Candle (roosoku)

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Candle (roosoku, rosoku)

***** Location: Japan, worldwide
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


observance kigo for the New Year

roosoku kae 蝋燭替(ろうそくかえ)changing the candles
On January 15, the day called
joogen no hi 上元の日(じょうげんのひ)

. First third of the year, jogen, joogen 上元  


Japanese candles
have a different shape from the European ones. Read the essay below.

Click HERE to see some typical Japanese candles.

- quote:
Japanese candle making
written by YoCo - translated by Natsumi

There are four basic techniques of producing candles: the very cheap ones (tea lights for example) which simply use powdered paraffin pressed into the desired shape (pressed candles), then you can cast a candle by pouring the fuel into a certain shape (cast candles), bees wax candles are often sheets of thin wax wrapped around the wick (wrapped candles) but then you can also dip your wick into hot wax or pull it through a basin of liquid wax several times until the desired thickness is achieved (dip candles).

This later dipping-technique is similar to how Japanese people create their candles and is one of the conditions to create a solid, non-dripping, precise burning candle.

Now, why is that so important? Imagine you live in a house made entirely from paper and wood and the only way to make light is to burn a candle. How would you feel? I guess you would be super-extra-careful and happy to pay a little more for those candles which do not drip, jitter of spark a lot, wouldn’t you? And that is of course what Japanese people tried to create: quality candles!

Of course many houses are made of stone and glass nowadays, so trendy colorful scented aromatherapy-candles are also fashionable over here, but you can still tell, that Japanese people are generally a little scared of any type of open fire - maybe it is in the genes…

Unfortunately, the presence of Japanese candles is not as widely recognised as that of European candles and Japanese candles are actually a very little use today. This is partly due to the fact that candles in Japan have long been used at special occasions such as Buddhist events and tea ceremonies only. Essentially, they are designed for uses at sombre scenes and not for relaxation, really (… I watched people unconsciously straightening their posture when looking into the solemn light of a Japanese candle).

However, there seems to be a recent trend and people get more interested in those old, handmade candles and worship their particular beauty.

Since Japanese candles are rather traditional, they stuck to their original, natural ingredients and techniques from ancient times: only the purest Sumac wax is used (to assure a high quality candle), special attention goes to producing a perfect wick (which is most essential to create a safe candle to keep your house from burning) and only certain colors are allowed.

Many people believe that pure natural ingredients such as beeswax or Japan wax burn much cleaner than parafin candles. Everything else which gets added (such as fragrance oils or color) only disturbes a pure flame!

Sumac or in this case Japan wax is actually a byproduct of lacquer manufacture. It is not a true wax and closer to fat. Since the original plant it is extracted from is poisonous, it can cause severe skin irritation. When I went to look at how the people at Daiyo still show traditional candle making, I was surprised to see, that they do it all by hand. The traditional way! (The Sumac oil is also used to style our sumo wrestler’s hair by the way..)

Now we know about the wax, what is so special about the wick?
You can easily notice, that it is comparatively thick. European candles usually use plaited cotton strings drenched in wax, which are much thinner. The Japanese wick uses rush fibres at the core with specially prepared paper coiled around it. See?

Once the wick is successfully completed, hot wax (about 40-42 degrees celsius) gets poured over several wicks at once, rolled in the craftsmen’s hands (more than 10 times for a thin candle) until it is cold enough to toss it with another layer. Repeat until desired thickness is achieved.

It takes a lot of effort to make candles this way, but provides that there are hardly any harmful fumes or guttering. Since only the purest Sumac fat is used without any other ingredients, all materials are 100% natural and you can be sure, that each handmade candle holds a lot of love. Dream yourself into a traditional Japanese room with sliding doors, paper screens with wooden sash bars while the soft light of the candle shines gently - just for you!
- source : pingmag - YoCo -

- quote -
The making of a Japanese candle 和蝋燭
- look at many photos -
- source : Alice Gordenker 2012 -


Japanese candles (wa roosoku 和蝋燭 わろうそく)
with a peony decoration (see discussion below)


. Japanese Candles, Aizu Wakamatsu .

. e-roosoku 絵蠟燭 / 絵ろうそく e-rosoku, erosoku, picture candles .
kamonshoku 花紋燭 candles with flower patterns
Yamagata, Tsuruoka Tsurugaoka 鶴岡


From a discussion of the Translating Haiku Forum

. - Morikawa Kyoroku / Kyoriku 森川許六 - .

roosoku ni shizumari kaeru botan kana

to the candle
the peony
is as still as death

Tr. R. H. Blyth

to the candle
as still as the grave -
peony .....

Tr. Michael Haldane

shizumari kaeru 静まりかえる ... is translated a bit too strong in both versions, I think.
Literally it means "to get back" kaeru .. to a state of quietness that existed before some sort of excitement disturbed it. I have never heared it apply to plants in everyday Japanese.
It is an expression we often use when things calm down after a busy day in the evening, after the visitors have left after Christmas or even after a typhoon. I think the allusion to death or grave is much too strong. The peonies might be plural, if we think of this scene happening in one of the famous Peony Parks.
I was invited once to the famous Peony Garden at Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura and might have written such a haiku myself in the exquisite darkness and quietude, so very different from the hundreds of tourists there during daytime.

I can therefore see a different scene altogether ... some poets looking at these great flowers in a busy temple garden, after the other visitors have gone and things are finally quiet ...

First translation attempt:

in the light of a candle
all becomes so quiet / we become all quiet ...
the peonies


finally quiet
in the candle light -

Tr. Gabi Greve

(beautiful translation, Gabi san. You have a gift with translation.
robert wilson)


Versions by "chibi" (pen-name for Dennis M. Holmes)

the candle [flame] quiets -- peony

the candle steadies -- o peony

the stillness after a candle flickers -- peony


Gabi, thanks for sharing this. As you know, I'm neither a translator nor one knowledgeable about the Japanese language... but I'd like to offer the following:

becoming quiet
in the candlelight,

Nobo:18303: ito

I don't like R.H. Blyth's translation at all, but I like yours Gabi with the use of 'finally' quiet, as if all animation finally ceased, that of people, and peonies both with their bright colors and we are left with a stillness lit only be candlelight. Like ito, it's fun to try, so here's my effort too.

in the quietness
of candlelight . . .

Nobo:18305: Carole


Versions by Philip Harding

become quiet
in the candle light-

in the candle light-
the peonies
are quieter


Versions by Grzegorz Sionkowski
with comments by Larry Bole

I think this kind of haiku is hated by all English language people - the parts of the sentence in this Japanese text seem completely reversed for them.

For English people I would reverse verses :

peonies --
so still and quiet
in the candlelight

............... Comment by Larry
I, for one, don't hate it with either phrase order, simply because of the phrase order.

English is a very flexible language. Although grammarians warn about putting prepositions at the end of sentences for example, it is a habit no writer of English avoids. So I will say I don't mind which order the phrases are put in.

Tim Russell, in his Shachihoko yahoo group, inveighs against putting the prepositional phrase first in a haiku in English. He considers it a 'trick' to make a haiku sound more 'literary.' There is something to be said for his position, but I say, in the final analysis, so what?

There are legitimate reasons for putting the prepositional phrase first. Changing the emphasis, for one, and sometimes it just sounds better, for another. I have always disliked the way an English haiku kind of trails off at the end when put in this order:

so still and quiet
in the candlelight

To my ear, "in the candlelight," when coming at the end like this, almost sounds like an afterthought, whereas putting "peonies" at the end doesn't.

I wonder, from a Japanese point of view, which part of the haiku should be emphasized, if in fact one part should have more emphasis than any other part.

In any phrase order in English, the haiku is understandable:

so still and quiet
in the candlelight

in the candlelight
so still and quiet

in the candlelight--
so still and quiet

so still and quiet--
in the candlelight

in the candlelight
so still and quiet--

so still and quiet
in the candlelight--

............... Comment by Gregor
Talking about ~reversity I mean something like this literal:

in the candlelight
become still --

where "become" may mean both "I/we become", as in Gabi's translation, and "peonies become".

I have never read similar haiku written in such English, with the subject omitted or set after the predicate in the form of Present Simple.

IMHO, "kana" means that peonies are emphasized. I think the Japanese reading this haiku word by word up to "kaeru" thinks he is the subject of the phrase, then changed it into peonies. Then generalizes it on everything around ;-)

That is why I have changed verbs into adjectives, which may describe in my version both peonies and everything around. I think it was also Gabi's and Kyoroku's intention.

If you feel it works in any order, I must agree with you. It is your language.

............... Comment by Larry
One word which would have more than one implication would be the word "all:"

in the candelight
all quiet and still--

where "all" can mean both everything (people, peonies, and candlelight), as well as meaning 'wholly' or 'entirely' still, which is to say, completely.

............... Comment by Gregor
I think, literally the text should say just about peonies.
It would be good if it may be generalized then, but IMHO it shouldn't be said exactly as "all". This is haiku about peonies.

I think, English way to translate this haiku with the same sequence of images as in the original, is adding the subject to the phrase, finding the second word to "peonies" to obtain better in sound (two words) L3, and counting the syllables to 5-7-5 :

My attempt:

in the candlelight
they become still and quiet
peony flowers

Here I lost some meaning (there are only poenies and unknown they, without me/us), but it is only... translation ;-)

............... Comment by Larry
A nice translation, but for me it raises a question: what were the peonies doing prior to being in the presence of the candlelight? Jumping up and running around? Why, when exposed to candlelight, would "they become still and quiet?"

The continuation of this conversation is now here to read, with more about Kyoriku and his death poem too:

Translating Haiku Forum : # 939


Some more Comments by Larry Bole

The translations by Blyth and Haldane do sound extreme in English even without knowing how best to translate the Japanese.

Why do you think Blyth and then Haldane came up with the translations they did? How would they have gotten the concept of "still as death," or "still as the grave" out of "shizumari kaeru?"

Also, why do you think both started out with the phrase "to the candle?" This personifies the candle in a way that doesn't make sense to me.

I have been trying to imagine the setting of this haiku. I wonder why "ni" can't be translated as "by" so that the haiku would start "by the candle," or "near the candle," or "next to the candle," or as you have suggested, "in the light of the candle."

Would the peony be outdoors or indoors? It seems to me that if outdoors, someone would be looking at it by lantern-light. Would someone take a candle outside to look at a peony?

If inddoors and next to a candle, would the peony be upright in a vase or laid on its side? Would it be in an alcove, or on a low table, or perhaps on an altar?

Gabi, in your comments for "candle-roosoku," you say that "... candles in Japan have long been used at special occasions such as Buddhist events and tea ceremonies only.
Essentially, they are designed for uses at sombre scenes..." Is it from knowing this that Blyth may have gotten the idea of "still as death?"

Here is what Blyth says about this haiku:

"The candle burns motionless;
its soul of fire does not quiver.

The peony too, not to be outdone, glows immovable, overpowering the candle with its fervent blooming.
They are as quiet as the grave, in their burning life."

Can a haiku be too obscure to be considered successful?

Further discussion of this haiku and the translations of Blyth
by Larry Bole and Robert Wilson

... ... ...

Dear Gabi, Larry et al,
Blyth cannot answer your questions, but I can.
My translation was not simply an English version of a Japanese haiku; it was also a rewriting of an earlier English translation of that haiku. I must stress that it was both: it is not simply a variation on the English, and I did look properly at the Japanese.

I CHOSE to do something different. This is not one of my better translations - "quiet / in the candlelight / - Peonies" - is much better (I would query the "Finally" as being a little too conclusive too early and for hindering the rhythm with its dacytlic foot) and the best translation of this haiku that I have seen. It is soft and beautiful, and the sound is in perfect concordance with the image.

Read Michael Haldane about his translation

... ... ...

Larry again :

... this haiku still puzzles me. It seems too far removed, too detached, from a place or setting, a context, for my taste. I just can't understand why peonies would be necessarily more quiet in candlelight than in sunlight for instance, or moonlight.

I suppose I could accept "quietness" instead of "quiet," so that a comparison is set up:

peonies in

so that the hush that sometimes falls over the world in the evening becomes palpably embodied by the peonies in candlelight. I wish I could find out if any Japanese commentators have commented on this haiku of Kyoroku's, and if so, what has been said about it.


WKD : More about the Peony and Haiku

Here is another haiku with a personification of the peony, by Issa

fuku kuru to kiite hoshigaru botan kana

"Good luck's coming!"
the peony longs
to be heard

by Issa, 1824

Shinji Ogawa points out that the phrase, kiite hoshigaru means "longing to be listened [to]." He comments, "The peony is so beautiful that it seems to say in a loud voice, 'Good luck is coming.'"

Tr. David Lanoue

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

. Doing Business in Edo - 江戸の商売 .
Recycling and Reuse - リサイクル と 再生 / 再使用

roosoku no nagare kai ロウソクの流れ買い buying candle wax drippings

He bought the last bit of wax of burned-out candles, determining the prize after weighing the wax. Then they melted it all and make new candles in this recycle process.
The wax dripping down on candles was also called
roorui 蝋涙 "tears of wax"

岡場所錦絵 辰巳八景ノ内 香蝶楼国貞 
後ろは高張提灯 (in the back a Takahara Chochin lantern)
Geisha on the way home. Their lanterns (and thus candles) were extra large.
- source : cleanup.jp/life

roosokushi, roosoku shi 蠟燭師 making candles in Edo
roosokuya 蠟燭屋 Rosoku-ya

In the Edo period, people used Andon lamps and Chochin lanterns with candles for light in the evening.
The candles were made with
mokuroo 木蝋 "tree wax". kiroo 生蝋 - "Japan wax"
from from ハゼノキ Haze, Toxicodendron succedaneum.

A lump of tree wax - photo : wikipedia -

source : edoichiba tousin
tooshin shokunin 燈心職人 craftsman making candle wicks

- - - - - - - - - -
"Only the purest Sumac wax is used (to assure a high quality candle), special attention goes to producing a perfect wick (which is most essential to create a safe candle to keep your house from burning) and only certain colors are allowed.
(see article by YoCo above)
Since 1624, many candle makers in Edo lived in Kanda, Roosokuchoo 蠟燭町 Rosoku district, in Kanda.

source : dhanow.ldblog.jp/archives
In 1933, it was re-named to 神田旭町、神田司町一丁目. Kanda Asahicho.

The candle makers collected the ingredients by October and most candles were made in the cold winter months, outside their shops, to get some cool, since they had to sit in front of a huge chauldron with hot wax and prepare the candles with their hands.
The finished candles were often polished with a bamboo spatula.

source : edo-g.com/blog/2016/02/shomei.htm

The candles had various sized according to their use and the price was adjusted to the amount of wax used.
The colorful candles from Aizu were already popular in the Edo period.

. Edo craftsmen 江戸の職人 shokunin .

. andon 行灯 Andon lanterns and lamps - .
- choochin 提灯 Chochin lanterns

and a modern Warosoku candle maker in Kyoto,
中村ろうそく Nakamura Rosoku Shop

5 steps in making a candle :
1 -- Prepare the wick
by wrapping rush around thinly coiled Japanese paper.
2 -- [Under Coating]
After the wick has set, the candle is hand-coated with wax over and over again. After multiple coatings, the candle becomes thick.
3 -- [Upper Coating]
Special techniques are used to create the special atmosphere of Wa-rosoku. After 4-5 iterations by hand, the deep green candle suddenly becomes white. This technique is said to require the most refined and polished skill out of the candle making art.
4 [Pulling Out The Core]
A cutting tool is used to gently pull out the wick. Afterwards, if necessary, cinnabar is applied.
5 [Applying the Cinnabar]
The mix of the white from the pure wood sap and the cinnabar colorant makes for a beautiful white candle with an expressive surface pattern. Extremely high skill is needed to uniformly apply the thin coating.

- Read more information here
- source : jcrafts.com/eg/shop/special -


shoku no hi o shoku ni utsusu ya haru no yuu

light from one candlestick
to another candlestick -
spring evening

Tr. Gabi Greve

Lighting one candle
with another candle –
spring evening.

Tr. Robert Hass

- REF: Discussing this haiku : ECOKU -

Using one candle
To light another;
The spring evening.

- Discussion -
source : David Coomler, FLICKERING SHADOWS

. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 .

shoku, shokudai 燭台 candlestick, candleholder

Famous candle holder in the form of a crane standing on a tortoise (tsurukame shokudai 鶴亀燭台).

. Tsuruame candleholder 鶴亀の燭台 .


teshoku 手燭 portable candlestick

teshoku shite iro ushinaeru kigiku kana

In the light from the candle held
Their color lost--
Yellow chrysanthemums

Tr. Nelson/Saito

teshoku shite niwa fumu hito ya haru oshimu

holding a candlestick
someone walks in the garden -
lamenting the passing of spring

Tr. Gabi Greve

teshoku shite yoki futon dasu yosamu kana

With lantern in hand,
taking out a heavy quilt--
a cold night!

Tr. Sawa and Shiffert

. WKD : Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .

. Pottery Lamp (katoo, gatoo 瓦燈) .


source : ameblo.jp/giantlimited/entry

大童山文五郎 Daidozan Bungoro 碁盤上げ Goban age

A young Sumo wrestler, Bungoro, is using a wooden Go board to fan out the candle.
This was a new amusement for the people of Edo.

. igo 囲碁 the game of Go .


Candle rock, Roosoku Iwa (蝋燭岩)


This rock has been called "ROSOKU iwa"(Candle rock) for many years because it looks like a candle. It rises 46m from the sea.
Owing to such an unusual shape, ROSOKU iwa is one of the most popular scenic spots in Yoichi, Hokkaido, and there are many legends surrounding this rock.

unwavering flame
on the tip of Rosoku Rock:
the setting sun

Larry Bole


roosoku de tabako sui keri hototogisu

lighting my pipe
with a candle . . .

susu sawagi sumu ya midoo no shu roosoku

after the soot-sweeping
the temple's red candles

Tr. David Lanoue

. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .


a candle with a kite
both on the string
light the night sky

shoma, India


All Saints Day--
candles melting
in every gate

roh mih, Manila, Philippines


World Peace Day -
a tiny candle
in every heart

Gabi Greve, Germany/Japan, September 2006


light of dawn -
smoke rising from
the candle

Vishnu Kapoor, India


a prayer for peace--
among the votive candles
I light another

Larry Bole


evening altar
a vase of jasmine
dies with the candle

santiago m. pacquing jr. philippines

Related words

***** Candle night

***** Advent

***** "Candle Skewers" roosoku yaki
蝋燭焼, ろうそくやき

kigo for all winter

Fish or chicken meat is minced, formed into small balls and put on a skewer. It is barbequed over a charcoal fire. From time to time the balls are is dipped into a sauce, which makes it look like producing a Japanese candle.
In some areas, the meat of wild birds is used and the sticks are called "Crow Skewers" karasu roosoku yaki 烏ろうそく焼.


Kyoriku and Basho's "Crow on a bare branch"
Larry Bole

An essay comparing English translations of Basho's:

kare-eda ni karasu-no tomari-keri ak-no-kure

"Kyoriku" painted a picture which has this haiku inscribed upon it; one of two pictures for this haiku, the other being by Basho himself.

The essay is titled:

A Comparison of Matsuo Basho's Haiku "Kare-eda-ni..." and Its English Translations

The essay is by Elin Sutiste (umlaut over the u), and appeared in
ISSN 1406-6203 http://www.ut.ee/klassik/sht/

In the appendix to this essay, she has collected 32 English translations of this haiku.

The essay is in pdf format, and is 21 pages long, and loades slowly.

Although not attributed in the book, the Kyoriku painting of crows containing Basho's haiku is clearly the one shown on pp. 8-9 of Leon M. Zolbrod's book, "Haiku Painting" (Tokyo, New York, San Francicso, Kodansha International, 1982). This is the painting with 27 crows (seven in a tree and 20 in the air) mentioned by Ms. Sutiste in her essay.


Daruma Candles ダルマローソク Daruma roosoku

Daruma Candle Holder 火立(ダルマ)


. Legends and Tales from Japan 伝説 - Introduction .

In Fukushima
people get a special amulet from 子安観音 Koyasu Kannon, a piece of hemp 麻 and a candle.
If they light the candle, it will be an easy birth.

If someone wants to divorce a partner, there are a few prescriptions for a midnight pilgrimage to 蟇目鹿島神社 Hikime Kashima Shrine at the haunted hour 丑の刻参り for 21 nights. Holding a candle in one hand is one of the duties during that time.

In Tokyo
someone was bewitched by a fox and walked around aimlessly in the fields all night.
A fox had extinguished his handle so he got lost completely. When it got light in the morning, he realized that the candle of his lantern had been pulled out.

- reference : nichibun yokai database 妖怪データベース -



- #rosoku #roosoku #candle #wick #wax -


Anonymous said...

Pink peony --
candles in the wind
on the grave

Angelika Kolompar Bygott

Gabi Greve said...

Lamp light (lamplight) in autumn (shuutoo)

Gabi Greve said...

lighting a candle
with prayers for health --
feeling the wind

~ Isabelle Prondzynski

Click HERE for the photo and more !

news said...

quote from the Japan Times -

Kiyoshi Tanji, the current patriarch of a family that has been making traditional candles for about 500 years, told me that many people mistakenly believe that the difference between Japanese and Western candles is their shape. Handing me a top-heavy candle with a wide rim and narrow base, he said, "This shape, which is called ikari-gata, is what most people think of as a Japanese candle. But there is also a straight up-and-down type, called kigake, which is exactly the same shape as a Western-style candle."

It's actually what goes into a Japanese candle that makes it different.

"Japanese candles are made entirely from vegetable matter and do not contain any animal products at all," Tanji explained. "This distinction is very important for a candle that will be used in a Buddhist temple or on an altar, because Buddhism prohibits the intentional killing of animals."



Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

e roosoku 絵ろうそく candles with pictures
Hyogo, Nishinomiya town 西宮市
Matshumoto Shouten 松本商店 Matsumto Shoten


Hyogo Folk Art - 兵庫県