Everything You Need To Know About Japanese Stone Garden Lanterns


The experience of strolling in a Japanese garden is just like traveling within a landscape painting.

Dressed up with exquisite decorative items, the garden is overflowing with strong zen touch and healing tranquility.

One of the elements that greatly punctuate Japanese garden’s elegant accent is the stone garden lantern.

Artistically carved, Japanese stone garden lanterns stand in the yard just like guardians and beautifully display their oriental charms from day to night.

Here we will share more details about this intriguing item. Hopefully will broaden your view and better appreciate its beauty.

The History Of Japanese Stone Lantern

The earliest stone lanterns originated in China in ancient times when Buddhism flourished there.

It is an important practice in Buddhism to offer the light of a lamp to Buddha. The burning lamp represents Buddhist teaching, which help to sweep away the darkness and ignorance.

The stone lanterns were designed then to hold and protect the flames used to light the lamp.

With the introduction of Buddhism from China to Japan through Korean peninsula during Asuka Period (Japanese historical era, 538 – 645 AD), stone lantern and its fabricating techniques were spread there as well.

And it has become a convention of construction since Nara Period (Japanese historical era, 710–784 AD) to set one stone lantern in front of the temple to hold the fire offered to Buddha.

Stone Lanterns In Front Of The Temple

Most of the stone lanterns were fabricated with tuff at that time.

Due the material’s soft texture, lots of lanterns were seriouly weathered throughout long history, thus did not pass down to this day.

Stone Lantern In Taima-ji Temple
Stone Lantern In Taima-ji Temple

The oldest existing stone lantern is the one at Taima-ji Temple. It was built in early 8th century AD and is more than 1300-year-old now.

The widely adoption of stone lanterns in garden decoration started in Ashikaga period (Japanese historical era, 1573–1603 AD) , when Japanese tea ceremony and tea garden enjoyed brisk development.

The tea garden designer realized that the stone lantern could play an excellent role in illuminating the sinuous stepping stones in the tea houses.

Many stone lanterns in various designs were developed at that time to meet the different tastes of gardeners.

Nowadays, temples and Shinto shrines in Japan keeps a lot of stone lanterns. Apart from that, huge amount of lanterns find their way into the private residences and become an indispensable element for Japanese gardens.

By the way, many people are confused on the difference between temple and Shinto shrine.

Well, the basic difference between them is: Temple worships the Buddha, while Shinto shrine enshrines the nature spirits.

And all Shinto shrine features a particular element-Torri.


Torii designates holy ground and marks the boundary between secular world and heavenly world. Stepping into the Torri means your have left the real world and entered the Gods’ realm.

The Structure Of Japanese Stone Garden Lanterns

The gradually spread of stone lanterns from temples to gardens diversify their designs.

And different types of stone lanterns gets different structures.

The relatively complicated and traditional stone lantern generally would consist of 7 parts:

  • Jewel Finial
  • Roof
  • Light House
  • Middle Platform
  • Bamboo-Shape Pole
  • Pedestal
  • Bottom Base


And each part is composed of more detailed and various sub-parts.

The Classification Of Japanese Stone Garden Lanterns

Japanese stone craft industry do not have strict standard on the size and design of stone garden lanterns, thus stone lanterns fabricated in different regions and time periods varied in their styles.

Typically, the popular stone lanterns on the market could be classified in 5 styles as below:

♦ Kasuga Stone Lantern

Kusuga style stone lantern is one of the most ornate lanterns in Japan. It is rich in designs and constructions.

Basically, it embodys all the 7 parts that consist of a traditional and orthodox stone lantern.

Its prototype is kept in the famous Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Shrine), where massively keeps more than 2000 pieces stone lanterns.

Stone Lanterns In Kasuga Taisha

Connected with bamboo-shape pole, the middle platform and pedestal of this type stone lantern is engraved with lotus flower, which symbolize purified mind and wisdom in Buddhism.

Another feature that make it distinguishing is its hexahedral light house, with images of sacred Sikka deer carved on the walls.

Traditionally, Kusuga style stone lanterns are set alongside the path leading from entrance – Torri gate to Shinto shrines.

Kasuga Stone Lantern

They stand there just like guardians, protecting the areas and bringing serene touch to the space.

♦ Yukimi Stone Garden Lantern (Snow Viewing Stone Lantern)

Instead of supported with middle platform, pole and pedestal, Yukimi stone lantern is footed with three or four delicately carved legs.

While the construction of Yukimi stone lantern is simple, it has become the most popular stone craft for garden landscaping due to its quaint design and strongly overflowing zen touch.

And what mostly differentiate Yukimi stone lantern from other stone lantern types is its wide roof, which could be laid out in round, triangular, quadrangular, hexagonal or octagonal shape.

Yukimi Stone Garden Lantern

As its name implies, Yukimi stone lantern will look best in snowy days, especially on snowy nights, with fluffy snows piling on Japanese garden’s roof.

You can imagine how poetic it will look like with the warm light inside the lantern illuminating its surrounding snowy landscape in your garden.

♦ Rankei Stone Garden Lantern

Although stone lantern has been evolving for centuries with numerous designs popping out, it is not difficult at all for your to identify this lantern style.

Quite different from other standard lantern designs, Rankei stone garden lantern features only one elegant and curved leg with light house sitting on its top.

Rankei Stone Garden Lantern

Rankei stone lantern is specially designed for garden landscaping. Typically, it would be set by the small garden creek or pond.

Display by day as a gorgeous decoration, and at night flickering light radiates from the light house will cast shimmering radiance on the water surface.

♦ Kaliwatu Stone Garden Lantern

‘Kaliwatu’ gets the translation as river stone.

Instead of delicately carved as other lantern styles, Kliwatu stone lantern is fabricated with worn river rocks. Only its light chamber is engraved to house the light.

Kaliwatu Stone Garden Lantern

Kliwatu stone lantern brims with strong raw beauty and can blend well into the garden environment.

♦ Legless Stone Garden Lantern

Legless stone garden lantern would be the most simple lantern style.

It is consisted of jewel finial, roof, light house and sometimes also a thin platform.

Legless Stone Garden Lantern

Widely used in temples, shrines and garden for lighting paths, and areas near the water’s edge or buildings, legless stone lantern can add stylish accent to any space.

Japanese Stone Garden LanternWhich Stone Lantern Style Do your Like Most?

Originated in ancient China and enjoyed brisk development in Japan, the stone lantern was exclusive to temples and Shinto shrines at the earliest time.

While out of attraction by its captivating beauty, some talented gardeners gradually adopted them in garden landscaping. This practice has proven to be successful and trendy with stone lantern established as an indispensable element for Japanese garden.

Japanese stone garden lanterns have been evolving for centuries with numerous styles on the market to choose from.

So which stone lantern style do your prefer most? Welcome to chime in and share your ideas!

2 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Japanese Stone Garden Lanterns

  1. Hi,

    Interesting article, my girlfriend lived in Japan for a couple of years and one of the things she really enjoyed was walking around the gardens. She’s creating her own little one here in England, I’ll look at buying one of these for her a surprise to add to it. I’ll be checking your other articles as well for more tips.

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