Keisuke Toda, Warousoku Master
"What one can learn about a topic intellectually is different from a more hands-on, physical approach, and trying to spread the value of warousoku tradition is best done through its physical experience."
Warousoku, or Japanese candles, are different from those that are mass produced in a mould. With just one glance, one can see the perfect imperfections that hint at its handmade qualities. Keisuke Toda, who runs the a warousoku store in Kawagoe with his business partner grew up believing that warousoku was just a part of everyday life. Originally from Nara prefecture in southern Japan, Keisuke and his family would go to Shiga, the neighboring prefecture, to buy warousoku and visit the grave of his grandfather. A commodity in Shiga, Toda grew up using warousoku during his family’s yearly visits to his family grave. However, as he grew up he realised that what one person believed as a norm is not necessarily the case for others. Keisuke’s current business partner, who was his close colleague at work, did not know of the existence of these Japanese candles; something that was part of a routine and a norm in Keisuke’s life.
The shock that they both felt, being challenged of what they took for granted acted as a catalyst for further warousoku research and discussion. As Keisuke started delving deeper into this fading Japanese tradition, he was faced with the fear that this art was going to die within his lifetime. It has been three years since he started his shop, and 5 years since he first started making candles. The more he immersed himself in the warousoku world, the stronger he believes with conviction that there is something immensely beautiful about creating something with your hands. What one can learn about a topic intellectually is different from a more hands-on, physical approach, and trying to spread the value of warousoku tradition is best done through experience. He wants visitors to understand the time and effort that goes into creating one candle. In this day and age where everything is mass produced, appreciating the manpower that goes into producing an object is necessary. Through that, people can at least take part in a Japanese tradition that has been a part of this country for thousands of years. Welcoming people to be a part of the journey in continuing this tradition is important, and to provide the necessary experience to make that happen is even more crucial, " says Keisuke.
"Welcoming people to be a part of the journey in continuing this tradition is important, and to provide the necessary experience to make that happen is even more crucial."
Warousoku differs from the more commonplace, western candles in terms of shape, but the most distinct aspect is the material. Japanese candles are made out of natural fats derived from plant matter, while the western candles consist of beeswax or animal lard. Historically, warousoku was made for Buddhist temples to use as candles memorialising ancestors. As a result, animal products were not used because Buddhism opposes the idea of intentionally killing animals. Not only is it made differently, but warousoku lasts longer, burns bigger and brighter, produces very little smoke, and less likely to drip and extinguish in a draft. For how convenient and effective warousokus are, it makes it all the more a shame that they are fading from our everyday lives. To keep his passion alive, he spends most of his days thinking about Japanese candles and delegates his energy into brainstorming new ways to incorporate it into the 21st century, modern lifestyles. Preservation, future of the store, new product ideas are all that’s on his mind.