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INCENSE CEREMONY

INCENSE CEREMONY

In the Sengoku (Warring States) period of Japanese history,
Koh-Do (incense ceremony) spread among aristocrats and high-ranking samurai, sharing popularity with the tea ceremony.

As its formalities came to be developed and shaped, Koh-Do started to be acknowledged as one of the "geido", refined arts that are supposed to be performed following certain rules and manners. In this respect, Japanese incense or koh is somewhat different from perfume in western countries. There, people expect nothing more than fragrance from perfume, but this is not the case with koh. No longer an innocent pastime, Koh-Do prevailed beyond the samurai and court class. As intellectual people such as writers, artists, affluent merchants and landowners started to adopt its formalities, incense exerted a great influence on calligraphy, literature and tea ceremony, occupying a precious position as an intangible and spiritual asset of the time.

Later, Koh-Do branched off into several schools, of which two leading schools survived: the Oie-ryu School and the Shino-ryu School. The former, established by Sanetaka Sanjonishi, shaped the manners and methods of Koh-Do performance, putting more emphasis on literal aspects of incense. Shino-ryu, the latter, is more systematically organized, putting considerable emphasis on manners and formality. Oie-ryu perpetuates incense as a form of game-playing passed down from court nobles in the Heian period. Shino-ryu, on the other hand, spread through the samurai and affluent merchant classes.

Having survived the long passage of time, these two now exist as the leading schools of Koh-Do today.

In the incense ceremony, participants enjoy the fragrances of kohboku or fragrant wood.

In the incense ceremony, koboku or fragrant wood is divided into six kinds.

  • Kyara Kyara
  • Rakoku Rakoku
  • Manaka Manaka
  • Manaban Manaban
  • Sumotara Sumotara
  • Sasora Sasora

The system of classifying kohboku, which constitutes the basics of appreciating incense, is called Rikkoku-Gomi. This refers to the six ancient East Asian countries where kohboku woods originate, and the five elements used to describe their flavors. The names of countries (Kyara, Rakoku, Manaka, Manaban, Sumotara, Sasora) all represent a qualitative classification of kohboku wood, and five terms (hot, sweet, sour, bitter, salty) are used to describe the different essences.

A piece of kohboku wood can generate more than one fragrance when burned. Kohboku pieces often have a mixture of multiple fragrances, generating an indescribable blend, depending on the proportion and strength of each essence contained in a piece of wood.

The incense ceremony (Koh-Do) consists of two aspects.

1. The aspect of improving mental well-being

Koh-do or the incense ceremony, Sa-do or the tea ceremony, Ka-do or flower arrangement... Why do Japanese people tend to dedicate themselves to such classical Japanese arts?

In a quiet room, a participant sniffs fragrances following certain rules of etiquette.

This is a chance to leave the bustle of everyday life behind, quieten the mind and practice introspection.

Improving the art is the same as improving the mentality.

2. The gaming aspect

Hosho = A sheet on which all answers of the participants are placed.

Hosho = A sheet on which all answers of the participants are placed.

Example of how to get an incense ceremony going

Incense burners of A, B and C are passed around with the names of fragrant wood chips within them made known to the participants. Have the participants memorize the characteristic of each fragrance.

  • A
  • B
  • C

Then one fragrant wood chip is chosen from among the three fragrant wood chips and the incense burner with the chosen chip inside is passed around with its name hidden. Now guess what fragrance it is ?

A, B or C.

How to prepare incense burners

  • 1.Kindle a charcoal ball. 1.Kindle a charcoal ball.
  • 2.Put it into the ash 2.Put it into the ash
  • 3.Cover it with the ash 3.Cover it with the ash
  • 4.Form the ash into a cone shape 4.Form the ash into a cone shape
  • 5.Straighten the ash surface of the cone 5.Straighten the ash surface of the cone
  • 6.Put a fragrant wood chip on the top plate 6.Put a fragrant wood chip on the top plate

Etiquete of sniffing or listening to fragrance


We would like to announce an experience event geared towards people from abroad who would like to try Koh-do (incense ceremony).

Please contact us by phone if you are interested.

Location Tokyo Ginza "Koju-an" in Japan
Tel 03-3541-3441
Hours Mon-Fri 9:00-17:00 (closed weekends & holidays)

Inquiry by email

For Paris and European countries, please contact Nippon Kodo office in Paris

Inquiry by email