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  • Kyoto: Traditional Japanese Candles and Tops Get Chanukah Spin

    Soon after Rabbi Moti Grumach moved to Kyoto, Japan, about three years ago to serve as an emissary there for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he realized that a local craft dovetailed neatly with Jewish traditions. Warosoku, or candles made from the fruit of the haze tree — or Japanese sumac, sometimes called the wax tree — are a longtime Kyoto specialty, dating back centuries • Full Story

    Photo: Moti Grumach

    Times of Israel

    Soon after Rabbi Moti Grumach moved to Kyoto, Japan, about three years ago to serve as an emissary there for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he realized that a local craft dovetailed neatly with Jewish traditions.

    Warosoku, or candles made from the fruit of the haze tree — or Japanese sumac, sometimes called the wax tree — are a longtime Kyoto specialty, dating back centuries. Made entirely of vegetable products and a washi paper wick, warosoku tend to produce softer light and less smoke than the wax-and-cotton-wick candles used in the West.

    A Japanese member of his community told Grumach about Nakamura Rousoku, a 125-year-old Kyoto company that still makes each candle by hand, and he realized they would be a nice addition to Hanukkah celebrations at his Chabad House, one of four in Japan.

    Now, the company, which has struggled during the pandemic, has designed candles especially for the local Jewish community, using Hanukkah colors and messages. And Grumach is working with them and other local artisans to export their work for use in Hanukkah celebrations worldwide.

    “When we are here in Japan, we not only focus on the Jewish community, but what we give to the local Japanese community,” he said. “How we can help, and how we can give them more strength.”

    Japan has a long tradition of using specially designed candles as ceremonial gifts, according to Hirokazu Tagawa, CEO of Nakamura Rousoku. Beginning in the Edo era (1603-1868), guests would give custom candles to the shogun, the military dictators appointed by the emperor. Tagawa himself sent candles to the city of Kobe after an earthquake there killed more than 6,000 people in 1995.

    Candles are also traditionally used to light Buddhist or Shinto altars, or at funerals and memorial events.

    “Using fire is common among all cultures, a kind of universal thing. So beyond the difference of religions and cultures, lighting the world, and using candles, is a very nice thing,” Tagawa said.

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