Further up the coast of Ehime, there is an old town with a wonderful set of meandering old roads and historic buildings called Uchiko. Uchiko by itself is one of those little country Japanese towns that is insanely Instagrammable – it’s charming, old and clean, dotted with trendy shops, cafes and hostels – just right for a stroll in a kimono.
The highlight of the town however, is the old candle industry here that is originally what put Uchiko on the map in the first place. In the olden days, candles were made out of beeswax or paraffin; materials which when burnt produced a lot of smoke and unpleasant odor. The people of Uchiko however, discovered a way to make candle wax out of the haze tree, which is a very labor intensive process however the result is a pristine white candle that when burnt produces a pure bright flame with no smoke or odor.
These candles were exhibited at the Paris expo in 1900 (or thereabouts, I actually can’t remember) and instantly became a smash hit, making Uchiko candles a household name and making the small Shikoku town very prosperous indeed, as international orders flooded in for these amazing odorless, smokeless candles.
These days of course, candles are less of a household item and more of a mood setter, and demand for them is a shadow of what it was, however the Omori Candle workshop is still making candles of all shapes and sizes, and has been for six generations. A lot of the candles are sold to burn at Buddhist altars, however there are plenty of candles for everyday use, if you’re in the market for some fancy lighting during a blackout (which almost never happens in Japan). So if you’re ever in the town of Uchiko, pop in to the Omori candle workshop to see how they are made, and down the road you’ll be able to see the massive compound where haze trees were processed into wax, which is an absolutely fascinating process.