Tōrō: Japan’s Traditional Lanterns

Traditional Japanese stone lanterns, known as tōrō, came to Japan from China as part of Buddhist temple architecture, most likely during or shortly before the Nara Period (8th century A.D.).  Many bear inscriptions of poetry or donors’ names: and the hanging form, tsuri-dōrō, most commonly displayed on eaves. Above the base, the post that supports the fire box (normally cylindrical, but sometimes carved with legs or in other geometric shapes) represents the element of water. Not surprisingly, the fire box (commonly square, but in rare cases octagonal or hexagonal) represents fire.   Today, some tōrō still burn with traditional flames, while others have been outfitted with electric or battery-powered lights.

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