ikekomi-Gata


Tachi-Gata


Oki-Gata

 
Water Basins (Tsukubai)
Another picturesque garden ornament is the stone water basin, tsukubai, with its bamboo dipper, hishaku, for washing hands and drinking in a purification ritual before tea ceremony. Large cut stone basins are found outside temples for the same purpose. In the classic garden, the basins are either hollowed out by an artisan or are naturally formed by a waterfall. Originally, taller versions were for nobility, but the tea ceremony abolished this distinction and both aristocrat and commoner must bend in equality.
 

Often a small bamboo pipe supplies a steady stream of water to the basin. When the pipe is rigged to seesaw piece of bamboo that fills with water, tilts, empties itself, and then tilts again with a clap on a rock. The device is called shishi-odoshi. The hollow sound, occurring about every two minutes, is very pleasing to Japanese garden enthusiasts, but the device was created centuries ago to scare wild boars away from the vegetation near mountain streams. Eventually, it was used in gardens to discourage deer and birds. 

 


Tsukubai water basin
In Switzerland, Roman & Daniela Jost supply a wide range of stone lantern to customers in Switzerland and neighboring countries. Roman & Daniela speak well English and will be pleased to assist you finding the right lantern. 

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This page was last updated March 2015


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