A Brief History of Japanese Incense
Incense is made from aromatic plant material, often combined with essential oils. Incense’s name is derived from the Latin verb incendere, which means “to burn”. When Incense is burned it releases a fragrant smoke, renowned for its calming, spiritual powers and used widely in religious ceremonies, aromatherapy, meditation and for creating a spiritual atmosphere. It is also used in ritual purification but can be used around the home to create a calm, relaxing environment.
Japanese Incense is widely regarded as the best in the world and is famed for the variety of ingredients used in its manufacture, these include Agarwood, Sandalwood, Borneo Camphor, Benzoin, Frankincense, Clove, Star Anise, Rhubarb, Cinnamon, Licorice and Patchouli. Kyara, a form of Agarwood is literally worth more than its weight in gold.
When was Incense First Used?
Incense was first used in China in Neolithic times and came into more widespread use around 2000BC. It was also used by the ancient Egyptian’s, where the Pharaohs were known to use incense whilst praying and reading, as were the Babylonians.
How Did Incense Come to Japan?
Incense was first brought to Japan from China by Buddhist Monks with the arrival of Buddhism, where it plays an important role in ceremonies and rituals to purify the atmosphere.
As incense became more popular, specialist manufacturers started to make their own Incense and an industry grew up making high quality incense using the best traditional ingredients, combining ancient and modern techniques.
Why Did Incense Become So Popular in Japan?
Buddhism initially made incense popular in Japan, where it was used to purify the atmosphere, creating sacred space for religious ceremonies and performing rites.
However as the Japanese began to realise how fragrant incense was and how its scent could create ambiance and tranquillity in a room, it became much more popular and widely used.
14th century samurai warriors were known to use incense to scent their helmets and armour in the belief that it would make them invincible.
By the 15th and 16th centuries Incense began to become popular with the middle and upper classes in Japan and a wider range of people began to use it on a regular basis.
As its popularity and appreciation of incense grew, an increasing number of people and groups began to celebrate the ‘art of incense’ by the Koh-Do Ceremony (more of that later).
How Is Incense Used Today
Incense is still used by many faiths around the world as part of their sacred ceremonies, including Buddhists and Christian churches, where it is used for special services, e.g. Confirmations, or Saints days. An incense shaker is often carried by the clergy to distribute the Incense around the Church so that all members of the congregation can take in the aroma.
It is often used in meditation and aromatherapy however it is widely used by people in their homes or offices, where it provides a beautiful scent and calming environment.
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