Japanese stone toro

Toro : Unveiling Traditional Japanese Stone Lanterns

What is a Japanese-style toro?

A Japanese-style toro is one of the lighting fixtures made of stone or wood found in shrines, temples, and Japanese gardens. These lanterns are deeply rooted in Japanese culture and tradition and are designed to blend in with the landscape. In Japanese, toro means "basket of fire" and as the name implies, the fire is framed to keep it lit. Basically, toro is often stone lanterns placed in temples and shrines, but in some areas, there is also an event called "toro-nagashi(灯籠流し)" in which lanterns made of bamboo or paper are floated down a river.

How did Toro first come into use in Japan?

Toro was first used in Japan during the Nara period (710-794) when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. In Buddhism, it is said that lanterns ward off evil spirits, and it was customary to light a fire in front of a statue of Buddha. Shinto was originally prevalent in Japan, but with the arrival of Buddhism, a "Shinto/Buddhist syncretism" occurred, and lanterns were also placed in shrines. During the Obon festival season, which is a traditional event in Japan, some communities display lanterns and float them in the lantern stream so that the spirits of ancestors will not lose their way. In modern times, lanterns are not only used for religious purposes, but are also installed in Japanese gardens to express landscapes and world views, and to express Japanese aesthetic values.

Name of the part of the Toro

Although they have a majestic appearance, lanterns are made by connecting various parts together. Some of them may be simple when seen at shrines and temples, but they are basically divided into the following parts.

  • Hoju(宝珠): The onion-shaped part located at the top of the lantern.
  • Kasa(笠):The kasa is the part that serves as the roof of the fire pouch that holds the light source. There are different types, such as square and round.
  • Hibukuro(火袋): The part that holds the light source, the lantern. For decorative purposes, it is not used to light a fire, but when practical use is required, it is lit by fire or electricity.
  • Chudai(中台): This is the part that supports the fire box. It consists of a lotus petal and a seat.
  • Sao(竿): This is the longest pillar that supports the nakadai. It is usually square or circular in shape and may have two or three poles.
  • Mado(窓): The front of the lantern's fire box has a decorative window, and the left and right sides have circular windows. One window is circular and the other is semi-circular. The circle represents the sun and the semi-circle represents the moon.
  • Kiso(基礎): This is the part located at the bottom of the pole(foundation). It is often paired with a central stand, and consists of two parts: a Uke-za and an Kaeri-bana.

Some of these parts are not used in some types, and the names can change.

Types of Toro

Lanterns are made of various materials such as stone, wood, bamboo, and paper, and their names sometimes change depending on the part used.

Kasuga Doro (春日灯籠)

Kasuga taisha
Kasuga taisha

Kasuga Doro is a type of stone lantern characterized by a long pillar and a high fire box. The name comes from the fact that they were used at Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara. Today, these lanterns are installed in various temples and Japanese gardens, and are often seen by the general public. Kasuga lanterns can be installed to accentuate the space of a garden or temple.

Tsuri Doro (釣り灯籠)

Tsuri Doro are hang under the eaves of temples and shrines. Because it is a hanging style, there is no pillar as a base, and the side designs are of various styles, including natural designs such as flowers and grasses, no markings, and wave patterns.

Nozura Doro(野面灯籠)

Nozura Doro is a type of lantern made by combining natural stones. The natural texture of the stones blends well with fields and natural surroundings. Because they are made in natural shapes, the rocks are not uniformly shaped, making them very difficult to balance and install. If the shape is too uniform, it would look uncomfortable, so this type of lantern is more in harmony with nature.

Oki Doro (置き灯籠)

Oki Doro
Oki Doro

Oki Doro is a type of lantern that is displayed inside or in front of a Buddhist altar in a Japanese house. It is not as large as the type placed outside, and can be carried with one hand. They are not always placed together with a Buddhist altar, as it depends on the religious denomination.

Sanko Doro (三光灯籠)

Sanko Doro is an extremely rare type of lantern made of only a fire pouch and a shade. The name "Sanko Doro" means "three lights”. The windows of the lantern are shaped like the sun, the moon, and the stars, giving it the name "Sanko Doro".

Mizubotaru Doro (水蛍灯籠)

Mizubotaru Doro was so named because the firelight reflected from the windows of the lanterns set up along the water's edge looked like fireflies flying over the surface of the water(In Japanese, fireflies are Hotaru). It is also placed by the pond at Katsura-rikyu in Kyoto.

Kondo Doro (金銅灯籠)

The Kondo Doro is a 236cm-high lantern located in front of the Nan'en-do Hall in the southwest of Kofuku-ji Temple and is recognized as a national treasure. On the fire pouch that lights the lantern is an inscription said to have been written by Hayanari Tachibana. It is currently kept in the treasury of Kofukuji Temple.

Yukimi Doro(雪見灯籠)

Yukimi Doro
Yukimi Doro

Yukimi Doro are relatively small lanterns that can be found in city parks and private gardens. They are used to illuminate the surface of water and are often placed beside a pond. When placed in a home garden, they are atmospheric and help to create a Japanese-style garden with a serene wabi-sabi atmosphere.

Yunoki Doro(柚ノ木灯籠)

The Yunoki Doro is said to be the oldest of the lanterns in the Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara Prefecture. The Yunoki Doro was so named because it is placed under a yuzu tree, which is called "yuzu no ki" in Japanese.

Oribe Doro (織部灯籠)

Oribe Doro is a type of Mino ware famous for its pottery, a type of lantern said to have been invented by Oribe Furuta, the tea master who gave Oribe its name. The most distinctive feature is that there is no base part of the lantern, the pillar is directly buried in the ground, and the lantern is carved with a combination of letters of the alphabet. In fact, these Oribe lanterns are also known as Christian lanterns. During Oribe's lifetime, Christianity was suppressed and those who believed in it were punished. These believers risked being punished, but as hidden Christians, they made the Oribe lanterns the object of their faith.

Tachi Doro (立ち灯籠)

The "Tachi Doro" is the most common style of lantern, consisting of a pillar, a fire pouch, a hat, and other common parts. Because of the length of the pillar, it is powerful and looks good when installed in a garden at home.

Ikekomi Doro(活け込み灯籠)

Unlike standing lanterns, "Ikekomi Doro" has no foundation and the pillar is embedded directly into the ground. Since the length of the pillar can be adjusted, it has been used to illuminate a distant area when placed high, and to illuminate the feet when placed low.

Azumaya-style Toro(吾妻屋風燈籠)

Largest Toro in Japan
Rakuten Gurunavi

This lantern is the tallest lantern in Japan and is located in Kyoto. It is 13 meters high, and benches are placed under the lantern so visitors can take a rest. The lantern is located in a Japanese-style garden, so if you visit, be sure to take a moment to admire it.

4 lanterns shipped from Japan

Lanterns can be found in Japanese temples, shrines, and gardens, and can be displayed in your garden or tearoom at home to give you a sense of Japan. If you are interested in Japanese culture and are looking for lanterns that originate in Japan, you may want to consider the following lanterns shipped from Japan.


This is a type of tsuri-tonoro. It is a size that can be held with both hands and can be placed directly on the ground for decoration. It is made of copper and weighs around 3 kg, so it can be easily handled.


This is a historic fishing lantern made in the 1800s. It is made of copper, weighs around 7 kg, and is kept in good condition. 150~200 years old lanterns are also good to feel the atmosphere.


This is a compact Arita porcelain lantern with a width and height of about 25cm. It also weighs about 3 kg, making it easy to handle. Because of its small size, it would be good to set it up as a point of interest in a garden or to display it indoors.


The last lantern introduced here is a Tsuri toro (Fishing Lantern). It has a loop at the top for hanging, but can be placed directly on the floor because of the base at the bottom. It is small, about 22cm in size, and seems to create a very relaxing atmosphere when displayed indoors.