A Storied Japanese Watermill Produces the Primary Ingredient in This All-Natural Incense
In the early 20th century, locals from Yame, a small city in Fukuoka Prefecture on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, dug a canal and built a watermill that served traditional businesses such as paper-making and rice-milling. At its peak, the region boasted 40 watermills that manufactured cedar-leaf powder, a central ingredient of incense—until electric-powered factories began replacing them in the 1970s to meet the needs of mass production. Baba Watermill is the only mill still producing the raw material. It’s owned by 73-year-old Takeshi Baba, who inherited the business from his father and feels a profound responsibility to continue the century-old practice. As artificial fragrances, colors, and chemicals came onto the market, Takeshi grew increasingly frustrated that the fruits of his labor kept ending up in a garish rainbow of inferior commercial incense. So in 2000, he started making his own.