Stone lanterns and their use in Japanese gardens.


Stone lanterns and their use in Japanese gardens

by Josiah Conder

STANDARD Lanterns form an important feature of all Japanese gardens. It is recorded that the first stone lantern constructed in Japan was erected in the beginning of the seventh century by Prince Iruhiko, son of the Emperor Suiko, at a solitary lake-side spot in the province of Kawachi, as a protection against robbers by whom the locality was infested. It was afterwards removed to the grounds of the temple of Tachibana in Yamato, founded by Shotoku-Taishi. Whether or not this popular story be true, it seems, anyhow, certain that the stone Standard Lantern is of purely Japanese origin.

Torii, Miyajima, Japan,
The Torii at Miyajima

In China, from which country many ideas in gardening were introduced, this particular kind of garden ornament is not to be found. From early times it has been customary in Japan to present Lanterns of stone or bronze to Buddhist temples for the purpose of adorning the courts and paved approaches. The grounds of all the important shrines and mausolea possess large numbers—sometimes amounting to several thousands—which, in many cases, have been brought from great distances as votive offerings from princes and nobles. They vary from six feet to eighteen feet in height, and are arranged in rows and avenues on either side of the paved or gravelled courts. Some authorities state that the use of stone Lanterns as garden ornaments dates from the introduction of the Tea Ceremonies.

Garden Lanterns are used singly in combination with rocks, shrubs, trees, fences, and water-basins. It is an imperative rule that they should harmonise in scale and character with the adjacent buildings and with the magnitude and elaboration of the garden.

The usual positions selected are: at the base of a hill, on an island, on the banks of a lake, near a well, and at the side of a water-basin. The primary intention of introducing such lanterns into landscape gardening is not to illuminate the grounds, but to form architectural ornaments contrasting agreeably with the natural features. In ordinary grounds they are only occasionally seen lighted at night, and even when thus used the object seems rather to produce a dim and mysterious glow, than to render objects distinctly visible; to obscure the light still more, leafy shrubs and trees are always planted close by.

The idea of placing them on the border of a lake or stream is that their reddish light may be reflected in the water. The important place which stone Standard Lanterns take in even the simplest designs may be gathered from Fig. 13, representing a small garden belonging to the Zuiun-In, attached to the temple of Mioshinji in Kioto.

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Fig. 13 Standard Lantern. Zuiun-In, Temple of Mioshinji in Kioto

The ordinary material for these ornaments is granite or syenite, of which rocks many varieties exist in Japan. Muzkage Stone from the province of Settsu, Shirakawa Stone from the province of Yamashiro, Kido Stone from the province of Omi, and a kind of rock from Tamba, are much used.

Stone Lanterns are chiefly valued in proportion to their age, and various devices are employed for imparting an antiquated appearance to new specimens. Those rendered weather-worn by long exposure to the elements are mostly brought from old country temples and mountain shrines, and are in special demand. A fictitious age is given to new Lanterns by attaching, with a gummy solution, patches of green moss, and by fixing to them decayed leaves by means of bird-lime, or by ‘smearing them with the slime of snails; after either of which processes they are kept in the shade and frequently wetted. The result of these methods is to produce on the stone a white lichen and other fungous growths.

Garden Lanterns may be broadly divided into two classes, namely,—the Standard class, and the Legged class; besides which there are other fancy shapes occasionally employed. The original model for Standard Lanterns dates back from the Ashikaga period, and goes by the name of the “Kasuga Shape,” after a Shinto deity to whom one of the ancient temples at Nara is dedicated.

The “Kasuga Shape” Lantern has a high cylindrical standard with a small annulet in the centre, erected on a base and plinth of hexagonal plan, and supporting an hexagonal head crowned with a stone roof of double curve, having corner scrolls. The top is surmounted with a ball drawn to a point above.

The head of the Lantern, which is technically called the “Firebox” (Hibukuro), is hollowed out, two of its faces having a square opening large enough to admit an oil lamp; and the remaining four sides being carved respectively with representations of a stag, a doe, the sun, and the moon. Enrichments are also applied to the mouldings of the base and fire-box.

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Plate 5. Different types of Japanese stone lanterns

The following are examples much resembling the “Kasuga Shape”:—

  • “Lemon Tree Shape” (Yu-no-ki-gata),— somewhat ruder and simpler in style than the above, with no annulet to the shaft, and with a cap of flat mushroom-shape instead of the double curved form.
  • “Nigatsu-Do Shape,” — named after another ancient temple, and differing from the “Kasuga Shape” in having the cylindrical standard hollowed out from its central annulet in two flat concavities. The carving is also simpler in character.
  • “Shiratayu Shape,” — named after a class of Shinto officials, and distinguishable from the “Kasuga Shape” only in the details of its mouldings and carved enrichments. The subjects represented on the faces of its six-sided fire-box are the sun, the moon, a pine tree, a plum tree, and clouds, supposed in combination to convey some poetical suggestion. It has a circular carved base resting on a rough natural stone.
  • “Uzumasa Shape,” — named after the locality of a famous temple called Koriuji at Saga in the province of Yamashiro, and peculiar for its pyramidal roof of square plan, covering an octagonal head supported upon a cylindrical pillar. It has a broad circular base and no carving. This must not be confounded with the “Uzumasa Owl Shape” which is similar to the “Nigatsu-Do Shape” with the exception that it bears the carving of an owl on one of its faces, in historical reference to a romantic spot in Shinano where Fujiwara-no-Nagashige nightly listened to the cry of an owl.
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Plate 6. Different types of Japanese stone lanterns

Belonging to the Standard Lantern class, but of somewhat different forms from the above, are the following:—

  • “Shrine Shape” (Miya-gata),—which has an oblong standard with moulded base and neck, supporting a square head covered by a projecting pyramidal roof and resembling the outline of a primitive Japanese temple. The similarity is further assisted by hollowing out and cutting away two of the square sides of the head, so as to leave only a slender stone pillar at one corner, two faces remaining solid and having their surfaces carved. Examples may frequently be seen in which the squarefire-box is of wood, the supporting pillar, and even the superincumbent roof, being of stone.
  • “Enshiu Shape,”—named after the famous philosopher Enshiu, who is supposed to have invented it. It is somewhat like the ordinary “Kasuga Shape,” except in its peculiar proportions. The cylindrical standard is short, and the head and roof are abnormally elongated, giving the top somewhat the appearance of a high Welsh cap, and to the Japanese suggestive of the long cranium of Fukurokujiu one of the Gods of Fortune. There are two forms of this Lantern slightly different in shape and style of finish.
  • “Rikiu Shape,”— invented by Sen-no-Rikiu, has a slightly hollowed standard carrying a drum-like head crowned with a wide mushroom-shaped roof.
  • “Showo Shape,”—named after another Chajin, has a globular fire-box with a flat saucer-shaped cap, and is supported on a high trumpet-like standard, broader above than below.
  • The “Soeki Shape,” and “Sowa Shape,” are rude imitations of the “Kasuga Shape” and “Shrine Shape,” and bear the names of their inventors.
  • The “Lucky Shape” (Uraku-gata),—has a globular head with a mushroom-like covering, and a short cylindrical standard. It is very rude and simple in form.
  • “Oribe Shape” is named after the philosopher Furuta Oribe, and used to decorate his tomb. It has a square fire-box in the form of a temple and similar to the “Shrine Shape,” supported upon an oblong standard with no base, the lower part of the shaft having its corners hollowed out in two deep chamfers. On one face of the standard a representation of a Buddhist saint is carved.
  • “Planet Shape,” (Shuko-gata),—a somewhat simplified form of the above, the wider portion of the chamfered standard forming itself the head of the Lantern, and being hollowed out at one corner in an oblong opening. It is crowned by a flat mushroom-shaped roof and a ball.
  • “Mile-post Shape” (Michi-shirabe-gata),—consists simply of an oblong stone pillar with a cap of very slight projection ending in a flattened pyramid. The shape is copied from the ordinary wooden bridge-newel or gate-post, covered with a metal cap. It has an oblong lamp hole on one side, just below the head, and an inscription is carved on one of the other faces.
  • “Daibutsu Shape,”—named after the temple of Daibutsu, in Kioto, It has a square fire-box ‘with projecting roof of flat slope, and is supported upon a very high oblong stone standard with no base. It resembles more a lamp-post than an ordinary Lantern.
  • “Dragon Shape” (Rioto-gata),—has a globular fire-box with ogee roof and moulded necking, supported upon an attenuated stone pillar of wavy shape and great length, which is supposed to resemble the body of a dragon. It is generally placed beside a high tree.
  • “Valley Lantern” (Rankei-gata),—of peculiar shape, attributed to the invention of the artist Taishin. It has an hexagonal or octagonal head covered with a curved roof of the ordinary “Kasuga” form, carried upon a slender arched stone strut, dowelled at the bottom into a flat boulder from which it springs. This form has a quaint and unstable appearance, and is not often used, but when introduced in gardening it is placed on the border of a lake, so as to project over the water, with the crooked branch of a low pine tree trained over it.
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Plate 7. Different types of Japanese stone lanterns

Before leaving the subject of Standard Lanterns, mention may be made of certain lamp-posts which belong more to this class than to any other. They are employed on garden roads or in passage-gardens, chiefly adjacent to the summerhouses and resting-sheds of Tea Rooms, and consist of square or wedge-shaped wooden lanterns covered with roofs of board or thatch and carried on high posts.

They are quite rustic in character and are named as follow:—

  • “Who-goes-there? Shape.” (Tasoya-gata),—is square in plan, wider at the top than below, and covered by a gable roof of boards. Its sides are filled in with paper doors and it is supported on brackets attached to a slender square post. It derives this peculiar name from its faint light by which the outline of forms can vaguely be distinguished.
  • “The Thatched Hut Shape,” (Tomaya-gata),—the head of which resembles a small thatched cottage, and is carried on brackets attached to a high post.

The class of Garden Lanterns previously referred to under the term of Legged Lanterns are also known by the distinguishing name of “Snow-scene” Lanterns (Yukimi-doro), on account of the important part they assume during snow time. They are very wide in proportion to their height and are invariably covered by a large umbrella-shaped roof or cap, forming a broad surface to receive snow.

The Japanese regard snow scenery as one of the floral displays of the year, and a snow clad garden is always looked upon with great pleasure. These “Snow-scene” Lanterns are mostly overshadowed by the crooked branch of some evergreen, and form, together with the surrounding foliage, a most picturesque group after a fall of snow.

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Plate X. Different types of Japanese stone lanterns.

They have no standard, but their spherical, square, or octagonal heads are supported upon arched legs, crowned with broad mushroom-shaped coverings, resembling the large rush hats worn by the farmers, and surmounted by a bud-shaped ball.

The different varieties are distinguished by the number of legs, the principal being:—

  • “The Three-legged Shape” (Mitsuashi-gata),—sometimes called the “Yedo Shape,” because most common in the Yedo (Tokio) district,—has an hexagonal body with wide umbrella-like roof supported on three curved legs, like quadrants.
  • “The Four-legged Shape” (Yotsuashi-gata),—common in Osaka and Kioto, very similar to the above, but having four legs instead of three, and covered with a roof of hexagonal plan and double curve.
  • “The Six-legged Shape” (Mutsuashi-gata),—having six curved legs, an hexagonal head, and umbrella-shaped roof.

Sometimes the six or eight-sided heads are rounded above and below so as to approach to a spherical shape, and occasionally the form becomes completely globular. The head, or fire-box, is hollowed out at the side, with openings either square, circular, crescent-shaped, or cusped. A fancy prevails for making such Lanterns of rough unhewn stones, selected to resemble as much as possible the normal shapes, which results in a curious rustic construction. Cases also exist in which wrought stones and natural stones occur in combination.

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Plate XX. garden fences and lanterns.

A peculiar kind of stone Lantern, belonging to the “Snow-scene” class, consists of the head and cap alone, without legs, placed upon a low rude stone. This is called the “Crouching Lantern” (Tsukubat-doro), and it is generally erected near a very low water-basin, called the “Crouching Water-basin” (Tsukubat-chozubachi), and used specially in Tea-Gardens.

Hanging Lanterns of bronze are often suspended by a chain from the verandah eaves of a house or Tea Room, over the garden water-basin, which is placed close by. These are of various design, made in antiquated bronze or iron. The principal Lanterns are illustrated in Plates V., VI., VII., X., and XX.

Bronze Standard Lanterns, such as abound in the courts of temples are seldom introduced into orthodox Japanese gardens. In certain modern gardens they may be seen, as also bronze images obtained from demolished or despoiled temples. When treated as garden ornaments they have generally been so installed by the foreign purchaser.

Standard Lanterns of porcelain have also lately come into use, but whatever may be their value as successful specimens of ceramic art, their decorative appearance ill accords in character with natural scenery, and they are not, therefore, considered desirable ornaments in correct landscape gardening. Natural stones are generally introduced in the vicinity of stone Standard Lanterns, the method of arrangement being similar to that followed in grouping rocks alone,—as already described on page 46,— the Lantern itself occupying the place of the “Statue Stone” in such combinations. One of the adjacent stones, called the “Lamp-lighting Stone” (Tenkwa-sekt), is employed for the purpose of reaching the fire-box of the Lantern, and is made higher than the adjacent “Stepping Stones,” being often of a double-stepped form.

Source: Landscape Gardening in Japan by Josiah Conder (1852-1920); Kengo Ogawa. Tokio: Kelly and Walsh, 1893.

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