The Art of Japanese Incense


cherry incense About 500 years ago, in the age of Higashiyama culture, the “Koudou,” or the traditional Japanese incense ceremony, was established as a method of appreciating incense following a fixed protocol. The Higashiyama period spanned the Onin War to the Sengoku, or Warring States, Period.
It was an age where one couldn’t really escape from the tumult of the outside world, but it was also the time where Japan’s distinctive culture was gradually being established.
koudou sessionThe tea ceremony; flower arranging; the incense ceremony—all were developed during this period. In particular, the Koudou was the successor to the entrenched use of incense among the nobility of the ancient Heian period as part of a refined lifestyle. This art of scent has a deep connection with literature & poetry and the Japanese sensitivity to the change of seasons and is unparalleled in the civilized world.

okou setThe Koudou is the art of lighting incense by a set protocol and appreciating its scent according to a literary theme. Along with the tea ceremony and flower arranging, the incense ceremony took shape during the Muromachi period. Incense came to Japan for use in prayer along with Buddhism, and in the Heian period, it developed into something used for pleasure, as a refined diversion.

hand workFor nobles, incense became an indispensable part of their lifestyles. Therefore, after hundreds of years passed, its use became formalized through the Koudou in the Muromachi period. In the Kodo, one discerns the scent of the incense by “listening” (or “kiku,” a homophone of the verb that means “to be effective”). Consequently, the Koudou is also called the “Kikidou,” a portmanteau of koudou tool“kiki,” “listening,” and “dou,” “incense.” “Listening to the incense” usually begins with discerning the scent and ends with recalling the sensation. You “listen” to the incense by putting a small briquette into the burner a sheet of mica, called a “gin’you” (“silver leaf”) on top. There, you put a 3-mm square of fragrant wood, and you then take a small whiff of the incense. People in ancient times called this “babin bunsoku”—meaning that the incense should be enjoyed using a piece of fragrant wood as thin as horse’s hair (“babin”) and as a mosquito’s leg (“bunsoku”). This measure was taken in order to prolong the use of the precious aromatic wood, which could not be made in Japan. The Japanese, with their abundance of sensitivity, here use scent to create a nuanced image of seasonal changes rich with Japan’s poetic sentiment, as well as to express Japan’s beautiful landmarks and historic spots in a world of fragrance. One is to be still and quiet during the Koudou, and within this elegant silence is hidden the weight of over a thousand years of history and an extremely refined sensitivity. Of the five human senses, the Koudou prioritizes smell, and could be said to have given birth to a sensibility that is distinctly Japanese.

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Superior Japanese Material, Tatami Mat
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Functional Furniture, Study Desk in Japan
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