Japan Temples and Shrines


Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes in Japan, as through the most of Asia. They are used in temples, on the way to temples, at festivals and not least in front of restaurants and peoples homes during festivals. The featured picture, above, is taken from my trip to Japan in 2014, where lanterns are set in the river on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Traditional lanterns come in three main types: ishidouru, tsuridourou and chochin; standing, hanging and paper lanterns respectively.

The ishidouru: standing lanterns

The ishidouru, standing lanterns, primarily of stone or marble in modern times, were introduced in Japan in the 6th century from China, as a way of honoring Buddha. Lanterns have since become a common lighting fixture not only in temples, but also gardens and homes. In olden times, if you had a lantern in your house, you were considered to be wealthy.

Tsuridourou: traditional hanging lantern

A tsuridourou is a variation of the ishidouru. Instead of it being attached to the land, a tsuridourou is free hanging. Originally, these lanterns had four or six sides and were made out of copper, bronze or iron due to them most commonly being placed outside to illuminate corridors.

Tsuridourou are very common in temples, where whole rooms can be filled with such lanterns. One of the most famous sites being the Okunoin Temple at Mt. Koya, where the main hall has 10.000 lanterns hanging.

Nowadays, a tsuridourou is created out of paper materials, glue and bamboo and are used in one of Japan’s oldest traditions known as the” toro nagashi”. Participants place paper lanterns onto a river to allow them to go with the flow of the river. This tradition has existed in Japan for many years, based on the belief that through these floating lanterns, spirits are provided with guidance and direction as they move out of the physical world to journey into the spiritual, as illustrated in the featured image above.

Chochin: paper lanterns

Historical facts state that the origin of chochin, or paper lanterns, dates back almost 500 years. At that time, paper lanterns came from China and looked like baskets made with bamboos. They were quite different from today’s Japanese lanterns, which have evolved to address Japanese needs over the years. The original folding lanterns were used in funerals. Later they were used by soldiers and hung up on the streets to guide people.

Nowadays, Japanese paper lanterns are used in many ways and in many places. The most traditional use is when families hang them outside their homes during Obon, a special time of the year during the first few weeks of August. These lanterns are called bon chochin, and it is believed that they welcome home the spirits of each family’s ancestors.

The most popular chochin these days are the ones that decorate restaurants and used at many festivals.

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