Toro (Garden Lantern) (灯籠)

Toro (a garden lantern) is a kind of traditional Japanese lighting fixture.


Toro originates from a basket containing a light, as literally meant by the kanji (灯篭), more specifically, a lantern consisting of wooden frames and paper, etc. covering the frames to prevent the light from being blown out by the wind etc. which is assumed to have been used by Buddhist priests. Later, such a lantern came to be divided into three types: 'toro' (a lantern for outdoor use), 'andon' (a lantern for indoor use), and 'chochin' (a folding and portable lantern). Toro refers in many cases to such fixed lanterns for outdoor use as often seen in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. However, there also exists toro which are used indoors as on a Buddhist altar, such as oki-doro (one variety of nonbasic-type ishi-doro, which has no sao and therefore whose chudai is directly mounted on a natural stone serving as a base, note: the term "nonbasic" means that any of the basic parts of ishi-doro, that is, hoju, kasa, hibukuro, chudai, sao and kiso, is missing) and tsuri-doro (hanging toro), as well as being a portable toro for use in a festival (such as one used in Nebuta Festival, which is held in Aomori Prefecture, and Yamaga-doro used in Kumamoto Prefecture). In pre-modern times, toro was placed at a harbor to be used as a beacon.

Oil or a candle was used as a light source. Today, some toro use electricity or propane gas. There also exists decorative toro that are not practical, such as ishi-doro (stone-made toro) in a Japanese-style garden.

Ishi-doro in a Japanese-style Garden

Toro was imported into Japan concurrently with Buddhism during the Asuka period. Initially, many toro were called 'kento' (referring to a votive lantern at a temple or shrine) and were placed at a Buddhist temple (Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple); however, the development of the culture associated with a Japanese-style garden resulted in toro coming to be placed in a garden, in order to be appreciated. The mainstream of materials for ishi-doro is granite, and the variety of granite that is called 'mikageishi' is most commonly used for ishi-doro.

Names of the parts of ishi-doro

Listed in top-to-bottom order

Hoju (literally, a precious orb)/giboshi (literally, quasi-hoju)

Hoju refers to an onion-shaped object mounted on top of kasa (a cap).

Kasa (cap)

Kasa refers to a part of the roofing hibukuro (burning place of toro). In terms of shape, hexagonal and rectangular kasa constitute the mainstream; moreover, there exists kasa of other shapes, such as a round-shaped one used for the yukimi type (a type of toro with a large cap and tripod planted in a garden for ornamental purposes). In some cases, polygonal-shaped kasa have a line extending from the bottom of hoju toward a corner of the kasa with warabite (a bracken sprout-shaped decoration) placed at the tip of the corner.

Hibukuro (burning place of toro)

Hibukuro refers to a part to place the light in, which constitutes the primary part of toro. Unlike other parts, this part can never be omitted. Hibukuro of toro for decoration purposes is not lit; however, for toro for practical use are lit by the using fire, electricity, etc.

Chudai (literally, a stand in the middle)

Chudai refers to a part supporting hibukuro and taking a form contrasting to the bottom part of toro, that is, the base. This part may be decorated and is called 'renben' (literally, lotus petal) or 'kozama' (carving).

Sao (pole)

Sao refers to the longest part serving as a pillar. In the case of toro having a small height represented by the yukimi type, this part is often omitted. Cylindrical sao is common, but rectangular, hexagonal, and octagonal sao are in existence. A decoration called 'fushi (節)' is often provide with sao.

Kiso (base)

Kiso is the bottom part of toro which serves as a leg. Hexagonal-shaped and round-shaped kiso constitute the mainstream. Kiso for toro of the yukimi type (as explained above) consists of three or four legs.

Typical types of toro

Kasuga type
Toro of the kasuga type is often seen at a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple and is very practical. It is characterized by the long length of sao and the high position of hibukuro. It is generally stands in the front on a garden path.

Yukimi type
The term 'yukimi' is a corruption of the term 'ukimi' (literally, something that looks as if it were floating on the surface of the water). Toro of this type is short because it has no sao and chudai. This is used mainly for lighting the surface of the water; therefore, it has large kasa and is often placed at the waterside. In terms of the number of legs, the tripod type constitutes the mainstream toro of the yukimi type. In terms of the shape of the kasa, there are two types: 'maru-yukimi,' which has a round-shaped kasa, and 'rokkaku-yukimi,' which has a hexagonal-shaped kasa.

Misaki type (type intended for placement at the seaside)
The misaki type is almost the same as the yukimi type; the only difference is that the misaki type does not have kiso (legs) while the yukimi type does. The misaki type is placed at a sandy beach or at the tip of a pier for shore protection. Some are designed in imitation of a light house.

Oribe type (this type name derives from Shigenari/Shigeteru FURUTA commonly known as Oribe FURUTA, who contrived toro of this type)
This type was contrived by Shigenari/Shigeteru FURUTA, an expert in tea ceremony during the Edo period, and is used to light tsukubai (a stone washbasin). The oribe type is one variety of ikekomi type (one variety of nonbasic type ishi-doro which has no kiso and whose sao is directly recessed into the ground) having a rectangular hibukuro. Therefore, the height is adjustable. It is characterized by an image of the Virgin Mary engraved on sao. It is placed in a garden adjacent to a ceremonial tea house.

Other types of toro

Sangatsudo type (one variety of basic-type, hexagonal-shaped ishi-doro deriving from the one made in the Kamakura period which is in front of Sangatsudo of Todai-ji Temple) (Note: the term "basic-type" means having all six parts of ishi-doro, or hoju, kasa, hibukuro, chudai, sao and kiso.)
Okuno-in type (one variety of the basic type, hexagonal-shaped ishi-doro carved with 12 zodiac signs), which derives from the one existing in the "okuno-in" (inner sanctuary) of Kasuga-jinja Shrine)
Soshishi (one variety of ishi-doro having a twin-lion shaped part)
Kiyotaido type
Taihei type (one variety of ishi-doro whose chudai and kiso are embossed with lotus petals)
Byodo-in type (one variety of hexagonal-shaped ishi-doro deriving from the one donated to Byodo-in Temple by FUJIWARA no Yorimichi during the Heian period)
Nure-sagi type (a variety of basic-type ishi-doro whose hexagonal hibukuro is carved with a heron or sagi in Japanese)
Nishinoya type (one variety of basic type, rectangular-shaped ishi-doro)

Yunoki type (one variety of basic-type ishi-doro having no warabite bracken sprout or shaped decoration), which derives from the one which is the oldest of the ishi-doro existing at Kasuga-jinja Shrine)
Zendo-ji type (one variety of the basic type, hexagonal-shaped ishi-doro deriving from one of the two ishi-doro existing in Zendo-ji Temple in Nijo, Kiyamachi, Kyoto City)
Zendo-ji Natsume type (one variety of ishi-doro having an extraordinary shape and having natsume (a tea caddy for powdered tea)-like carvings around hibukuro, which derives from one of the two ishi-doro existing in Zendo-ji Temple in Nijo, Kiyamachi, Kyoto City)
Senyu-ji type
Rankei type (one variety of nonbasic type ishi-doro similar to the yukimi type, standing on a curved leg corresponding to sao of the basic type oriented toward the waterside)
Taima type (one variety of the basic-type, octagonal-shaped ishi-doro)
Rokkaku type (hexagonal-shaped ishi-doro of the ikekomi-type)
Kaju-ji type (one variety of ishi-doro, which falls under the basic type, but is not rectangular-shaped, hexagonal-shaped, or octagonal-shaped, this type derives from the one contributed to Kaju-ji Temple in Kyoto by Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA)

Sunshoan type
Hotaru type (one variety of the ikekomi type represented by the one existing in the Katsura Detached Palace)
Korai (Koguryo) type (one variety of Korean-type ishi-doro)
Koyabo (小屋棒) type (one variety of nonbasic-type ishi-doro, which consists of only three parts: kasa, sao and kiso)
Michishirube (one variety of nonbasic-type, guide post-shaped ishi-doro)
Kaku-roji type (one variety of ishi-doro having a rectangular shape, which is placed in a garden adjacent to a ceremonial tea house)
Waniguchi type (also known as a "sodegata" type; one variety of the michishirube type with a U-shaped bore in pillar to place chochin a paper lantern in.)
Kirishitan (Christian) type (one variety of ishi-doro of the oribe-type with an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary carved on the sao.)