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The History of Japanese Stone Lanterns

Posted by on October 13, 2014 . 0 Comments.

As with much of Japanese traditional architecture, the stone lantern was originally from China, but very few still exist in that country today.  In Japan, they were first only used in Buddhist temples for illumination, where the lit lantern was considered an offering to Buddha.  Beginning in the 8th century, the stone lantern was used in Shinto shrines as well as in private homes for religious purposes. 

It not until the late 1500s that stone lanterns became popular for use in the tea gardens of Japan.  Many new styles and types were developed to suit the needs of the tea masters.  For this purpose, as well as today, they were and are purely ornamental and are displayed along paths, near water or next to a building.

In its original form, the lantern's structure is meant to symbolize the five elements of Buddhism. Each piece connives the belief that after death, our bodies will return to its elemental form.

First comes the Kidan, a slab of rock occasionally present under the base, the Kiso, which is usually round or hexagonal and absent in a buried lantern.  Either together or signally, this bottom section, which touches the ground represents chi, the earth

Next comes the Sao, typically vertical and either circular or square or can be one to four arched legs (as seen in the Yukimi) and symbolizes sui or water.

The third section which represents fire or ka, is made up of three pieces. A platform, the Chūdai, supports the Hibukuro, or fire box.   While one or more of the elements may be missing or added, the Hibukuro is always present. Next up is the Kasa, a cone or pyramid shape with acts as a cover to the fire box. The corners may or may not turn down. 

Finally, pointing to the sky, first you will find the lotus shaped Ukebana, fu (air) supporting the onion-shaped finial, the  Hōju or hōshu, ku (sprit). 

Last update: October 13, 2014

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