Izumo stone lanterns Photo:Shimane Perfecture

Izumo stone lanterns Izumo ishidoro

Time-worn elegance casting a soft dreamy light
Mossy stone lanterns quietly blending into Japanese gardens


What is Izumo stone lanterns ?

Izumo Ishidoro are stone lanterns produced in the three cities of Sakai-Minato in Tottori Prefecture, and Matsue and Izumo in Shimane Prefecture. They are made of Kimachi stone, a fine-grained tuffaceous sandstone quarried from the Kimachi area of Shinji Town.
Izumo Stone Lanterns are distinguished by their profound presence and harmony with traditional Japanese gardens. The Kimachi stone is highly absorbent and mosses grow quickly; therefore, the stone works seem to absorb the garden’s atmosphere and effortlessly blend in with nature; they have long been appreciated as a way of expressing the quiet beauty of Japanese taste.
After many years, the stone color changes from the freshly quarried bluish gray to a subtle grayish brown; this aging is a much admired feature of the stone. It is said that the tea master Sen no Rikyu was captivated by gardens with Izumo Stone Lanterns, and so along with the spreading tea ceremony wabi sabi (quiet beauty) culture, stone lanterns too became increasingly popular throughout Japan. In addition to their aesthetic beauty they have good weather resistance to both hot and cold seasons, and even today, we can still find Izumo Stone Lanterns made in the Edo period. With a rich variety of shapes and types numbering some 130 or more, Izumo Stone Lanterns are widely appreciated even in present-day Japan.


The origins of Izumo Stone Lanterns date back to the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1192) periods when they were used as lights. In the early days granite was used and later, Kimachi stone, a tuffaceous sandstone, formed about 14 million years ago in the Izumo region, came to be used.
In the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1603), along with the growing popularity of the tea ceremony, Japanese gardens with a wabi sabi (quiet beauty) theme were increasingly in vogue, resulting in a demand for attractive stone lanterns harmonizing with the garden.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), the lord of the Matsue domain saw the economic value of the stone, and started using it as a construction material in the domain. More importantly, he prohibited the Kimachi stone leaving the domain and restricted quarrying of the stone; this policy was at once protective of the local industry and also compelled masons to settle in the area.
From the Meiji period (1868-1912) onward, stone lanterns came to be used not only for landscape architecture, but also for interior decoration, and today, with an increasing demand from overseas, Izumo Stone Lanterns have earned a high reputation as works of art.

General Production Process

Izumo stone lanterns - General Production Process Photo:Shimane Perfecture

  1. 1. Rough Stone Kimachi stone is quarried from a sandstone bed spreading some 20 km east and west from the Kimachi area of Shinji Town in Matsue City. It is a fine-grained easy-to-work tuffaceous sandstone with an attractive color tone which harmonizes well with gardens. Only the finest quality Kimachi stone is used to make Izumo Stone Lanterns.
  2. 2. Shaping The quarried rough stone is shaped using such tools as an adze, pickaxe, chisel, or three-blade tool. Each piece is carved to emphasize its soft curves and beautiful shapes, taking into account the overall balance of roundness, slopes, edge lines, and other elements.
  3. 3. Joining The joint sections, apart from the roof and light box, are jointed using round tenons in accordance with a prescribed ratio. The round tenon is a round cylinder of stone which fits into a matching round mortise hole.
  4. 4. Carving The stone lantern is decorated with engraving. Depending on the pattern or design to be carved, and in accordance with fixed standard dimensions and ratios, the following chisel carving techniques are applied for a particular motif style: embossed carving; line carving; openwork; or carving in the round.
    Embossed carving is stipulated for clouds, deer, Japanese maple leaves, dragons, beams, or herons. Line carving is used for dragons, waves, rope pattern, fans, or pine trees. Openwork is for a half moon, full moon, bats, windows, bottle gourds, double crosses, or interlaced circles, while carving in the round is used for monkeys or owls.
  5. 5. Finishing After carving, the surface of the stone lantern is finished with specialized tools. There are several different finishing techniques, including polishing, stippling, and hammering.
    To finish the stone texture of the lantern, a style is chosen in accordance with the overall harmony of the piece, for example, smooth, granular, or even line, or a shark skin texture, or a rough natural stone finish.
  6. 6. Overall Harmony There are many shapes for Izumo Stone Lanterns; however, even though the lantern shapes may vary, it is important that each lantern is both attractive and harmonious. In their production the craftsman pays attention to the following points: Have soft curves been created? Is the whole lantern well-balanced? Does the stone lantern harmonize with the garden and nature? Only after the craftsman is assured the lantern is well balanced, elegant and with an exquisite appearance, will the work be given the seal of approval as an Izumo Stone Lantern.

Where to Buy & More Information

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