09-Keeping Time

Warosoku (Japanese Candle)


The wax (mokuro) derived from the nuts of Japanese wax trees is being simmered at low heat on the charcoal stove. The tiny factory is getting extremely hot, and the artisan has beads of sweat collecting across his forehead. In his left hand you can see a bundle of eight to nine wick sticks that are coiled in both Japanese washi paper and soft rush grass. He starts turning the wicks as his right hand dips in the pot of melted wax which is about 50 degrees celsius. He then scoops the wax out and applies it on the wicks layer by layer. The once melted wax is now solidified and wraps around his right hand like a glove. What’s fascinating is that the dark green liquid wax becomes as white as snow when it dries.


For a while, I thought warosoku simply meant “Japanese candle.” I never imagined that they were made in such a unique way. Because the wax is applied layer by layer, if you cut up a warosoku, you will see the beautiful growth ring patterns on its cross section. Though the one I have is so small I can hardly see anything.


When burning a warosoku, it doesn’t emit any smoke and leaves no traces of wax dripping. The flame is bright and flickers, and it isn’t put off by a bit of wind; even if you deliberately blow at it, it stands as firm as steel. It is of no surprise that one can feel an indescribable sense of security by staring at its candlelight. Judging from its appearance, warosoku is a very unusual candle. It has an asymmetrical shape, uneven coloring, and it feels soft. Yet, if you put it in your hand, it is as if you are holding a woman’s slender hand, so soft and precious.

這年頭蠟燭本已沒落,「和蠟燭」能夠保存,是幸虧神社、寺廟維持著一定需求,讓日本十多家的小工場依舊運作。宗教、儀式往往與蠟燭有關,也有人是為了情調,但不妨單純去觀賞它,盡量放空念頭,天藍慢慢加深之後,覺得那個時候到了,甚至可以關掉音樂,點燃它。也許會想到「人」,那些師傅們用手來回蘸蠟替人作光,成為他們畢生的志業;也許會想到「時間」,英語的「keeping time」指衡量時間,看著燭光,火焰「滋滋」作響,何嘗不是時間保存下來的證據。

Nowadays, candles are no longer commonly used. Thanks to the shrines and temples that have constant demands for candles, the long tradition of warosoku gets to be preserved and that those less than twenty small warosoku workshops in Japan can still operate. Candles are often related to religions and rituals, and are sometimes used for creating a romantic atmosphere. However, we can also simply view and admire them to help relax our minds. As the night falls, or whenever it is the right time for you, you can turn off the music and light a candle. You might think of “someone”—the artisans who spend their lives creating candles out of wax with their hands. You might also think of “time”, as looking at the candlelight and listening to the hissing of the flame is like “keeping time”⁠—watch it, monitor it, and witness the passing of it.