Stone Lanterns in the Japanese garden

The next garden element on my list is the stone lantern.

Everyone knows the beautiful withered lanterns made of natural or hewn rocks. Today I want to talk about their origin and use in the Japanese garden.


Lanterns weren‘t always a garden element.

They were invented in a religious context during the Tang Dynasty in China. Daoists used lamps in altar rituals while Buddhists used them during a votive ritual. The Buddhist community, at some point, introduced stone lanterns as a manifestation of their lamp rituals. Later, the Daoist community built their own stone lanterns, following the Buddhist example.

During the Nara period (710 – 794), the predecessors of today’s stone lanterns were introduced from China via Korea through Buddhism into Japanese temples and during the Heian period (794 – 1185) also into shrines.
The probably most often seen type is the Kasuga lantern and its many variations. This lantern style originates from the Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

Nezu Museum in Tokyo
In Muromachi/Momoyama period (1336 – 1600, the lantern became popular in tea gardens/pathways leading to the teahouse as a functional element. They should brighten difficult parts of the paths or the tsukubai area. When the garden was large, like in Katsura Rikyu, the interest of the guests should be awakened by using many different styles of lanterns.

From the tea garden, the lantern made the jump into other garden forms and is now an integral part of the Japanese garden.

In China, however, stone lanterns are rare now while in Japan they are still a common sight. This is one of the examples of how Japan adopted elements from China, developed its own style, whereas in China the culture evolved in a different direction and this element can now be seen almost exclusively as Japanese.

Structure of a Lantern

Lantern parts

Crown gem 宝珠

Umbrella 笠

Firebox 火袋

Plattform 中台

Pole 竿





Standard shapes for umbrella, firebox, platform

sankakugata 三角形







kakugata 角形


rokkakugata 六角形







hakkakugata 八角形


engata 円形







Pole types











Base types




Lantern types

We can differentiate lanterns into two main groups. The hanging lanterns Tsuridourou 釣灯籠 which are usually made of metal. They are still commonly seen in Japanese shrines, hanging from the eaves of the roof.

Lantern in Nezu Museum
Replica in the Nezu Museum

The second group is standing lanterns, Daidourou 台灯籠 which are commonly made of stone (granite) or bronze. The bronze lanterns are famous for being an early lantern form. Among these, the most famous ones might be the bronze lanterns of Tokudai-ji temple in Nara. You can find a replica in the Nezu Museum in Tokyo. However, the most popular lanterns are made of stone. These are also the ones used in Japanese gardens.





A famous manufacturer of stone lanterns is situated in Okazaki Aichi prefecture where the lanterns are still hewn by hand. Sometimes, to make them look old, they are brought to the mountains for withering and establishing moss and sold later.

Among the stone lanterns, we find many popular types like

Kasuga Lantern
Kasuga 春日灯籠
A big lantern at exposed places or in the background partly hidden by trees. A true elemental lantern.


Oribe lantern
Oribe 織部灯籠

Smaller lanterns for tea gardens or lighting paths or elements we want to emphasize.



Christian キリシタン灯籠
Very similar to the Oribe lantern but with a cross or Virgin Mary at its base.


Yukimi doro
Yukimi 雪見灯籠
Placed near water or at very exposed places.


Sodegata Lantern
Sode-gata 袖形灯籠
This type is mainly for lighting paths and is middle-high.



Cape Lantern
Misaki Tōrō (cape) 岬灯籠
A small lantern is placed at a cape in a pond.



Oki dourou
Oki dōrō (small standing without pole
) 置き灯籠
A very small lantern is placed on a flat stone next to a path. They are so small they can be moved easily around.


Yama dourou

Yamadōrō 山灯籠
A natural-looking lantern (irregular shape) is placed in the background within the vegetation. There are high and middle-high types.

Kakudōrō square-shaped 角灯籠

There are many kinds of square-shaped lanterns but I want to introduce two of these because they are usually not placed in gardens. One type (left) looks similar to old, huge lanterns which were once used along roads to brighten these or as a lighthouse (right). However, these lanterns are smaller and placed in front of graves.

But there are many many more!

This article was first published on Patreon!

Katsura RikyuKatsura Rikyu
Stone lanterns of the Katsura Rikyu
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Shugaku-in Rikyu

Shūgaku-in Rikyū
The stone lanterns of Shugaku-in Rikyu
Available as PDF
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Sento GoshoSentō Gosho (Sentō Imperial Palace)
The stone lanterns of Sento Gosho
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Interesting reads: (Links are tied to the Amazon associates program)


Author: Toshio Sugimoto
Price: $33.02
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日本の石灯籠 (Japanese Stone Lanterns)

Author: Kenshiro Fukuchi
Price: ¥5000
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石燈籠の話 (About Stone Lanterns)

Author: 龍居庭園研究所
Price: ¥1980 (digital)
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