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Yame Stone Lanterns

Yame Stone Lanterns

About Yame Stone Lanterns

Yame stone lanterns are made from the tuff of Mt. Aso, which is perfectly suited for Japanese gardens
Moss grows in the dark and easily on this stone
The durability and the soft stone quality of the tuff can be utilized in a variety of ways.

Tuff was made by the volcanic ash consolidation from the large eruption of ancient Mt. Aso. Yame Stone Lanterns are made by cutting out the tuff and processing it with a chisel, etc. Soft and suitable for stone lanterns, tuff is used to create various items ranging from rustic to fine sculptures. Because it absorbs water, plants, such as moss, easily grow on the lanterns. Its calming color is a familiar sight in the Japanese garden. You can enjoy it year after year due to the durability of Yame lanterns.


The History of Stone Sculptures

The reason why the Yame Stone Lanterns came to be made is that the tuff from Aso was collected in the Nagano area of Yame City. Also, it is cited that there were craftsmen called ishiko, with masonry technology, such as stone cutting, processing, and stacking. Stone lanterns are said to have originated in the early Edo period, and the oldest remaining work comes from the Bunkyu Period (1861-1864). However, stone products such as stone men and stone horses made by processing tuff rocks have been excavated from various parts of the Yame Hills. These were mainly in the Iwatoyama Tumulus, made in the Kofun Period (300-538 AD). It shows that sculptures made of stone have been around for a long time.

Stone cutters (Ishikiriko)
Craftsmen who cut stone out of rocks.
Hori stone workers (Horiishiko)
Craftsmen who shave or process stones.
Masonry (Tsumiishiko)
Craftsmen that use a stone stacking technique, to make castle walls and stone walls, etc.
Yame Stone Lanterns
Yame Stone Lanterns
Yame Stone Lanterns
Yame Stone Lanterns

It was in the Taisho Period when Yame Stone Lanterns began to be made in earnest. Tree merchants in the Tanushimaru area of Kurume city, where the business was flourishing, began to sell trees along with the stone lanterns. That is the reason that stone lanterns are now used nationwide. Yame is one of the four major stone lantern producers, along with Okazaki City in Aichi Prefecture, Takamatsu City Ajicho in Kagawa Prefecture, and Izumo City, in Shimane Prefecture.

  1. The Iwatoyama Tumulus has a stone man statue(sekijin), made out of tuff.
  2. Stone person (replica) (The real thing is on display at the Iwatoyama History and Culture Exchange Center Iwai-no-sato) Stone person statues were made from the 4th century to the 7th century.
  3. It also has heat resistance. Kudo, where you can cook rice, and other things were made using this stone. (Exhibited at the Yame Folklore Museum)
  4. It also has heat retention. Stone baths, in which the body slowly warms up, made use of this characteristic. (Exhibited at the Manabi-no-yakata Former residence of Kumamoto Family)

Stone bridges that still remain, stonework

Walking through the whitewashed wall area of Yame, treasures made of tuff, such as the Ojizosama and Ebisu statues are enshrined and still treasured to this day.

Ebisu is located in Nishifurumatsumachi in Yame City, which was made in the third year of the Shōtoku Period(1713). Next to Ebisu is the goddess. This is a rare set of the married couple enshrined together.

Next door, in the town of whitewashed wall area of Yame City, the vestiges of the castle town remain everywhere. Tuff has a hard time weathering compared to granite, so many of it still remains today. The shrines arches (Torii) and guard dogs (Komainu) are also made of tuff, many still quietly standing to this day.

The Yame countryside (Okuyame) also has a lot of stone bridges which are still used as roads today, creating a rich landscape.

  1. The oldest couple Ebisu (Designated Material Cultural Property) in the Chikugo area
  2. Stone statues are enshrined everywhere in the whitewashed wall area of Yame City.
  3. Many arches (Torii) in Yame are also made of tuff.
  4. Miyagaharu Bridge in the Nagano area of Yame City was built in the 11th year of Taisho(1922).
Yame Lanterns
Yame Lanterns
Yame Lanterns
Yame Lanterns

Characteristics of the Yame Stone Lantern


One of the features is the use of Aso Volcanic Belt Tuff. The official name is Condensed Aso Tuff, which is also called Nagano stone.

The main characteristics of tuff

① Tuff is perfect for engraving into the soft stone.
② Moss grows easily, and plants also easily take root because it absorbs water.
③ Since it is a stone made of Mt. Aso volcanic ash, it is heat resistant, cold resistant, and very durable.
④ Tuff is lighter and more portable than other stones. Tuff is the optimal stone for use in stone lanterns.

The Yame Stone lanterns dark and rocky surface gives it a rustic and calming hue that is in perfect harmony with the Japanese garden. It is popular not only domestically, but it is also exported overseas as well.

Yame Stone Lanterns
Yame Stone Lantern
Yame Stone Lanterns
Stone Lanterns in the Japanese garden
  1. Small facial details can be expressed.
  2. Moss takes hold easily, and plants also easily take root because it absorbs water.
  3. It is also cold and heat resistant, making it very weather resistant. It develops an interesting texture over time.
  4. The calming color is a perfect fit in the Japanese garden.

Hardness / Quality

Mt. Aso tuff is softer than other stones such as granite. It is said to be softer than other stones, but it is actually divided into soft stones as well as hard varieties. Soft stones, in particular, retain water very well. The color tone varies greatly depending on if it is dry or wet. It becomes a whitish color when dry, and it turns dark when it gets wet. If you put it outdoors, moss easily grows, but you can also place it indoors and enjoy it in the same condition it was in when you bought it. Soft stones are easy to cut and made for simple sculptures. It is also characterized by the many cracks and crevices which make it a light stone. Hard stones are heavy because of the lack of open cracks and crevices. This also makes it difficult to process and sculpt. It is much more suited for fine sculptures. It doesn’t absorb moisture like soft stones do. There is also less color change.

Masons can distinguish between soft and hard stones right away and then use them accordingly. In the case of sculptures that you want to give a sharp finish, hard stones are used, on the other hand soft stones are used to give a more rustic feeling. Sculptures that combine several parts, such as lanterns, use the same quality of stone to ensure the parts and texture have a uniform look. There are stones mixed with pumice and other stones that are called, mixed (mazari), and there are stones that are less mixed. When sculpting, it is difficult to convey a three-dimensional feel with mixed stones (mazari), so unmixed stones are better.

Dry stone
Yame Stone Lanterns
stone’s cracks
  1. Dry stone with a whitish appearance.
  2. It becomes dark when its covered in water.
  3. Moss grows easily and plants also take root.
  4. This stone’s cracks run sideways, so it is strong against forces from above and below, but weak against forces being applied to the sides.

Tree like stone lantern type (shizenbokugata) / Mountain spring water mill

Stone lamps with a simple texture called Bokugata or Shizenbokugata (tree like stone lanterns) are a style that is unique to Yame. Lanterns are usually made by measuring out the dimensions, but the shizenbokugata (tree like stone lanterns) are made to the sensibility of the maker without measuring the dimensions. Each creator imitates the shape of a tree. Since each creator has his own style, the personality of each creator is on display. The size and balance of the rod on which the roof balances will slightly change depending on the maker. There are also many irregularities on the surface, and the sculpture shows a more natural appearance as moss grows.

In addition, the mountain spring water mill type (sansuisuisha) is also an imitation. The simple texture of the shaved tuff can not be produced in other stones, such as granite.

Tree like stone lantern
stone lanterns
Mountain Spring Water Mill type
Artisans Gate
  1. Tree like stone lantern.
  2. Just like lanterns, you can make various sizes from small to big.
  3. Mountain Spring Water Mill type (exhibited at the Yame Traditional Crafts Center)
  4. The number one stone lantern in Japan "Artisans Gate" is able to be passed through.(Exhibited at the Yame Traditional Crafts Center)