Candles were long prized in the city's many shrines and temples, and throughout the ancient capital. People did not see them as mere implements to illuminate the dark but also symbols of devotion and prayer. Antiquated candles and lamps are not as commonly used in contemporary times, but are still seen in places of worship. Some people relish and use the lighting at tea gatherings and places of work. Discover how Kyotoites use old-style lighting to bring calm and relaxation into modern life.
Since olden days, Kyotoites have valued light not just as a source of illumination.
Lamps for the deities.
Radiance for flowers.
Lighting at tea gatherings.
Candlelight and its boundary
with the darkness.
Kyoto has perpetuated
a culture from light.
Core Kyoto reveals the people behind the lighting that plays a major role in all aspects of life in the ancient capital.
This Shinto shrine was established in mid-9th century.
The light used in Japan's shrines and temples are thought to have originated here.
At the time of the Shinto shrine's founding, the priest received a divine revelation to refine oil from "egoma" seeds.
The priest invented an oil press.
The "egoma" oil extracted using it was shared with other temples and shrines around Japan.
April sees the shrine's most important festival.
Rituals are performed in gratitude to the deity that bestowed the oil.
Every year, people in the edible oil and fat industry attend and offer votive lamps, as others have done for centuries in reverence for and in honor of the deity.
Japanese candles evolved in a much different way to other countries.
"Warosoku" are thought to have first made an appearance in the 14th to 15th centuries.
Until the local production of cheaper Western candles in the latter half of the 1800s, "warosoku" were predominately used in places of worship, and at samurai and merchant residences.
In Kyoto, these candles are still often used, especially when praying to the deities for success in business.
This "warosoku" maker was established in 1887.
Tagawa Hirokazu believes "warosoku" evolved alongside Japanese culture.
Each are handmade from natural materials.
First, recycled washi is rolled around a bamboo stick for the wick.
Around it is wrapped oil-absorbent rush pith.
Rush is used in tatami matting, and the pith is found in the stalks.
The wax is extracted from Japanese wax tree berries, which belong to the cashew family.
The heated wax is poured into the mold.
Once the wax has solidified, the bamboo sticks are pulled out, leaving the centers hollow, and the candles are removed from the mold.
The candles have a lackluster color, so they are coated with white-colored wax to make them more pleasing to the eye.
The process has remained unchanged over the centuries.
The production of "warosoku" is time consuming, as opposed to their Western counterparts which are produced with machines.
Western candles are made from paraffin,
and the wick is string.
Japanese candles are
100 percent plant-based.
The wax comes
from the Japanese wax tree.
The wick is rolled washi
with rush around it.
So it doesn't burn completely,
because it's not straight like string.
The hole at the bottom
allows air to be sucked up.
This gives the flame
an irregular flicker.
Tagawa also produces colorful, fancy "warosoku" for use in decor to broaden their appeal.
He is also active at various temples in the city in efforts to perpetuate the tradition.
Western candles became more commonly available in Japan more than 100 years ago.
Until then, Buddhist statues were illuminated by "warosoku."
Tagawa aspires to reproduce these Buddhist scenes of old using his candles, in temples at night.
He invites other traditional Kyoto artisans to experience the ambience.
The way statues look when lit by "warosoku,"
the way gold foil glitters - we must show young artisans, or they will
create without vital, holistic knowledge.
If they don't produce from the heart,
the tradition won't be properly passed on.
That's why we need to emphasize this now.
It's already fading.
On this evening, he invites a Buddhist sculptor and a bamboo artisan.
- The mood's different, no?
I can't help but pay my respects.
This was once how every Japanese saw the Buddhist environment.
The irregular waver of the candlelight emits a mystical energy.
The light flickers, making
the statues appear to be moving.
Amazing. The statue is looking
at me. Very powerful.
You can't find these large flames
and this kind of flicker in Western candles.
"Warosoku" feel alive, and the expression on
the statue's face changes as it's lit up.
The sculptors of old gave their statues vigor
and compassionate expressions with "warosoku."
I think there are so many outstanding,
old statues because of this candlelight.
Not everything needs to be
seen in a bright light.
Feeling magnetism and beauty in a living
light is what's needed in modern society.
Electricity came about a century
or so ago, right?
Until then people only had the light
of the sun, moon, or fire.
That span of culture
is very long.
People used that light to create and
nurture interesting traditions and arts, and they should be passed down.
Lighting plays a significant role in the tea ceremony, which was perfected in Kyoto.
Tea gatherings are held morning, noon and night, and how they are conducted varies according to the time and season.
Those held on autumn and winter evenings are called "yobanashi."
Tea master Ota Sotatsu feels a Kyoto-esque beauty in these gatherings.
"Yobanashi" is a way
to while away long nights.
The light of the rapeseed oil lamp
and the "warosoku" dances.
You also move, like a dance,
when serving tea in the dark.
I think the beauty of the flickering
is most important.
The guests to the "yobanashi" are first shown to the waiting room to admire the hanging scroll chosen for the occasion.
A mythical creature believed to eat people's nightmares is illuminated by a "warosoku."
When the time comes, the guests move to outside the tea room.
They use old-fashioned umbrellas to protect themselves from the rain.
Walking unsteadily on the stepping stones, the guests rely on the light of a candlestick.
At the waiting bench, they await the host.
The host appears, also carrying a candle.
In a moment, an important part of a "yobanashi" gathering is held.
Exchanging the lights that lead each person through the dark signifies a sharing of mutual sentiments.
To me, "yobanashi" is
the art of light and shadows.
For example, sensing sound
within the shadows.
How you produce atmosphere
with the light is most important.
A rapeseed oil lamp is also used in the tea room.
The guests partake of a meal.
Once they have eaten the confections, the guests briefly leave the room.
The host removes the lamp's cover to brighten the atmosphere a touch.
The bell signifies that the preparations are complete and the guests are to return.
The host meticulously prepares thick matcha.
Ota, the host's assistant, serves the tea.
Time seems to move slowly.
The guests share the still of the night in silence, cherishing this one-time-only encounter.
This was light until the advent of
electricity in the 19th century.
People today have it easy and have forgotten
about aesthetics and the beauty within their lives.
The "yobanashi" tea gatherings
are truly stunning.
Kyoto has perpetuated the culture of
appreciating the night and the darkness.
The ancient shrine of Kitano Tenmangu has drawn multitudes of faithful over more than a millennium.
It holds a major festival on February 25 for the repose of the soul of Sugawara no Michizane, the enshrined deity.
Michizane was a leading scholar and statesman who served as a lead counsel to the emperor.
However, he was framed by his rivals and died in exile on February 25, 903.
Soon after, the imperial palace was struck by lightning and was plagued by a succession of deaths.
These ominous incidents were feared to be Michizane's curse.
In 947, a small shrine was constructed to placate Michizane's soul and lamps were lit for his repose.
Order returned, and Michizane came to be revered as a deity.
To this day, he attracts much adoration at Kitano Tenmangu.
Devotees write their hopes and prayers on spherical candles.
These candles are lit at the Baikasai festival held on February 25 for Michizane to make the wishes come true.
Since the shrine's foundation, multitudes of have
offered votive candles here on various occasions.
Worshippers have lit them over the centuries
to comfort Michizane's soul.
Michizane was said to have adored Japanese apricot blossoms.
In late winter and early spring, the shrine grounds are awash with 1500 blooming Japanese apricot trees of 50 varieties.
Candles are used to illuminate them at night.
Crowds gather every year to admire the mystical atmosphere.
Despite the modern tendency to brightly light up the dark, the dim radiance of candlelight continues to fascinate and soothe.
Lanterns are a common sight throughout the Kyoto cityscape.
Originating in China, lanterns grew in popularity as lighting, with the increased production of "warosoku."
Lightbulbs took over as light sources as more and more people had access to electricity.
But lanterns were still commonly used as lights.
This lantern maker has been in business for around two centuries.
It specializes in Kyoto-style lanterns which are known to be strong and durable.
Thin strips of bamboo make up the frame.
These are glued together with washi to form hoops of various sizes.
The hoops are then fastened securely with cotton string.
This step of the process is crucial because it determines the lantern's strength and shape.
Glue is applied to the frame then moistened washi is adhered to it, keeping in mind the paper's tension once it dries.
When dry, the wooden stand is removed.
Bamboo, washi, wheat-based glue, and water - Kyoto-style lanterns are 100 percent natural.
Since 2016, the family business has been receiving more and more orders for non-traditional designs to be placed in contemporary settings, such as hotels and restaurants.
Kojima Ryo spearheads the production of lanterns with novel designs.
The way we make them remains unchanged,
but our client-base has.
Right now, 80 percent are used in modern settings
and 20 percent in traditional settings.
All of us strive to stretch our potential
with each new order we receive.
Modern Kyoto-style lanterns are gaining increased attention from abroad.
The company receives commissions from designers across North America and Europe.
Acting as bridge to the overseas market is Takeda Shinya.
He worked at a machinery manufacturer in Germany before joining the company in 2017.
It's through traditional industries, like this,
that Japan can compete on the world stage.
American, Scandinavian, and other European clients
are attracted to our use of natural materials.
They appreciate this old-age tradition,
which they see as added value.
This guesthouse boasts a Kyoto-style lantern.
For now, apply glue to only this side.
Kojima conducts workshops in various locations to convey the charm of Kyoto lanterns.
People of all ages experience lantern making by gluing washi to frames with an 8-centimeter diameter.
The lanterns are complete in about an hour.
On this day, Kojima requested the assistance of "warosoku" artisan Tagawa Hirokazu.
Today we have Tagawa-san as a guest,
and we'll put candles in our lanterns.
"Warosoku" are plant-based.
They differ from Western candles
in that the wick is thick.
Even without a breeze, the flames
will flicker and create shadows.
- The patterns are twinkling.
- The shadows are moving.
Come sundown, a "warosoku" is lit in the lantern at the entrance to the guesthouse.
The aim is to have people experience the street lighting that was commonplace before the proliferation of lightbulbs.
There's a Japanese-style ambience -
And when I think that people
of old saw similar sights, I feel connected to them
and it makes me feel good.
When I imagine lanterns once hung
everywhere, like this, it warms me to the core.
I picture a serene townscape.
The types of lighting that evolved in Kyoto act as reminders of bygone times - connecting modern people to the past as they illuminate a peaceful path toward the future.