The Art of Japanese Incense

In Japan, blending incense is considered an art form along the lines of creating an exquisite cup of green tea. The art of creating a perfect Japanese aroma has been perfected over hundreds of years and is practiced by artisans today who manually create their incense. Unlike machine-made Western perfumes that are churned out in vast quantities, the human element is greatly valued in Japanese incense.Zen monks describe the benefits of Japanese incense as: it acts to keep flies out of the zendo; it reduces the distracting effect of unwanted body odors; it can be used as a clock for sitting periods (for example, a 5” stick burns for about 30 minutes while the 9” stick is good for 40 to 45 minutes). As you can see, the monks place a practical value on the incense rather than using it as a psychotropic aid for meditation or as a vehicle to enlightenment. The Japanese Buddhist monks feel the practitioner of meditation should be able to do it regardless of the aromatic environment. However, they do consider appreciating incense as a form of meditation. It is known as listening to the koh (the realm of spiritual pleasure).Japanese funeral rites are redolent with the scent of incense. The wake/funeral service begins with incense being burnt in front of the altar or on the table in front of the casket. Guests stand before the casket, bow, ring an altar bell, and offer incense and prayers. The Buddhist priest arrives later at a pre-arranged time, is offered green tea and speaks briefly with the bereaved family. After everyone is seated, the priest turns to the altar, bows, lights incense and begins to read a sutra. While the priest reads, the family – in hierarchical order – rise and walk to the incense urn, bow, add incense, bow again and return to their seats. Visitors then repeat the ritual until everyone has taken a turn. The priest then finishes reading the sutra, everyone bows to the altar and the service ends.

To truly enjoy incense in a Japanese fashion, one must use all five senses, not just the sense of smell. Japanese incense is blended primarily for effect; its scent is a secondary consideration. In all incense, creation of the scent is designed for the burn. Until heated, many natural Japanese incense ingredients have little or no aroma. Ma’s India carries a variety of well-known and respected Japanese incense. Tendan Sandalwood Incense is very popular and is used throughout Japan. Morning Star Incense is crafted in the traditional Japanese style to foster tranquility and serenity. It comes in four different scents and two sizes and burns for about 25 minutes. This incense comes with a porcelain incense holder. Shoyeido Daily Incense comes in three different scents and one package of assorted traditional Japanese scents.

Whether you plan to use Japanese incense to calm your mind and balance your spiritual energy, or to meditate by listening to the koh, you will find your day enriched by its use.

Leave a Comment