Izumo Stone Lanterns are stone sculptures with unique technics


Stone lanterns are an integral part of Japanese gardens

Izumo stone lanterns refer to lanterns made in Shimane Prefecture. When you think of lanterns, you will imagine tools for lighting, such as lantern made with paper or bamboo lightning, but Izumo stone lanterns are among those made of stone. They are not used to light the inside of a house, but rather are placed in gardens and other places. By adding the contrast of stones in a Japanese garden with a lot of greenery, you can create a space where you can feel the wabi-sabi.

Kimachi-ishi, the stone used to make these lanterns, is easily covered with moss and fits in well with Japanese gardens. Although there are many areas where stone lanterns are made, there are probably only a few crafts that use rare stones such as kimachi-ishi.

Features of  Izumo Stone lanterns

Izumo stone lanterns are made by making a mold as a base, combining the parts, and then carving them. Carving is very popular in Japan, and there are a variety of small traditional crafts such as Inami wood carving, Koshu crystal work, and Ichi-itto carving. Izumo stone lanterns come in a variety of sizes and designs, and each piece has its own unique atmosphere. One of the main points is the graceful beauty that is typical of traditional Japanese crafts, and the exquisite contrast between the stone and moss can be enjoyed.

Japanese garden with Izumo stone lantern
Chisen garden from SHIKINOBI

The blue-gray color of freshly quarried stones changes to grayish-brown with time, creating an atmosphere that transcends the passage of time. It is said that “Sen no Rikyu”, a master of the tea ceremony of “Wabi and Sabi,” was fascinated by this scene. Japanese gardens are essential to the Japanese tea culture, and Izumo stone lanterns have played a role in this culture.

History and Origins

The history of Izumo stone lanterns is long, and it is said that the first Izumo stone lanterns were made in the Nara period (710-794). In the Nara and Heian periods, stone lanterns were not made of Kimachi-stone as they are today, but of sandstone and lizard stone, which were formed when volcanic ash fell to the ground and hardened.

In the Edo period (1603-1867), stone lanterns made of Kimachi-stone, as seen today, were made. Stone lanterns made after the Edo period are characterized by their high durability. Some of the pieces made in those days still remain today.

Izumo stone lanterns were recognized by the Matsue Domain during the Edo period and designated as “Otome-stone. Otome-stone refers to stone lanterns that cannot be sold or taken out of the domain without the permission of the lord of the domain, indicating that the stone lanterns were of such high quality that no one wanted them in other people’s hands.

Izumo stone lantern
Kogei Japan

In 1976, it became the first stonework product to be designated as a traditional handicraft.

Izumo stone lanterns, whose production began to flourish in the Edo period (1603-1867), were the first stone lanterns to be designated as a traditional handicraft by the Japanese government. Even after its designation as a traditional handicraft, Izumo stone lanterns continued to gain momentum, and many more are still being produced today.

Manufacturing Method and Process

1. Original Stones

Kimachi-ishi” is the raw stone produced from a sandstone layer that stretches approximately 10 km from east to west, mainly in the Kimachi-area of Shishi-cho, from Tamayu-cho to Shishimi-cho in Matsue City. Kimachi-ishi is a tuffaceous sandstone with fine grains, which is easy to process and has an attractive color that blends well with gardens. The best quality stones are used as raw materials for Izumo stone lanterns.

2. Katazukuri (mold making)

The raw stones are cut out, and each mold is made using tools such as a hatchet, pickaxe, chopsticks, and three blades. Roundness, slope, ridges, etc., are balanced to create soft curves and beautiful shapes.

3. Joining

The joints, except for the kasa and the hibukuro, are joined using the “maru-hozo” method, which is based on a certain ratio. The “rounded dowel” is a round projection made in the other material to fit into a hole drilled in the material to hold the joint in place, and the hole and projection are joined together.

4. Carving

Stone lanterns are carved and decorated. The carving method is determined according to the pattern to be carved, and the chisel is used to carve in “Uki,” “Suji,” “Sukashi,” or “Maru” according to a certain standard for size division.

  •  Uki-carving – clouds, deer, maple leaves, dragons, girders, and herons are carved. 
  • Suji-carving –  dragons, waves, kato, rope patterns, fans, and pine trees are carved. 
  • Sukashi-carving – half-moon, full moon, bats, windows, gourds, wells, and ring differences are carved.
  • Maru-carving –  a monkey and an owl.
Japanese garden with Izumo stone lanterns

5. Finishing

After carving, the surface of the stone lantern is finished using special tools. The finishing methods include “polishing-Finishing,” “Tsutsuri-finishing,” “Tataki-finishing,” “Gangan-finishing,” or “Naguri-finishing. The surface of the stone of the lantern may be smooth, granular, or even, or it may be shark skin or rough stone, depending on the harmony of the entire piece.

6. Overall Harmony

Izumo stone lanterns come in many shapes and forms, but it is important that the lantern’s originality be preserved even in various forms. The stone lanterns are created to have soft curves, to be in harmony with the entire piece, and to blend in with the garden and nature. Only when the stone lantern has a graceful and exquisite appearance and is in harmony with its surroundings can it be approved as an Izumo stone lantern.

stone lantern

Key point

The characteristics of the stone used make it easy for moss to grow on it, and it is popular as a stone art object because of its ability to blend in quietly with a garden. The unique technique of Izumo stone lanterns, which have been influenced by Buddhist art and garden crafts throughout their long history, and their graceful elegance with aesthetic harmony are also the reasons why they are widely used in gardens throughout Japan. This is also the reason why many households with Japanese-style gardens use stone lanterns even though the number of Western-style houses has increased in recent years.


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