Like the Japanese Pagoda, which is nearby, the Japanese Lantern looks modest and unassuming.
Both are very deliberately placed among the famous cherry blossoms that line the edge of the Tidal Basin. They are, after all, Japanese cherry blossoms, also known as sakura. And like both monuments, the trees themselves were originally a gift from Japan.
The granite lantern dates back around 1651, making it of a similar age to the Japanese Pagoda.
It was installed here in 1954, but for the first three centuries of its life, it sat in the grounds of a temple in Tokyo. Less than a decade after the end of World War II, it was moved from there and gifted by the governor of Tokyo to the United States on the hundredth anniversary of the peace treaty of Yokohama, which is also known as the Convention of Kanagawa and better known in the United States as the “opening” of Japan to the West by U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry.1
Some of the cherry trees near the lantern are original trees dating back to the 1912 planting, and the lantern was deliberately placed next to the two original trees planted by Mrs. Taft and Viscountess Chinda when the trees were originally planted.
Cherry blossom festivities were already well-established at the Tidal Basin at least a decade for the lantern arrived, but since 1954 the lantern lighting ceremony has become a key ceremonial moment in the festival. The lighting is traditionally done by an “Embassy of Japan Cherry Blossom princesses,” which is usually a daughter of one of the Japanese diplomats based at the embassy.
For many years the lantern looked a bit lonely just stuck on a patch of grass by itself. But within the past few years it has gotten a bit of a makeover with a paved area and boulders around it that help make it stand out more.