Makabe stone lanterns

Makabe stone lanterns Makabe ishidoro

A warm light in the style of a traditional Japanese garden
Carved stone and wabi sabi


What is Makabe stone lanterns ?

Makabe Ishidoro are stone lanterns produced in the area centering on Makabe Town, Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture. This traditional style of craftwork started sometime in the Kamakura period (1192-1333); the Makabe region stone industry was already thriving at that time and was regarded as one of the three major stone production areas of Japan.
The key features of Makabe Stone Lanterns are their color tone of pure white from the high quality granite quarried from Mt. Kaba and other local sites, and the traditional carving techniques handed down through the generations. With such high level skills, hundreds of lantern shapes including yukimi (legged lanterns), tachimono (pedestal lanterns), and ikekomi (buried lanterns) are produced today. A stone lantern hand-carved to match a particular Japanese garden has both a substantial and an ethereal presence and is subtly fascinating to the viewer. The stone lanterns become increasingly attractive, as with the passage of time they are covered by moss and blend harmoniously into the garden landscape. Within just a couple of years or so, the stone lantern will have mellowed to give a gentle feeling of wabi sabi (quiet beauty).


In the Makabe area of Ibaraki Prefecture, articles made from stone have been produced from olden times; it is also known that people of the time considered the stone to be imbued with spiritual powers. The actual working of stone in the area began around the end of the Muromachi period (1336-1573). At that time, the making of Buddhist stone articles provided enough work for a thriving industry throughout the area, especially gorinto (a gravestone composed of five pieces piled up one upon another) and stone monuments. Stone lanterns are a later addition and the oldest discovered to date was made in 1824 and stands in the temple compound in Makabe Town. In 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 also developed, and at the end of the Edo period, Kubota Kichibei, a stonemason, established the traditional techniques that are still used to make stone lanterns today. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), with modernization, Makabe stone was increasingly used in buildings. It is said that the stone lanterns made as a traditional craft for Japanese-style gardens were rapidly spreading as part of the boom of landscape gardening in the Showa period (1926-1989).

General Production Process

Makabe stone lanterns - General Production Process

  1. 1. Selecting Stone Over 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; a variety of tools such as chisels and bishan bush hammers were also developed by the masons. To make the very best of such advanced techniques, it is important to find the best quality stone.
    Makabe stone is a form of granite quarried mainly from Mt. Kaba and considered to be about 600 thousand years old. Checking 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: jewel, lantern roof, light box, central platform, post, and base platform, each of which is marked with sumi ink. They are then roughly hand-cut by chisels and bishan bush hammers.
  2. 2. Jewel In this first stage of shaping the jewel, a tenon is carved to join with the roof. Next, lotus-shaped support at the lower part, and top and peak are worked, followed by the carving of the detailed sections.
  3. 3. Roof (The soft curve of the roof is also dependent on skills, experience, and a good eye developed over many years) The roof 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 light box is carefully carved. The roof is then decorated with patterns.
  4. 4. Light Box Firstly, patterns are carved on the light box; then the inside is carved to make a hollow. Next, the important opening for the flame is carved according to the sumi ink markings. This process requires highly advanced skills.
  5. 5. 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 patterns are carved on the sides of the platform.
  6. 6. Post The post has the most important role of all the parts, and a higher quality of stone is used. Carving the round post needs much skill and many years of experience. Firstly, the top and underside are horizontally carved. Then, 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. Base Platform The base platform supports the entire structure, and its sides and underside are carefully carved to ensure they are true. After a downward lotus petal pattern is carved, a mortise for the post is made and detailed parts carved.
  8. 8. 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 arisen including shapes based on natural features, storied towers, and new contemporary forms as well as the yukimi (legged lanterns), tachimono (pedestal lanterns), and ikekomi (buried lanterns) types. Craftsmen hand carve 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.

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