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History of Incenses
  • The introduction of Buddhism into Japan and incense wood drifting ashore
  • Nobles of the Heian period and their perfumes
  • From Takimono to Kouboku
  • Establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate
  • The rise of Kodo
  • Incense today

From Takimono to Kouboku

Kamakura period - Azuchi-Momoyama period

1192 Establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate - power shift from nobles to samurai

As samurai came into power at the end of the Heian period, Incense wood and aloeswood in particular took over the central part of the incense culture from takimono. It was because samurai preferred aloeswood's fresh fragrance over takimono's elegant one. It is believed that aloeswood was valued for its spirituality, for it has a calming effect and were useful for samurai to relax before a battle.


Development of trade and import of Incense wood

The active trade with other countries allowed various Incense woods to be imported into Japan from many sources.
With the improved availability of high quality Incense wood, burning of Incense wood, which were previously mainly for Buddhist rituals, began to spread as a recreational activity in place of takimono.
It was also around this time that the concept of "Kyara" was born, and as more social elites began collecting Incense wood, the attitude of appreciating incense on a deep level was developed. The character "聞" means "to smell" in Chinese, but in Japanese it can be interpreted as "to understand" and "to pay attention".


Establishment of Kodo

Sasaki Doyo, a feudal lord in the Nanboku-cho period known for his flamboyant behavior, owned many Incense woods and put names to them. Meanwhile, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 8th shogun of the Muromachi period, is said to have spent his days at his villa in the eastern hills of Kyoto appreciating the Incense woods that he collected by himself or inherited from Doyo.
Yoshimasa saw the necessity to organize his enormous collection of Incense wood, and appointed the experts of incense at that time, Sanjonishi Sanetaka (founder of Oie School) and Shino Soshin (founder of Shino School), to establish the system of classifying incense called "Rikkoku Gomi (six countries, five tastes)". Tools and manners for listening to incense developed as well, and gradually formed Kodo.
(*Rikkoku refers to the characteristics of fragrance and consists of Kyara, Rakoku, Manaban, Manaka, Sumondara, and Sasora. Gomi is five tastes describing the fragrance, sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter.)


Warlords and Incense wood

The value of Incense woods, especially of Kyara and aloeswood, increased gradually, making them a symbol of power. Oda Nobunaga, in order to show his power, cut out a piece of the famous Ranjatai wood owned by Todaiji Temple with the permission of the Emperor. Apart from Nobunaga, Ranjatai has been cut Ashikaga Yoshimasa and the Meiji Emperor.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi and other lords are known as avid collectors of Incense wood as well, and the level of passion that Tokugawa Ieyasu had for Incense wood is said to have been particularly remarkable.