The art of perfumery is believed to have begun in the Middle East with the burning of incense, which dates back to the Egyptians and Babylonians. The Chinese monk Ganjin, also known as Jianzhen, is usually credited with the introduction of incense to Japan in 754 during the early wave of Nara Buddhism. However, the cultural relationship begins with the first recorded mention in the Nihon Shoki, a book of classical Japanese history, of incense wood in Japan in 595 during the reign of Empress Suiko.
Buddhism and Shinto are Japan’s two major religions, and incense plays an essential role in ceremonies and rituals to purify a sacred space or to make spiritual offerings. For more than 1,000 years incense (koh) has represented a deep, profound link to Japanese history, culture, and everyday life. Like the rest of Japanese culture, the refined art of incense was exotic and unknown to most of the world. The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair introduced Zen and Japanese incense to the world stage.
The incense culture in Japan has evolved but remains steeped in tradition and ritual. It is considered to be sacred, used as an offering, and meditative, used as a tool to bring peace into one’s life—it is even considered to be a form of communication.
For hundreds of years incense companies Nippon Kōdō (1575), Baieido (1657), and Shoyeido (1705) have been producing incense in a time-honored tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation in an unbroken secret oral tradition.
KŌDŌ “WAY OF FRAGRANCE”: Kōdō is counted as one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement, along with kado, the art of flower arrangement, and chadō, which describes “the way of tea” and the tea ceremony.
MON-KOH “LISTENING TO INCENSE”: The introduction of incense into Japanese culture has Buddhist origins, but it has become a way to describe the appreciation of incense using all the senses.
THE TEN VIRTUES OF KOH: This is a list of the benefits derived from the use of incense. They are passed down from the 15th century (the Muromach Era), and are still referenced today as capturing the spirit of incense.
- It brings communication with the transcendent
- Purifies the body and spirit
- Eliminates impurities
- Awakens the spirit
- It is a companion in solitude
- In the midst of busy affairs, it brings a moment of peace
- When it is plentiful, one never tires of it
- When there is little, still one is satisfied
- Age does not change its efficacy
- Used every day, it does no harm
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