Kodo – The Art of the Japanese Incense Ceremony

What Is A Japanese Incense Ceremony?

Japan is a country that has a rich cultural history, some of which is hugely different from that of western culture. Japanese incense is regarded as one of the finest incenses in the world, made from a fusion of aromatic plant material and essential oils. Japanese incense is ideal for things such as meditation, aromatherapy or to create a calm relaxing environment around the home.

For information into Japanese incense and why they are regarded to some of the best in the world, please read our previous post.

Japanese incense has an important place within  Japanese culture, so much so that it has its own special customs and a ceremony. A Japanese incense ceremony is known as a Kodo. As with other aspects of Japanese culture, the Kodo is one that is full of tradition and specific ways of doing things.

The History of Kodo

Kodo (literally translated as way of incense), or the Japanese ceremony of appreciating incense; involves using incense under a specific set of rules. The kodo ceremony, much like a tea ceremony also covers all of the essential tools of the ceremony. Beginning in the Sengoku Period (the warring states period – where there was a lot of social upheaval and a lot of conflict) of Japanese history, Kodo was a popular event among the samurai and aristocracy; having a similar kind of popularity to the tea ceremony.

Following on from this in  the Azuchi-Momoyama period, the upper class held cultural events and performances such as the tea ceremony, renga composition (composing linked verses), and Noh plays. Kodo fit in alongside these traditions and was a popular social event.

Kodo began to be recognised as one of the refined arts or geido, as time moved on and formalities began to develop within the ceremony. Geido are arts and ceremonies that should be performed to specific rules and manners.

This is one of the distinct differences between incense in Japan and fragrances in the west, as in the west people expect nothing other than a scent from fragrance. Kodo began to spread from the Samurai and aristocracy to intellectuals such as writers, artists merchants and landowners. Incense began to have a growing influence on literature and calligraphy, as well as the tea ceremony, and became an important spiritual asset for the time period.

Founders Of Kodo

Kodo is thought to have been turned into a form of game, towards the end of the 16th century by a high ranking court official named Sanetaka Sanjonish and a samurai named Soushin Shino. Kodo branched off into several schools, of which two main schools survived the Oie-ryu School founded by Sanetaka Sanjonish has shaped the manners of performing Kodo whereas Shino-ryu puts more emphasis on formality and manners.

What Does Kodo Involve?

There are two main aspects to Kodo:

–          Improving Mental Well Being – along with tea ceremonies and flower arrangement, Kodo is special as it involves a quiet room and special etiquette for inhaling fragrances. This takes you away from the stresses f modern life and allows for introspection and calm; by improving your knowledge of the art you improve the benefit you take from Kodo.

–          The Gaming Aspect of Kodo – this is a way to hone the sense and understanding of different fragrances, a fragrant woodchip is chosen from a group, and then placed into an incense burner, this is unlabeled and –passed around and participants have to guess what fragrance it is.

Etiquette Of Kodo

The process of sniffing incense is a specific one. You need to steady the incense burner on your left hand and keep it horizontal placing your right thumb and little finger on the incense burner. Then bring the burner up to your nose while keeping it horizontal, then take in the fragrance through the space between your right thumb and forefinger.

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.