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Japanese candle shop yearns to brighten up the world while warming hearts

Japanese candles adorned with illustrations of seasonal flowers, which are hand-painted by craftsmen, are seen in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, on April 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Nanami Hidaka)

TAKASHIMA, Shiga -- A shop with a long history of creating and selling Japanese candles, characterized by a strong yet soft flame, aspires to have its products warm the hearts of people around the world.

    Daiyo is a store located in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, and has been around for 107 years since its establishment. It is the only shop in the prefecture that sells and produces Japanese candles using a traditional technique called "tegake." Fourth-generation head and president Satoshi Onishi, 41, said, "Candles remain close to the hearts of people. I'd like for our products to be eventually used by people around the world."

    A Japanese candle characterized by a lasting flame that isn't too bright is seen at candle shop Daiyo in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, on April 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Nanami Hidaka)

    Unlike candles made of paraffin wax derived from petroleum, Japanese candles use wax taken from Japanese wax trees and lacquer trees. The candles are created through a distinctive "tegake" procedure, which involves repeatedly applying wax around the candlewick with the bare hands. It is said that it takes 10 years to master the technique.

    When he was in his fourth year at university, Onishi heard about the company's history from his father and third-generation head Akihiro, 69, and learned of his father's devotion toward Japanese candles. Onishi said that his father's work fit with his own wish to pursue a career where he felt connected with society, and that his "father's talk was convincing." Onishi made his start at Daiyo after working at an incense stick maker in Kyoto for three years. He served as an apprentice to his father and inherited the shop's traditional skills. He has built trust with clients through acts such as supplying goods to Eiheiji temple in Fukui Prefecture.

    Meanwhile, Onishi remarked that "it has become an age where it is difficult to stay in business just by touting a 'traditional craft' label." In 2014, Onishi established the new brand "hitohito," and pitched the items to hotels in Tokyo. He was proud of his products which he took extreme care to make. However, none of the hotels stocked them. This shocked Onishi as he realized that "the candles' value will go unrecognized."

    Satoshi Onishi is seen in front of Japanese candle shop Daiyo in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, on April 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Nanami Hidaka)

    In November 2019, when he sensed that there was a limit to domestic demand, Onishi paid visits across the United States over 10 days, bringing along his shop's Japanese candles. He visited stores selling interior furniture goods and handicrafts one by one on foot. Although people from overseas had previously bought his shop's items out of curiosity, Onishi wished to convey their true value in person.

    Unlike in Japan, using candles in daily life is a customary practice in the United States. When Onishi offered explanations from the basics about the candles' material and settings they can be used in, he received responses much more favorable than he had expected.

    "My 10 days in America brought about confidence in me to devote efforts to overseas sales, and create and show products that will also be accepted abroad," said Onishi.

    Although he also had plans to visit Europe in March 2020, his trip was postponed due to the coronavirus. In spite of this, he is staying positive and said that suggesting a lifestyle with candles and finding new value in it will kindle people's desire to "light a candle."

    The shop also apparently plans to sell new products in May, placing a focus on tools to be used in accompaniment with candles, such as candle snuffers and candlewick trimmers made of brass.

    Japanese candles of various sizes are seen in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, on April 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Nanami Hidaka)

    "The candlelight itself is set up in a way so that the owner can feel various things from it, and allows each person to have their own unique view, which is one of the candles' charms. I'd like the candles to be like a close friend that silently lends an ear by your side."

    Daiyo, the Japanese candle shop founded in 1914, is located at 2-5-8 Imazucho, Sumiyoshi in the city of Takashima, Shiga Prefecture. The store handles a wide range of products, including those designated for religious purposes as well as candles for home.

    Items can be purchased via the online shop at http://warousokudaiyo.shop-pro.jp/

    An English website can also be reached at https://warousokudaiyo.com/english/

    For more information, please contact Daiyo at 0740-22-0557

    (Japanese original by Nanami Hidaka, Osaka Regional News Department)

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