Origins and Styles of Japanese Stone Lanterns
Japanese gardens have a unique and timeless style. Designed with simplicity as a key concept, each element has a clear function and there is no useless clutter. Some of the most beautiful and yet functional features you can find in a traditional Japanese garden are ishidoro known as stone lanterns.
Stone lanterns have their origins in 6th century shrines. Small lanterns, usually made of cast iron, were used at these shrines both to light the entrances and as votive flames. This Chinese design was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks but towards the end of the 16th century the Japanese began to make it their own. The key figure behind this was Sen no Rikyu, a master of the famous Japanese tea ceremony.
Rikyu was renowned for taking everyday objects and incorporating them into his ceremonies, which were so highly thought of that he was once invited to arrange one for the emperor. He adopted lanterns in his usual creative way. Ceremonies were often held in a special teahouse in a garden, and in the evening some extra light was always welcome to show guests the way. Rikyu began placing lanterns to highlight the path. At first he used iron ones, but before long he had stone ones carved from granite or limestone to better match the simple, natural materials of the gardens. The new designs soon became an essential part of all the most beautiful gardens and they remain so today.
Japanese stone lanterns are an ideal way to add a touch of classic elegance to your own garden. By day they're attractive ornaments; place a candle, oil lamp or even an electric light in the chamber and by night they become centers of attention, softly illuminating the surrounding area and drawing the eye to the best features of your garden.
For best effect lanterns should be positioned carefully, always following the principles of simplicity and function. Each lantern should serve a purpose. That can be marking an entrance, showing a path or highlighting a particular point of interest. If you have a water feature that can be a perfect location - aim to place the lantern so that, when you look from your favorite spot, the light is reflected in the water below it.
Stone lanterns come in several different styles, each of which is ideal for specific purposes. The three basic types are Tachi-gata, which sit on a pedestal or base; Ikekomi-gata, mounted on buried pedestals; and Okidora, small lanterns that sit directly on the ground. Within these types there are many variations, and here are some of the most popular:
• Sangatsu-do are ornate pedestal lanterns traditionally used at the entrance of a temple or teahouse. They make great centerpieces. Kasuga are similar and are perfect for marking path intersections.
• Miyoshi are stone posts with a light chamber in the top, and usually a pyramidal stone roof above that. The post is buried in the ground. These are great at gates or along paths.
• Yukimi-gata means "snow viewing." They stand on carved legs and have a very wide, gently curved top. In winter snow settles on them, blending them perfectly into the landscape.
• Misaki-gata are small lanterns without a pedestal. They're perfect for highlighting features or marking paths. Just place one at each bend and every few yards along straight sections.
Each stone lantern is a unique piece, and will look stunning in the right setting. Whether your garden is a Japanese style or not these charming but practical objects will add a special touch to it.