KEEPING THE FLAME ALIVE
Hundreds of years ago in Edo Period Japan, before electricity had even
been imagined, people's worlds were illuminated by pine or rape-seed
oil lamps. Unimaginable as it may be to people today, candles were very
expensive items in the Edo Period, and were therefore only used by the
samurai class in times of celebration, such as weddings, or displayed
on Buddhist altars. The candles, decorated with beautiful painted
flowers, were considered something of a luxury compared to the oil lamps
used in daily life.
The craft of hand-painted candles, or e-rosoku, is thought to
have originated from China, and was supposedly brought over to Japan
by priests. As people travelled throughout the country, this knowledge
was transmitted to a number of regions. Today, the art is mainly centred
in the Iwate, Kyushu, Kagoshima and Aizu districts, although it is also
experiencing something of a revival in southern Japan. Although the
colour, shape and design of e-rosoku differ from region to region,
the characteristic they all share is the brightly coloured flowers which
are delicately painted onto the surface of each candle. Decorated with
seasonal blooms such as plum blossoms, tree peonies, chrysanthemums
and camellias, the candles enabled the Edo Period upper-class to enjoy
flowers all year round.
In Fukushima Prefecture, the making of hand-painted candles commenced
in Aizu some five hundred years ago, during the time of Aizu clan leader
Ujisato Gamo. Aizu candles are characterised by their elegant, curved
shape and bright flowers painted on a white background. Once a booming
business, today there are only three e-rosoku-making establishments
remaining in the region. One of these is owned by Tetsuji Ozawa, who
represents the seventh generation of candle-makers in his family. With
thirty years of experience behind him, Mr. Ozawa is one of the few artisans
left in the region with the skills to keep the art of e-rosoku
a child, Mr. Ozawa would watch family members making candles at home.
Although never taught formally, he was given the responsibility of carrying
on the family tradition soon after graduating from high school, when
his father passed away. Recalling his childhood observations, he soon
mastered the complicated art, and continued producing the hand-made,
hand-painted candles which are the trademark of the Ozawa Candle Shop.
The candles can vary from 15 to 36 centimetres in length, with a batch
of 200 to 300 small candles generally taking ten days to make.
the years, Mr. Ozawa has passed on his skills to his assistants, but
stresses that the art of making e-rosoku cannot be learnt from
a book. Each step of the process, from the winding of the wicks to the
temperature of the wax must be determined by the season and the materials
used. As the variables change from day to day, the judgment of the craftsman
Today, these beautiful and unique hand-painted candles are no longer
out of the price range of the common folk, and are often bought as souvenirs
by people visiting the Aizu region. Thanks to artisans like Tetsuji
Ozawa, who are fighting to save Aizu's local traditional arts, the colourful
Aizu e-rosoku will continue to burn on for some time yet.