Picture a small, dirt yard brimming with traditional Japanese hand-carved granite lanterns in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the year 1989. Picture the owner of this small business, who has just returned from a life-changing trip to Japan, and who envisions a show-stopping, landscaped garden gallery full of running fountains, lanterns, water basins, benches and a koy pond, complete with blooming water lilies and a granite bridge.
Fast-forward to 2011.
Not only did his vision of a lush, outdoor display garden come true, but by 1993 his design concepts for functional sculpture for the kitchen & bath also took off. Think pedestal sinks carved from multi-colored onyx and massive, solid stone bathtubs weighing 1,800 pounds.
Here we are, 22 years later, and our garden brochure has gone from looking like this to this:
So why are Japanese Lanterns, along with other traditional garden elements, so darned enchanting? Let’s take a closer look.
1. Ornament and Tradition |
Traditional bronze Japanese temple lanterns in Kyoto, Japan | Photo by Carl Parkes
of San Francisco, CA
The temples and shrines of Japan used lanterns made in bronze, iron, and stone to hold votive candles as a decorative, spiritual, and symbolic element in these sacred spaces as early as 6th Century AD. These traditional lanterns weren’t meant to provide functional light for pathways, but as the Japanese tea ceremony
started to develop in the 16th Century AD, they were borrowed and placed in the garden for ambiance and reference to transcendence.
Opinions vary as to whether tea ceremonies were regularly practiced during daytime or night-time hours, but most sources agree that the evolution of the stone garden lantern design resulted from tea masters seeking elements for the environment where they would practice. It was important that these items be in keeping with the concepts of transformation and “wabi-sabi”, or the aesthetic that embraces finding beauty in imperfection and impermanence. This speaks directly to the desire to be surrounded by objects from the natural world, made of natural materials. Sukiya Living Magazine suggests that some tea masters “may have sought a subtle, slightly ‘man-made-looking’ lighted object to distinguish the mood of the tea garden from that of a dark and raw mountainside” but bring up tea master Soh’hen Yamada’s comment that “lanterns are not street lights”, explaining that appearance was far more important than functionality, and that other sources of light, such as torches or hanging paper lamps, were used to light these spaces.
2. Beauty and Design |
Types of Japanese Stone Lanterns | A Japanese Touch for your Garden | Drawings by author Kiyoshi Seike
Stone lanterns are carved in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. The book A Japanese Touch for Your Garden presents a general classification of the more well-known styles under these categories:
-Tachi-gata | Pedestal Lanterns: Larger, show-stoppers, usually comprised of about six stacked pieces, feature a base pedestal. The Stone Forest lanterns inspired by this type of style are:
–Ikekomi-gata | Buried Lanterns:
Lack base pedestals, so they are buried directly into the ground like emerging light posts, but still boast height. As the image shows, some mimic the complexity of the pedestal lantern, while others have a simpler, less ornate design. The Stone Forest lanterns inspired by this type of style are:
–Oki-gata | Small, Set Lanterns: Small, low, subtle, and often placed “on the edge of a pond, at the side of a path, or in very small courtyard gardens.” The Stone Forest lanterns inspired by this type of style are:
–Yukimi-gata | Snow-Viewing Lanterns: Elegant with open legs and wide roofs that are usually round or hexagonal in shape. Usually placed “near water elements”, and “so named because of the delicate way they hold snow on the roof.” The Stone Forest lanterns inspired by this type of style are:
An interesting tidbit | The beige granite lantern on the left, and the two blue-grey lanterns on the right are called “Yukimi” lanterns. Sukiya Living Magazine explains that it is “related to the term uku, which means ‘to float’,” and refers to the idea that the reflection ‘floats’ on the water’s surface. Contrary to popular belief, Sukiya Living Magazine argues that the word yukimi is not related to snow at all, and that it’s Japanese characters were misinterpreted. “Yukimi style lanterns have always been used in sub-tropical regions where it never snows, and they are not used in tea gardens- a garden style famous for its expression of winter beauty. At the same time, there are countless examples of yukimi lanterns being used correctly at the water’s edge, displaying their light, cheerful, and ‘floating’ character.”
3. Functionality and Placement |
Although traditional Japanese stone lanterns were not designed with the intention of providing enough light for seeing at night, Western civilization has often adapted these designs to provide functional lighting. “In Japan putting an electric light bulb in your stone lantern might be seen as somewhat humorous,” writes Sukiya Living Magazine. Indeed, you’ll find that most U.S. Japanese Gardens or private enthusiasts are more likely to point a spotlight toward the stone lantern so that it can be admired, versus installing bulbs or candles inside.
Here at Stone Forest, we core-drill most of our lantern designs to accommodate electrical wiring so that you can choose how you use them. You’ll find that our few exceptions to drilling are the more ornate pieces, like the Kotoji, which don’t take the drilling due to their shape, delicate size, or overall design. Since we are “core” drilling, the hole is hiding on the interior of the piece, so it’s not a hindrance to the overall appearance.
Assembly is also important to stone lantern display. Sukiya Living Magazine explains the names and positioning of the different sections of a large stone pedestal-style lantern, all carved carefully for balance and easier moving. We’ll use our Kasuga lantern here as a visual reference:
You can see that the small set and snow-viewing style lanterns have similar sections at a smaller scale (shown in part 2, above). Stone Forest’s buried-style lanterns have extra length in the post for anchoring in soil or cement. When installing in soil, pack rocks tightly around the buried base. Bonding the individual pieces together with an epoxy is optional, and provides further stability.
So which design would you choose?
Once you make the big decision on which type of stone lantern(s) would show best in your space, you’ll want to find the perfect spot to showcase it. Nowadays, with a seemingly endless array of options for landscaping style & materials and electrical resources & aesthetics, the residential garden is a blank canvas to be colored for your enjoyment. No rules! Since we are adopting and adapting a centuries-old tradition, it’s nice to reflect upon the evolution of stone lantern placement, and perhaps incorporate some of these ideals.
Sukiya Living Magazine explains that in Japanese tradition, “although stone lanterns are ornaments, they are often positioned in spots where they appear to be useful or at least usable. This practice is intended to remind visitors about graceful living and the wabi lifestyle.” This etiquette dissolved when the tea ceremony began incorporating more and more decorative elements into the space, and “tea style and tea taste spread into society.” Suddenly, lanterns were deemed worthy of being the focal point in a garden view instead of blending into their surroundings. Indeed!
4. Personal Experience and Preservation |
All images in this section taken by John Kinkade
John Kinkade, owner of Columbine Gallery
in Loveland, CO and Executive Director of the National Sculptors’ Guild, took a trip to Japan in December of 2010 to visit his son, who moved there to teach English. They connected in Kyoto, and embarked on a two week trek through the shrines, temples, castles and ancient cities of southern Honshu Island and the Island of Kyushu. “I was especially interested in experiencing the landscape architecture of Japan’s gardens,” says Kinkade, who participates in design teams that collaborate for the placement of public art throughout the United States, including the one-acre sculpture garden on grounds at Columbine, which serves as the host to the NSG’s incredible collection, or as he calls it “his pride and joy.”
Placed throughout these landscapes that Kinkade visited were thousands of stone lanterns. Their first stop was the Shinto Shrine of Fushimi Inari, known for its 10,000 bright orange torii gates
at the entrance. Kinkade recalls, “I was surprised to also discover the first of many paths lined by stone lanterns. This is where I learned that during festivals and ceremonies rice paper is cut to fit the windows in the stone lanterns to increase the reflection of the candles placed inside them. This isn’t done with any permanence and these paper lenses soon blow away or fall from the lanterns, but for one perfect evening or event, the glow is magical.”
After continual touring, Kinkade says that one of the most memorable stops on his trip was Iso-Teien, which is located in the city of Kagoshima. In 1658 (and expanded to its present form in 1848), Shimazu Mitsuhisa, ruler of this region, created his grand villa and gardens “to encompass the view of the Kinko Bay in the foreground and the towering volcano Sakur-jima on the far side of the bay. Perhaps the most striking of the hundreds of Iso-Teien lantern designs is the monolithic Lion Lantern, which sits near the restored villa at the top of an outcropping of natural stone silhouetted against the bay.” Kinkade explains that the “roof” of this lantern alone measured at least 6 x 10 feet!
Kinkade says that he is looking forward to a return exploration of this land and culture. “I draw design elements into our projects almost every day that are influenced by what I saw and experienced in Japan. And yes, the National Sculptors’ Guild Garden has seen some [inspired] changes as well.”
So here we are today, continuing to carve stone lanterns, from classic to contemporary. The integrity of granite gives Stone Forest carvings a material presence not realized using man-made materials such as cement or cast stone, making our pieces a timeless investment to be cherished and passed down for years to come. Since each piece is hand carved using hammer and chisel, the individual character of the rock as well as the inspiration of the stone cutter lend each sculpture a unique quality. Collected by enthusiasts, botanical gardens, and U.S. Japanese Gardens
, our traditional Japanese stone lanterns are made to exacting Japanese specifications, and can be custom-carved in any style at your request.
“We still carve some designs from our original collection from over 20 years ago,” says owner Michael Zimber. “One of our unifying themes is that we work with all natural materials. The other is ‘less is more’. We want to emphasize the underlying natural materials over the design.”
Itoh, Teiji. Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden. John Weatherhill, Inc: © 1973. “To Capture with a Stone Lantern.” Pgs 54-56.
Kinkade, John. Owner of Columbine Gallery in Loveland, CO | Executive Director of the National Sculptor’s Guild. Written interview.
Parkes, Carl/FriskoDude of San Francisco, CA. Source for image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/friskodude/1188078/. Further information: http://friskodude.blogspot.com/
Roth, Douglas M. Sukiya Living Magazine, The Journal of Japanese Gardening. © 2010. March/April issue, No. 74. “Why JGardens Aren’t Lit…and why we don’t put bulbs in stone lanterns.” Pgs 20-27.
Roth, Douglas M. Sukiya Living Magazine, The Journal of Japanese Gardening. © 2009. November/December issue, No. 72. “Yukimi Placement.” Pgs 18-19.
Roth, Douglas M. Sukiya Living Magazine, The Journal of Japanese Gardening. © 2008. September/October issue, No. 65. “Lantern Assembly.” Pg 21.
Seike, Kiyoshi, Masanobu Kudo and David H. Engel. A Japanese Touch for Your Garden. Kodansha International Ltd: © 2008. “Stone Lanterns and More: The Legacy of Tea.” Pgs 54-59.
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi