MATSUI - Plant based Traditional Japanese Candles
"Warosoku" (和 wa "Japanese" 蝋燭 rousoku "candles") are traditional Japanese candles. Warosoku are easily distinguished from Western candles by their unique shape - but more importantly, they are made from 100% plant based materials!
Western style candles are often made with beeswax and chemical ingredients. Warosoku are made from 100% natural materials - and with great results! Being introduced from China during the Nara Period (710-794), the crafting style slowly developed until Western style candles were introduced during the Meiiji period (1868-1912). The traditionally made candles remained popular with Buddhist sects, because: A. there are no animal products used and B. as a result, the candles burn with a lot less smoke, soot and oil than candles made with animal fat or chemicals.
The wick of Warosoku are made from "Washi" (和 wa "Japanese" 紙 shi "Paper"), which is a very high quality type of paper, made by artisans specializing in this particular craft, and Igusa - a type of 'rush' plant, used in Japanese tatami mats. Thanks to these natural ingredients, the flames of the warosoku are very soft, large and hard to accidentally put out.
With less smoke, soot and the risk of going out, the candles are the preferred option for Buddhist ceremonies. Warosoku are therefore one of the three key elements for Buddhist meditation - Warosoku, Incense and Flowers.
One of the reasons Warosoku, and many other traditional crafts, are becoming more and more rare, is due to the high labor intensity, required knowledge and time required to master the craftsmanship. The candles are made one-by-one and all by hand. The paper and igusa are used as a base, which is then covered by many layers of "Mokuro" (木 moku "Tree", 蝋 ro "Wax") wax made from "haze" tree, a tree similar to the sumac tree, which is also used as a medicinal plant in India. This process is done by hand and one larger candle may need up to 300 layers of wax! The processes of rolling the sticks in wax creates beautiful, characteristic rings, similar to natural tree growth rings, at the top of the candle.
The traditional shape of Warosoku is "Ikari", which starts small and becomes wider at the top. The candles are mostly in white or red, with white being for every day use and red for special occasions. There are only about 20 traditional craftsmen left in Japan, many of which are aging and without successor to teach their crafts. Additionally, due to the shrinking warosoku market, the craftsmen in charge of procuring the wax, as well as the materials required, are also becoming scarce, threatening the existence of both the wax- and the candle industry.
Matsui - Protecting +100 years of family craftsmanship
One of these remaining craftsmen is Master Matsui, from Aichi prefecture - Central Japan. His family business dates back to 1907 and he still works according to traditional manufacturing processes from the Edo period. He is responsible for all 15(!) steps required to make the candles. His daughter, Hihiro, is in charge of hand painting the candles, which designs they create themselves and range from personalized kanji to flashy Swarovski crystal creations. Sizes range from 1.5cm candles up to 40cm! They have won several prices and are often featured in international and domestic articles to promote Japanese crafts styles. On their Youtube channel, they share pictures and videos to introduce people to their authentic production methods. In their Aichi atelier you are able to book a tour and even paint your own handmade candle!
Address: 2-33 Juo-cho, Okazaki, Aichi 444-0034
Access: Several minutes’ walk from Higashi-Okazaki Station (Meitetsu line)
Price: ￥550 for a plain 1.5cm candle ～ ￥18,150 for a handpainted 23cm candle
Availability: Ships online and internationally through a partner
Experience: Tour and/or workshop (￥3,500yen). Customized candles based on name or picture available on request.
Overall: The handmade candles make for a great gift or souvenir with beautiful paintings and decorations to your liking. The items are plantbased, have a long cultural history and by using them you are supporting a precious, dying art style.