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Japanese Lanterns

Decorative and functional lanterns

While travelling in Japan I first notice those things that we don’t have in my home country. One such thing I often come across are lanterns, but not the usual ones that light streets and yards, but rather decorative lanterns that are more akin to a sculpture or small architectural form.

To be honest, I've yet to see these lanterns lit. Many of them, especially garden lanterns, seem to be just for decoration, but perhaps they’re lit on special occasions. Many lanterns can be seen in temples and shrines – single ones as well rows of lanterns on the way to a temple. For sure in olden times those lanterns were lit with real flames, but now they are electric.

Lanterns are made of different materials, such as metal, natural stone, wood and some are cast with concrete. Very old stone lanterns are often covered with moss, such as those found in Nikko, and they are really fascinating. Metal lanterns with many intricate details made with great skill canbe found as beautiful decorations at temples. Lanterns may seem to be similar, but they differ by style, size, proportions and decorative elements.

There are standing and hanging types of lanterns. In Kyoto ball-shaped red lanterns are lit near houses where maiko perform. The lanterns look beautiful at night and seem to take you back in time. I bet those rows of lanterns in shrines like Kasuga Taisha or those standing along the way to the shrines of Takao-san are lit during New Year when Japanese people attend temples and shrines, but to date I've yet to have the chance to see them lit.

Decorative stone lanterns are a traditional element of any Japanese landscape garden. They provide a special accent of the landcape composition. They are beautiful things and if I had a garden with a lantern, I’d light it at night and watch its reflection in the water…

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Elizabeth S 4 years ago
Great photos!

Winters in Japan can be bitter cold, so spotting a lantern on a path or street is a little comfort.
Elena Lisina Author 4 years ago
I haven't visited Japan in winter time yet, but even in late March it WAS cold!
Kim 4 years ago
So many different types! All so beautiful! :)
Elena Lisina Author 4 years ago
Thank you! Yes, I'm always fascinated with them!

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