[From October Issue 2012]
Whereas Western-style candles are usually made from paraffin, Japanese traditional candles are made of wax extracted from the berries of the hazenoki (rhus) tree. The wick is made of Japanese paper.
As the materials used are derived from plants, the smoke produced by Japanese candles is less oily and the melting candles give off a natural, pleasant scent. Unlike Western candles that use strings as wicks, the Japanese candle produces a large, bright flame that is not easily extinguished. Real aficionados of Japanese candles use special scissors to trim the wick while it is burning in order to maintain a perfectly shaped flame.
Candles with the typical “ikari” shape are narrow at the bottom and flare out at the top. Traditional Japanese candles are made of red or white wax. They are often used in temples, shrines and at festivals. These candles are often found in Japanese households and hand-painted candles are growing in popularity both in domestically and abroad. Flowers or Chinese Zodiac symbols are popular motifs. These can be colorful or drawn with black Japanese ink.
As ash from the wax adheres to the surface, natural Japanese candles lose their sheen over time. In the case of red or white candles this gives the candle a beautiful matte finish. Colored ones can simply be rubbed with a cloth to restore their sheen. Industrially-produced Japanese candles have been treated with chemicals so that they always look shiny, but lack this natural beauty.
Japanese candles are most beautiful on a traditional cast-iron stand. The dark black iron creates a nice contrast against the red or white color of the candle.
Japanese candles have a long history. The first candles to be introduced to Japan were made from beeswax and came over to Japan from China in the Nara Period (8th century). Production of Japanese-style candles increased and peaked during the Edo Period (17~19 century). Nowadays there are only a few artisans that produce handmade Japanese-style candles.
Matsui Candle Atelier was established in the Meiji Period (19~20 century), and MATSUI Noriaki is the third generation owner. His daughter Hihiro creates the paintings on the candles. Mr. Matsui learned how to make candles from his father. In order to stay true to the tradition of candle making, he makes sure that he sources organic materials that are free from chemicals. His passion for creating candles with a perfect flame even led to a joint research project with Nagoya University.
Text: Nicolas SOERGEL