Labor of Love

Water mills have been supporting the livelihood of Yame residents for hundreds of years. Ever since Takeshi and Chieko succeeded the mill, to now being the last remaining watermill plant, they retain the traditional way in producing cedar powder.  

Baba Cedar Powder


Cedar branches trimmed from the trees are left in the mountain.  Baba would carefully transport barrows of cedar from the forest to the mill.  Cedar leaves wouldn't stay evergreen once cut. Collecting cedar while fresh is key to retain the best fragrance.  Starting at 9am, the husband-and-wife team would begin processing 1 ton of cedar. 

While cedar leaves are still green, they will be chopped up into small stalks of about 5cm, and loaded to the deck above the boiler room to be dried.  The boiler is powered by cedar branches from the forest, and it takes 1 day to dry 1 ton of cedar.  

When thoroughly dried, the leaves will be transported to the next room for pounding. The watermill powers 15 pestles hammering the cedar leaves reducing them to very fine powder. After 1 days of shoveling and hammering, the powder would be bagged and ready to be shipped to incense makers.  

Baba Cedar Leaf Incense


Fine cedar powder is mixed with tabunoki wood power (a type of laurales tree, also planted and processed by Baba at the mill).  These 2 plant powder has natural insect-repellant property.  Tabunoki is added as a binder as the leaves secrete a glue-like sap, with water they are mixed into a mud paste. 


On a sunny day, the paste will be fed by hand, 2kg at a time, into a pressing machine to be formed into long strips and hand cut into incense sticks. The cut sticks will be left in the temperature and humidity- controlled room for 3 days.  


From incense powder to incense sticks to packaging, everything is done by the husband and wife team. 

Sustainable, All-Natural

Baba insists in keeping production in the traditional method.  His use of cedar leaves are part of the sustainable forestry practice where trees are logged with discipline and forests are thinned to maintain the undergrowth.  He also works to ensure he delivers high-quality, all-natural products.  People comes from all over the world to study his watermill plant, to revisit the path of slow craft and of harvesting natural and renewable resources. 

The Babas are feeling forever blessed to be receiving such wonder gift of nature, and have always been keeping in mind the importance in respecting and protecting the environment.  

Photo by Noriko Masuda

The Baba Watermill is the last remaining watermill producing cedar-powder in the area.  Owner Takeshi Baba, at age 72, still works relentlessly with his wife Chieko day-in and day-out, producing quality cedar powder and stick incense.   With no successor in place, this could be the last chapter of this 100-year-old watermill.

Photo © Noriko Masuda. Taketombo Corp.


We are on a journey to learn from slow-crafts and artisan's intelligence.  To rethink the way we live and consume.

We are also ideating on how to help sustain heritage craft in the declining rural of Japan.

Don't let the old watermill be forgotten. (shouldn't we be obsessed with sustainable and clean energy these days?)

Design Thinking.  Creativity at play.   

If you are interested in investigating this topic with us or pitching in new thoughts, feel free to write us a note.

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