Makabe stone lanterns

Makabe stone lanterns Makabe ishidoro

A warm light and carved stones
in the style of a traditional Japanese garden


What is Makabe stone lanterns ?

Makabe ishidoro is the Japanese name for Makabe stone lantern. It is a stone lantern produced around the town of Makabe in the Ibaraki prefecture.
This traditional craftwork was founded during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). However the stone industry in the Makabe region was already thriving at that time and was regarded as one of the three major stone production areas in Japan.
The key features of Makabe stone lantern is its color tone of pure white from the high quality granite quarried from Mt. Kaba and other local sites.
The traditional carving techniques of Makabe stone lantern were handed down through the generations. With high craftsmanship, hundreds of lantern shapes including legged lanterns, pedestal lanterns, and buried lanterns are still produced today.
Stone lanterns are hand-carved to match a particular Japanese garden which gives them both a substantial and an ethereal presence and is subtly fascinating to the viewer.
Stone lanterns become increasingly attractive with time as the moss covers them so they gradually and naturally blend in the garden landscape harmoniously. Within just a couple of years or so, the stone lantern will have mellowed to give a gentle feeling of wabi sabi, which is a traditional Japanese aesthetic described as "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete".


In the Makabe area of the Ibaraki prefecture, articles made from stone have been produced for a long time. It is also said that people of the time considered stones to be imbued with spiritual power.
The actual crafting of stone in the area began around the end of the Muromachi period (1336-1573). At that time, the production of Buddhist stone articles gave a boost to the industry especially with a kind of Buddhist pagoda called gorinto and stone monuments. The oldest stone lantern that was ever found was made in 1824. It still remains in the temple compound in the town of Makabe.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), stone lanterns were set in many shrines and remained lit all night. As they came to be appreciated by more people, masonry skills were also developed. Kichibei KUBOTA, a stonemason, established a traditional technique at the end of the Edo period, which is still used today.
In the Meiji period (1868-1912) with the modernization, the use of Makabe stone increased and it was more used in constructing buildings too. It is said that the stone lantern made as a traditional craft for traditional Japanese garden was rapidly spread as part of the boom of landscape gardening in the Showa period (1926-1988).

General Production Process

Makabe stone lanterns - General Production Process

  1. 1. Selecting the stones Over a long period of time, as many as 18 specific techniques were developed in the traditional manufacture of Makabe stone lanterns and they have been passed on from master to apprentice for many generations. Also a variety of tools such as chisels and bishan bush hammers were also developed by the masons. It is important to find the finest quality stone to make the best of such advanced techniques.
    Makabe stone is a form of granite quarried mainly from Mt. Kaba and considered to be about 600 thousand years old. A quality check for flaws and cracks in the stone is essential as any hidden flaws could ruin a lantern in progress.
    After selection, the stone slab is divided into six parts: the jewel, the umbrella, the fire box, the central platform, the post and the base platform, each of which is marked with Chinese ink. They are then roughly hand cut by chisels and bishan bush hammers.
  2. 2. The jewel In this first stage of shaping the jewel, a tenon is carved to be joined to the umbrella.
    Next, the lotus shaped support at the lower part, and the top and peak are worked, followed by the carving of the detailed sections.
  3. 3. The umbrella The gentle curve on the umbrella depends on craftsmanship, experience, and an excellent artistic sense developed over the years.
    The umbrella is firstly given a rough finish, followed by smoothing the entire surface and carving the slope plane.
    Then, a mortise to match the jewel tenon is created. In addition, a hollow to match with the fire box is carefully carved. The umbrella is then decorated with different patterns.
  4. 4. The fire box Firstly, patterns are carved on the fire box and then the inside is carved to make a hollow.
    Next, the important opening for the flame is carved according to the ink markings. This process requires highly advanced skills.
  5. 5. The central platform On the undersurface of the central platform, a mortise for the post is carved, followed by the creation of a lotus shaped support, and the patterns are carved on the sides of the platform.
  6. 6. The post The post has the most important role of all the parts, and a higher quality of stone is used for it.
    Carving the round post requires high skills and years of experience.
    Firstly, the top and underside are horizontally carved. Then, the tenons are created to fit with the central platform and the base platform. An obi band and patterns are carved in the middle part to complete.
  7. 7. The base platform The base platform supports the entire structure, and its sides and undersides are carefully carved to ensure they are truly refined.
    After a downward lotus petal pattern was carved, a mortise for the post is made and detailed parts are carved.
  8. 8. The stacking After the six parts have been completed, they are carefully assembled, signaling the end of this traditional process that has been handed down over the generations.
    Over time a body of different shapes has risen, including shapes based on natural features, storied towers, and new contemporary forms as well as the legged lanterns, pedestal lanterns, and buried lanterns types.
    Craftsmen hand carved each lantern after carefully considering their harmony with the garden where they will be set to rest and slowly blend into nature creating a little world of wabi sabi, which is a Japanese term meaning "the beauty of simplicity and nature harmony".

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