Make A Tōrō Lamp Rock Garden Terrarium

Hello and welcome to part two of the Shinto Series! In our last tutorial, we covered the introduction into my inspiration behind this Japanese-influenced bantamarium experience with a shinzo terrarium. This guide will aim to continue that conversation as we design a Tōrō Lantern Terrarium with functioning lights.

If you aren’t familiar with what a bantamarium is, I strongly recommend you take a look at this deep dive I put together. In a nutshell, it’s a concept I’ve been working on where we bring a diorama to life. The goal is ultimately to make photo-realistic vivariums anyone, no matter the skill level, can make!

Bantamarium: Everything You Need To Know

A Working Pagoda Lamp In a terrarium

Tōrō lanterns can be found throughout Japan. Originally coming from China, these lamps are often found in the rock gardens of shinto shrines. I felt very compelled to do my take on a very traditional rock garden scene and found a really clever way to add a functioning light to my Tōrō lanterns. If you haven’t already, check out the full length video I did about the Shinto Series!

Making a Tōrō Lamp Garden Terrarium

When it came to making a Japanese garden terrarium, there were a ton of options to choose from. I originally had my mindset to do a rock garden with a few Tōrō lamps. The end result would have been something that consisted of mostly sand. I opted to do something with more foilage and slightly larger lamps big enough to actually light up. Let me show you how I did it:


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Glowing Campsite Terrarium Kit

Tōrō Lantern Decor:

At the time this tutorial was written, I offered these models unpainted and unassembled. we are proud to announce that our terrarium decor has been improved since then and is now available completed with color. If you so choose to add personalized details, these models are still paintable. Just remember to properly seal them with an aquarium-safe sealant and allow it to cure before use.

I decided to paint the word “Shinto” in Japanese on the side of the taller Tōrō Lantern. Afterward, an aquarium-safe sealant is sprayed to protect the design from environmental elements. I thought it added a personal touch and it wasn’t too difficult to pencil on with a toothpick. 😅

I made these models hollow with the intent of setting up a small battery-powered light to really take things to another level. This was very meaningful to me.

You see, tōrō lamps are constructed to represent the five elements of Buddhism cosmology with the light representing fire (which is commonly referred to as ka). Any part of the tōrō could be excluded with the exception of the flame… So as you’ve probably now put together, I really needed the flame!

The light was pretty easy to accomplish using a LED light, two watch batteries, and a little piece of electric tape. With a linear style of construction, this assembly will neatly fit right into the column (or sui which represents water) above the base (or chi which represents earth).

With all things in place, I decided not to glue the top, which represents the last two elements fū (air) and kū (spirit), to the rest of the Tōrō Lantern. There’s no particular reason, you could glue yours if you want to. I think it just makes changing the lights later a little easier.

The Rock Garden Terrarium Construction:

For this terrarium, I decided to go with a smaller glass vase this time (the same size as the Shinzo terrarium) just to experiment with how the proportions look. It worked really cool and was very noticeable next to my larger setups. Vase size and shape are always up to you so I always push for creativity when it comes to these living dioramas.

Like our Shinzo jungle terrarium, I started with a thin base layer of sand to help separate the enclosure from the bottom of the glass. About half an inch evenly will do just fine.

Now I’m going to pour black aquarium gravel in a sloped formation just like the last terrarium except I don’t want it as steep. With this setup being a rock garden, it will need to be a bit more shallow. I’m placing the front gravel about an inch deep and the back about an inch and a half.

Next, we can place rocks strategically to form an iwagumi style. It’s common to see rocks stacked in Japanese gardens in odd numbers so keep that in mind. A quick test fit of our tōrō lamp and we are ready for some plants.

Japanese Rock Garden Terrarium Plants

I’m keeping my selection low with two choices of moss for this setup. Barbula Sp. Will make up the ground foliage and be the dominant flora in this setup. Over time, it will eventually spread to cover everything in this terrarium. So for now, I’m creating a circular pattern that carefully covers the outermost edges with additional gravel.

Polytrichum Commune (aka haircap moss) is a very common moss used in many Japanese terrariums so I think it makes a good fit to add a few around the lantern.

With a light misting aiming from the top down to avoid directly spraying the lights, this enclosure is good to go!

Rock Garden Terrarium Animals

Several micro critters could do well in this type of terrarium. I’m a huge fan of animals that help maintain the terrarium. Springtails, isopods, or even a small colony of ants would fit this enclosure nicely. For this terrarium, I will be looking to add something unique. Stay tuned for updates on this if you follow me on any of my social media.

Rock Garden Terrarium Care

As with most of my miniature terrariums, this tank should do well on its own. As things grow in, the natural takeover will only further enhance the scenery. If you haven’t already, mist down the scape and seal it with a little plastic wrap. Open it every once in a while to allow fresh air to circulate.

Make A Tōrō Lantern Rock Garden Terrarium

Final Thoughts

So with this tōrō lantern rock garden terrarium complete, we can move on to chapter three of the Shinto Series. I’m really happy with the outcome of this enclosure and the lighting elements are a unique touch that looks even at night when it cast a slight glimmer of light along the garden. This is truly a unique piece of art that very simple to make. Let’s get prepared to raise the bar a bit more in the next one and I will see you all there!

If you’re interested in seeing updates on how this as well as other enclosures progress follow me on social media. If you’d like to get your tall tweezers on one of these limited edition vivarium decors yourself, check them out in our shop.

Tōrō Lamp Garden Terrarium Kit | Mini
Japanese Pagoda/Tōrō Lamp Decor
Shinto Shrine Decor Set
Shinto Kami Sculpture (Shinzō)

More In Make:

Making A Bonsai Treehouse Village Terrarium
Making Prehistoric Desert | A Dinosaur Terrarium
Making Jurassic Jungle | A Dinosaur Terrarium

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