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Stone lanterns have a long and historical association with Japanese garden design. If you are creating a Japanese garden, a stone lantern really isn’t something you can do without!
The most famous Japanese gardens are set within expansive landscapes, consequently they can be challenging for small gardens to replicate. Therefore, traditional features such as Japanese stone lanterns can give smaller gardens an essential and authentic flavour.
These lanterns can be used to light up specific features or act as a glowing ornament. Here I will summarise the use of lanterns within Japanese gardens and list some currently available on the market.
History of Japanese lanterns
Decorative, stone, lanterns were a concept which originally spread to Japan from China. These lanterns were used to illuminate outdoor pathways around Buddhist temples and shrines.
It was believed these lanterns symbolised the path of spiritual enlightenment through darkness.
Such lanterns were also seen as a sacred offering to Buddha and had a spiritual significance.
The idea of light within darkness has long been adopted by many religious practices worldwide. This can be seen with the extensive and traditional use of candles within religious ceremony.
Japanese lanterns were later adopted by Shinto shrines. Eventually these also become familiar around people’s homes and private gardens.
Importance of Japanese stone lanterns in garden design
Stone lanterns have a strong, spiritual and cultural significance in Japan. Historically lanterns have been associated with religious symbolism, festivals and periods of cultural celebration.
Therefore, lanterns have a strong, hierarchical, component to their use within gardens.
Lanterns are typically used to mark places of significance or within a location a traveller is encouraged to pause.
This can be seen when stone lanterns adjoin locations with important or aesthetic views. As well as cultural importance Japanese lanterns also have a functional use.
They are used to illuminate pathways and provide light to important spaces.
Japanese gardens traditionally seek to condense the aesthetic properties of the natural landscape into gardens.
This can be observed by their use of boulders, mounds, waterfalls, ponds and clipped, bonsai like, trees. This idea of creating a ‘microcosm’ of the wider landscape is very typical in East Asian landscape design.
This is why Japanese, stone, lanterns have been sculpted to resemble buildings, shrines and temples. Their classic roofs are designed to resemble buildings within the landscape and protect the light itself from snow.
Japanese lanterns are often strategically placed providing contrast between manmade and natural elements.
Over the centuries Japanese lanterns have become a sculptural art form with a high ornamental value. This has led them to become a thing of decoration as well as an integral part of Japanese garden design.
A long history combined with spiritual, spatial and aesthetic qualities have made stone lanterns a very important component of Japanese style gardens.
Consequently they have become a 'must have ornament' for anyone creating a Japanese garden.
Types of Japanese garden lanterns
Yukimi gata lantern
This traditional, Japanese, lantern has a broad roof to keep off snow and a low profile. It has been traditionally used to anchor the landscape around large bodies of water.
Typically made of dense, granite this lantern has a tall body and a pointed top. Easily recognisable by their large base these lanterns were designed to imitate historical temple lanterns.
Also known as the ‘buried lanterns’ these lanterns were buried deeply into the ground. This was to create a permanent installation to light up pathways and other features such as tea houses.
This lantern design was influenced by lanterns around the Kasuga shrine in Nara, Japan. The lantern is traditionally made out of stone and comes in six pieces.
It can be used to illuminate patios, pathways and other garden features.
This lantern is named after a well known tea master who designed it in the 16th century. These are well known for their asymmetrical and informal design. They are regularly sited around tea houses.
Toro lanterns are a traditional stone lantern with a design of Chinese origin. These simple lanterns can either be sited on a long cylindrical or low platform base.
The top of the lantern is often decorated with a locus flower or other flower bud.
5 Japanese garden lanterns to buy
Below I have listed some traditional looking Japanese garden lanterns available on Amazon.com, Click on images for more details
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Hyde Heath, Amersham, Buckinghamshire