Japanese Lanterns: The Birth of Buddha’s Flame

For hundreds of years, Japanese lanterns have been an extremely prominent fixture of Japanese culture where these traditional forms of illumination have rapidly grown in popularity. The designs of these beautiful products have shifted into extremely distinct and different looks from their Chinese counterparts. With multiple purposes to them, Japanese lanterns play a big part in various festivals and celebrations that take place across the Japanese region. 

History of the Japanese Lanterns

In the 6th Century of the Asuku Period, stone lanterns were introduced to Japan by China to honor Buddha after Buddhism was introduced from the mainland of Asia. In Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism have been co-existing for hundreds of years, ever since the belief landed and it spread over the Asian continent. The strong link between religion and lanterns is the birth of a culturally significant mark. 

Cultural Importance

Japanese lanterns have become entwined with the culture in Japan. These lanterns are frequently associated with religious ceremonies, formal events and celebratory festivals. 

In Japanese culture, the different lanterns symbolise good fortune, joy, and longevity. The common law attached to the Ishidouru lanterns is that they are protectors from evil spirits. The flame within these Japanese lanterns is thought to be sacred as it represents fending off undesirable spirits.

Types of Japanese Lanterns 

The very first Japanese lantern was the Ishidouru. These are outdoor lanterns that tend to be located in gardens, and outside temples or pagodas. They represent the ancient architectural traditions rooted in thousands of generations of Japanese history. These lamps are made using stone, wooden or metal which all honor Buddhism. These types of Japanese lanterns are now cemented in Japanese history with the oldest  Ishidouru being situated in the Nara region of Japan.

Several other Garden Japanese lanterns have come about since the importation of lanterns into the Japanese culture. Japanese folk tend to have these lanterns in their gardens as they are known to protect homes and temples from evil spirits. 

The first significant Japanese lantern that has become iconic for Japanese culture, is the Chōchin lantern. This is seen outside of shrines and temples, and more commonly used to hang outside of Japanese bars and restaurants. These beautiful lanterns are also commonly used within business; showcasing the name of the company upon the striking, stretchy red washi paper in bold, black Shoji calligraphy. Businesses having these lanterns as a regular appearance outside their property brings togetherness to their neighbors and community. Chōchin lanterns are also thought to bring good fortune to the people and businesses they honor. 

The more modern Japanese lantern is the Andon – it’s literal meaning being ‘Lantern’. Typically used for interior purposes, these delicately crafted lanterns create magical atmospheres inside the buildings in which they are placed. The Andon Japanese lantern was the most popular indoor illumination device during the Edo period. Commonly created with a wooden frame and washi paper casing the framing, these lanterns can be considered developments of the Chōchin lantern or Bonbori lantern; both of which are similar in their design. 

Japanese Lantern Festivals 

You will often find Japanese lanterns as the focal point of many festivals and celebrations that take place across the numerous regions of Japan. 

The Toro Nagashi Festival is one of the major ceremonial events in the Japanese calendar, celebrated at the end of Obon. It is a beautifully haunting spectacle, tied with somber origins. The lanterns lit are thought to guide the spirits of lost loved ones home for a short period of time. It’s a common Japanese belief that all human life originates from water, and these meaningful flames represent the lost spirits returning to their aquatic home.

Arguably the biggest Japanese lantern festival in Japan is the Nagasaki Lantern Festival. This show-stopping event in Nagasaki City, is a nod to the strong links and connections China and Japan share. This is to celebrate the Chinese New Year which runs from the end of January to the beginning of February. This is a major winter event in both the Japanese and Chinese calendar. Yearly, it attracts over 1,000,000 people and is known to be an extremely colourful event. 

This festival, situated in Nagasaki City, nurtures a strong trading history with Japan. The lanterns featured throughout this event dress the city in vibrant colours of lighting, oozing the convivial culture of China.

These Japanese lanterns make for magnificent forms of light which are a stunning sight to see when you visit the country. At Atelier Japan, each and every single one of our unique products crafted by our traditional Japanese makers resonates with Japanese culture. While you’re here, why not take a browse of our handcrafted cultural pieces? https://www.atelierjapan.co.uk/

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