The history of candle #3

-3- The hallmark and the status quo of Japanese traditional candles

The main material of Japanese candles is Japan wax tree. This trees are growing wild naturally in East Asia only. Moreover, only the trees that grew in Japan become a candles.

Craftsman left an ingredient analysis to scientist. As a result, they’ve gotten a one answer. 6% one ingredient was included in the tree that grew in Japan. It’s called “Japan acid”.

If Japan-wax tree have not Japan acid, craftsman couldn’t make candles.

The hallmark of Japanese candles are;

1. All Handmade
2. All vegetable wax
3. Powerful but soft lights
4. Long burning
5. Stand up to the wind
6. Low soot

Sootless is important.
Because sootless candles don’t give damages to other Buddhism items and temples’ tools (Japanese Candles will give you long use of Buddhism items from 5 to 10 years at least).

Nowadays, Japanese candle studios are only 20. At half of 20 studios, there are no successors. But, Technique of Japanese candles won’t go out for the time being.

We’ve got more serious situation.
The farmers of Japan wax tree are decreasing incredibly from this side.
I mean, Japanese candles will go out in the near future from this side.

So, I want to get you to have more chance to use Japanese candles.

The history of candle #2

-2- How to make Japanese traditional candles

Output of Japanese style candle are decreasing now. Not be in demand, Japanese candles were pushed out by mass production (paraffin candle) from the market. Because the process of candles are a time‐consuming job, and it might be a little high price.

The main material of Japanese candles is Japan wax tree. That’s one of vegetable wax candle. This trees are growing wild naturally in East Asia only. Moreover, only the trees that grew in Japan become a candles (say later).

One; The farmer of Japan Wax tree harvest a nut, crush it, and extract wax from it. They send them to candle craftsman.

Two; Craftsman winds around paper and an igusa plant (one of rush) to thin wood stick (= wick). He soak wax into the wick.
—-”For that reason, Japanese candles have strong wick and burn till the end.”

Three; He rolls sticks on his hand that have wax. If inexperienced person, it would get burned. (See also the pics).
He repeats to dry and add wax. For that reason, Japanese candles have some rings like an annual rings of a tree.

The history of candle #1

-1- outline of Japanese & western candles

Candles are an essential tools for Christian and Buddhism religious services. These days, generally, also we are using western style candles which have string wick in Japan. Western style candle have possibility to be introduced to Japan by missionary in the Middle Ages (Christianity, Catholicism, was introduced to Japan at that period). However, Western style had gained popularity since Meiji period (from 1868). Japanese people had used Japanese style candles till that period.

Candle were introduced to Japan from China along with Buddhism. At that time, at Europe and Asia, candles were beeswax which are made of honey. In Heian period (8th – 12th century), pine‐tree gum took the place of honey, in Muromachi period (14th – 16th century), vegetable wax (Japan wax tree) took the place of them.
Meanwhile, in western (Europe), animal wax took the place of honey, for example whales and pigs.

However, Japanese Buddhism had never used western style candles, because Buddhism prohibited taking of life (Japanese people had never ate meat except fish till Meiji period basically). And it needed not importation.

Since Edo period (17th ? 19th century), Japan wax tree were introduced to the domain of Shimazu (in what is now Kagoshima pref.) from Ryukyu Kingdom (in what is now Okinawa, Japan). And output was increased.

On the other hand, in western, paraffin wax candles were developed, output was increased incredibly. This paraffin wax candles have been used since Meiji period.

The History of Butsudan #3 Turning point and modern Butsudan

In Muromachi period (14th -16th century), Shoin-Zukuri (Zen cultural house) had taken a firm hold to Samurai culture. And they put Buddhism items on at Tokonoma of their house (See also The history of Butsudan #2). Then Butsudan got a turning point.

Rennyo of Jodo Shinshu school appeared.

Rennyo was Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-temple the 8th, he is the important person in Jodo Shinshu history.

Rennyo had propagated Jodo Shinshu’s teachings actively, and he had recommended doing a religious service to followers everyday. For that reason, he had issued many “Rokuji Myogo (Namu Amida Butsu)”.

According to records, Rennyo didn’t mention Butsudan. Followers who were given Rokuji Myogo from him had gotten habit of putting it into box-like cabinet.

That is the first case of Butsudan.

In Edo period (17th ?19th century), Edo Bakufu shogunate had enacted Danka System. (see also Wikipedia).

The purpose of this system was to make Christianity into prohibited religion. For that reason, common people had got a necessity to belong to Buddhism temple (to avoid to become offender).

Jodo Shinshu followers had advanced Butsudan, because they were getting a habit of having Bustudan (or thing like a Bustudan)

Further, the lay people line of Jodo Shinshu had high affinity to Edo Shogunate’s religion policy. For that reason, other Buddhism schools also had adopted Butsudan in imitation of Jodo Shinshu.

Japanese Buddhism had experienced this history, and Japanese Buddhists got a habit of having Butsudan (at family unit). Nowadays, Bustudan have various styles.

The History of Butsudan #2 The model of Butsudan appeared

In Heian period (8th ? 12th century), Japanese Imperial culture reached its peak during period. At the same time, Mappou Shisou (one of eschatology) prevailed in the years. Noble clung to Buddhism, they built temples (Jibutsudo). The representative Jibutsudo is Byodo-in Houou-do. Byodo-in may be compared to the large Butsudan.

Byodo-in Houou-do

In the latter of Heian period, Hounen, Shinran, Dogen, Eisai and Nichiren are appeared, they put forward a new Buddhism (called Kamakura Buddhism). Buddhism changed from noble’s to common people’s.

In Kamakura period (Samurai ruled Japan), many Samurai became a believer in Zen. For that reason, Zen culture had influenced Japanese culture strongly.

The representative item, Ihai (spirit tablet). Kaimyo (Dharma name) is written on it by monk (after the death generally).

However, the so-called Butsudan had never appeared. They put Buddhism items on at Tokonoma of Shoin-Zukuri (Zen cultural house).

The History of Butsudan #1 Introduction and Ancient years

Maybe you can’t understand about Butsudan if you’re not Buddhist. No, even if you’re Buddhist, maybe you can’t understand about it unless you’re Japanese Buddhist. Because Butsudan is special Buddhism item of Japanese Buddhism culture.

Butsudan is the Buddhism wooden cabinet for Honzon (principal icon), Ihai (Dharma name tablet) and other tools (candle, burners, incense, orin bell)…

Generally, Butsudan consist of high-class timber, Urushi lacquer and metal. Any materials are expensive, and it’s produced sophisticated works by 7 – 8 craftsmen. So, it’s not cheap item. Instead of expensive, Butsudan would stay approximate 100 years.

This is Butsudan (it’s super high-class version). There is also more than 130,000 USD.

This is normal type (630 ? 12000 USD on average)

Butsudan and inner temple are made in imitation of Buddhism world, Mount Meru (Shumisen in Japanese). This is called Shumidan.

(Example for inner temple)

About Mount Meru, please refer to Wikipedia.

We have other similar items also, that’s called Butsugan and Zushi. It’s very difficult to define about Butsudan and them. Generally, Butsugan is space of dug wall (install statue at there). Zushi is the case of suitable for statue size.


In Japan, Shozon-Butsugan that was brought by Kobo Daishi is very famous.


Sometimes Zushi is not cheaper than statue itself. Because Zushi have high-class timber, Urushi lacquer and metal.

Therefore, Butsudan is advanced Zushi.
And it’s like a miniature temple (The origin of Butsudan is temple).

The origin of Buddhism temple is considered the hill that put sacred item on after the death of Gautama Siddhartha in India.
Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Baekje (Korea) in 6th century. At same time, Zushi also came.

The famous Japanese Zushi is Tamamushi-no-Zushi in Horyu-ji temple at Nara. This Zushi is the oldest one in Japan.

In 8th century, the 45th Emperor, Emperor Shomu gave Imperial order on establishment of Buddhism temple to whole country.