How Etsy Seller Rino Minami’s Candles Are Inspired by the Traditions (and Smells) of Japan

published Mar 25, 2019
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(Image credit: Etsy)

Rino Minami, Etsy seller and self-described “candelista” at Tokyn Candles, was once a run-of-the-mill candle obsessive, until she took it one step further than the rest of us and started making her own in the search for the perfect scent. But it’s not just a deep passion for candles that drives her business. She was inspired to launch her business and Etsy store at her grandmother’s funeral after hearing her uncle discuss the significance of musubi, or the creation of special decorative knots with their own purpose.

Minami’s home country of Japan informs more than just her business’s mission and name. (Read more about that below!) Her scents are also deeply rooted in her country of birth. While you can find scents that look familiar, like rose or sea salt, each one is her own unique take on it based largely on areas in Japan, like a coastal town or tony shopping district in Tokyo.

We interviewed Minami recently to learn more about her inspiration for Tokyn candles, what it’s like to launch a full-time business out of a passion project, and how some second graders provided unlikely inspiration for one scent.

(Image credit: Etsy)

How did Tokyn Candles get started?
Tokyn Candles was launched in 2015 on the foundation of “musubi,” a Japanese form of knotting that treasures the unity and togetherness between people. I first learned about musubi when my grandmother passed away. My uncle gave a moving speech at the ceremony about how we’re the string that holds everyone together, the string that my grandmother left behind. I learned that there was a unique knot for every life event and started learning more about the different ties. The knot I have around my signature candle line is called the awaji knot, which is usually sent to loved ones for a celebratory event or to give thanks for a strong bond. Tokyn’s mission is to create and share this art of musubi through our carefully hand-poured soy candles.

When I first launched back in 2015, it was a passion project that I had on the side. My little online shop was a creative outlet for me to enjoy after work. I quickly learned that maintaining a small business is a full-time job! I was clueless and still am learning every day how to manage all the aspects (production, marketing, budgeting the list goes on and on) of running a handmade shop. I took a leap of faith a little over a year after launch and have since been managing Tokyn solo with help from my very supportive family and friends during the crazy holiday season. I may or may not have had my whole family building boxes and packing candles for days leading up to Christmas… It truly takes a village.

Musubi Anjōu Fig Tree Candle, $28 (Image credit: Tokyn Candles/Etsy)

What is the story behind the shop’s name ?
Tokyn is a blend of Tokyo + Brooklyn, the two places that constantly provides me with the creative energy and inspiration as a maker. I wanted Tokyn to be a way for me to intertwine the rich Japanese culture of musubi with Brooklyn’s eclectic flair.

I love the idea of incorporating musubi into your work, but, of all the things you could have created, why do you make candles?
I’ve always been fascinated with how certain scents evoke detailed memories, transporting you back to a specific place and time. I always loved lighting candles all around the apartment and would spend hours shopping for the “perfect” candle. On one particular day, my husband saw me come home with my arms full of candles I had purchased and joked that I should probably try making my own candles as I was clearly very invested in them. I took him up on the challenge and started my candle making journey. I started by visiting stores that specialized in aromatic oils and also went to craft stores looking for candle making supplies. It was a lot of trial and error and playing scientist in the beginning. There were many nights when I was literally burning that midnight oil until I was able to create a candle that I was happy with. That was four years ago.

What is the best-selling item in your shop?
My best-selling item has been the Toyama Forest Mist Botanical Candle. I think customers really enjoy the visual of the eucalyptus in the outer layer as well as the scent of evergreens and sandalwood in the center votive.

The Botanical Collection Toyama Forest Mist, $39 at Tokyn Candles (Image credit: Tokyn Candles/Etsy)

Where do you create your products?
I make everything in my workspace in my home. I’ve been looking for a separate studio space as things have gotten a little harder with a little baby crawling around!

Do you have a favorite Etsy store (besides your own, of course!)
There are so many. I love my Good At Naps blanket from Calhoun & Co and I of course have to mention my mother’s recently launched stuffed animal shop Harrington Park!

Have you ever received any weird custom requests?
My best friend is a 2nd grade teacher and I went in for career day to have the class create their own original scented candle. They decided on App-zu (Apple x Yuzu). Suffice to say, I would have never thought of that unique naming or combination of scents!

What’s one hard part of your work that people may not realize?
Making and successfully managing the time to get to all the aspects of running a small shop can be overwhelming. Packing and shipping fragile items is not easy and I am often knee-deep in bubblewrap.

Gold Tin IZU (Cape Jasmine, $16 (Image credit: Tokyn Candles/Etsy)

What do you do for inspiration when you’re stuck?
I go to the flower district in New York and always come back with new ideas and a mountain of new supplies. Traveling back home to Tokyo also allows me to recharge and brainstorm my next project.

How do you imagine people using your products at home?

Enjoying the warm glow and aromatic scent at home, quietly whisked away to their favorite place or moment deep in their olfactory memories.