Candle making was first introduced to Japan from China during the Muromachi period. The Chinese method was then further developed in Japan to create a very original version, which became known as the Japanese candle. These candles enjoyed their peak popularity during the Edo period.
First, the core of the candle is made from stalks of the rush plant wrapped with Japanese paper and then coated repeatedly by hand with mokurou wax. This method is called shoujyoukikake and the whole process is done carefully by hand. There is another method, called katanagashi in which a mold is used instead of layers of coating.
While western candles use paraffin made from petroleum oil, mokurou wax, the main ingredient of Japanese candles, is made primarily from the dried berries of Rhus trees (known also as Wax Tree and Sumac Tree). Mokurou wax produces less soot than paraffin. There are two shapes of traditional Japanese candles - pole shape and anchor shape both of which are designed to prevent the melting wax from obstructing the light.
Japanese candles are a fixture at temples and shrines where they emit a mystical glow that transport visitors to another time and place.
Karakami is the woodblock-printed paper mainly used for Japanese sliding doors. Karakami made in Kyoto is called Kyokarakami. The origin of Karakami, which literally means “Chinese paper,” dates back to the Heian period (794-1192), when Japanese craftsmen in Kyoto began to make paper by modeling after the paper brought from China. Karakami was first used to write poems on it and then in the later periods it came to be used for Japanese sliding doors.
Karakami greatly developed in the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1868). In the book illustrations depicting craftsmen of this time, drawn in 1685 by Hishikawa Moronobu, a Kyokarakami craftsman working in his studio is included.
Kyokarakami is used for sliding doors at historical sites such as Katsura Detached Palace and temples, Japanese tea house and other traditional places. However, there is only one Kyokarakami producing studio in Kyoto today. There, more than 600 woodblock patterns made in the 17th century, each of which is elaborately hand-carved, are preserved and used according to the purpose of use.
The pigments are mixed with mica dust and an adhesive to create paint. The paint is brushed onto a fine mesh sieve covered with gauze and applied on the woodblock pattern by gently patting the sieve. The Washi paper is then pressed down with a gentle sweep of the hands and then carefully peeled away.
Mica dust in the pigments creates gentle and graceful gloss. It is exquisitely beautiful when the patterns on the paper twinkle softly along with flickering flames of a candle.
Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival is held annually in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture. 300 lanterns and 2000 bonbori lanterns, all of which are made of snow, are lined across Matsugasaki Park on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of February.
The sight of the candles flickering in the wind creates a magical beauty, inviting visitors into a surreal fairytale-like world. An immense snow monument built for soothing the souls of those who were never able to return to their hometown alive during the World War II, stands on top of the Hill Of Requiem located in the center of the park. Throughout the night, citizens come to light candles in memory of the dead.
A snow-viewing party is held at the neighboring Uesugi Kinenkan hall, where the local cuisine can be enjoyed. It is a great luxury to toast and feast on the local sake and cuisine while quietly viewing the flickering snow lanterns outside.
Nanao Japanese candle is a traditional handicraft in Nanao City, Ishikawa Pref. This is a Japanese traditional candle made from wax-tree, and its core from Japanese paper. This candle was first made in the Edo period (1603-1868) and with the spread of Buddhism it has been used as a light for Buddhist alters. Since the town of Nanao was flourished as an anchorage site of the Kitamae ships in the Edo period, Nanao candles were marketed to every place in the country. Carefully mixed wax is repeatedly applied to the core with hands to make a thick body. The cross section of the candle looks like tree rings. As oxygen is constantly supplied through the center core, the flame constantly changes in shape and emits less lampblack. In modern times it is not only used for Buddhist altars but also favored by young people as illumination at celebration or anniversary parties as well as interior decoration with relaxation effect. Its fantastic wavy flames create lounging atmosphere.
Nara Park is a city park in Nara Prefecture and the official name is ‘Nara Prefectural City Park Nara'. The park covers an area of 502 square meters and is one of the biggest city parks in Japan. If the area of the park were to include the surrounding temples and shrines, it would be over 660 hectares. Usually, the area including the temple and shrine is called Nara Park.
The area includes famous temples and shrines like Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Shrine. In addition, there is a primeval forest on Mt Kasuga. These have been designated as World Heritage sites, as well as cultural assets of the ancient capital, Nara.
Many deer wander freely in Nara Park and they are supposed to be servants of Kasuga Shrine and are allowed.
In early August, the Nara Candle and Flower Festival is held and people place candles at every spot in the park as decoration. The festival is quite new but has proved popular among tourists.
Echizen Japanese candle is a traditional handicraft of Echizen City,
specified as the folk craft product by Fukui Pref.. Most of its
making process is done by craftsmen’s manual fashion. This candle was first
made in the Edo period (1603−1867) and has come a long way as an essential
item to Buddhism services. As a wedding ceremony is called “a ceremony of
brilliant candles” in Japanese, the candles have been indispensable for
Japanese ceremonies. Since Echizen district has been known for religious
devotion, Echizen candles also have been refined along with its history. The
candle body is made from wax-tree, and the core from Japanese paper
specially made for the candle. The cross section of the candle looks like
tree rings. Echizen candle is characterized by its constantly changing flame
shape, for oxygen is constantly supplied through the center core. Shimmering
flames are hard to be blown off and emit little lampblack. Its unique shape
and red color can fit in every space and brightly enwrap its surrounding. In
modern times it is mainly used for Buddhist altars, but may also be good for
parties or interior decoration.
A ‘chouchin’ is a lantern that is lit with a candle. In the old days, the candle was put in a framework of wood, which was covered with paper. Back then, the characters used for lantern meant ‘peach-colored lantern’ because of the color of the lanterns. Starting some time between 1573and1593, bamboo began to be used instead of wood. The flexibility of bamboo meant that the lanterns could be folded, and as a result, they came to be called ‘hand-carrying lanterns’. The characters for ‘lantern’ changed and were written as ‘carrying lanterns’, which is how they are referred to nowadays. During the Edo period, more and more people used lanterns. Later, craftsmen specializing in lantern making started to appear, and various designs developed in different regions. ‘Hako’, also called ‘Yoshihara lantern’ or ‘Yakko lantern’, is a square lantern. The name originates from the Yoshihara area and from Samurai, Yakko. The cylinder-shaped ‘Odawara lantern’ was light and handy for a trip. Other styles developed for other uses depending on the demand. Now, Yameshi in Fukuoka Prefecture and Gifu in Gifu Prefecture are famous for making lanterns.