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Dear Alice,

My Japanese mother-in-law is very traditional and spends at lot of time maintaining the family butsudan, the cabinet-like Buddhist altar in the main room of her home. It is part of her daily routine to light candles, pray and make small offerings of food to the deceased relatives memorialized there. So when my wife and I were preparing for our annual visit, I suggested we bring nice candles from England as a gift, but my wife protested that her mother would never use a Western candle on the altar. She claims Japanese candles are “completely different” but couldn’t say how. Can you explain what the heck makes a Japanese candle Japanese?

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