Japanese Incense Ceremony

The Japanese incense ceremony known as kodo is an art form that has been refined over the centuries. To properly perform kodo, it takes many years of practice and study. It is said that it actually takes thirty years of study to master the art. One can participate in the ceremonies and games of an experienced master in multiple cultural centers and department stores around the country of Japan. One can also learn to play the simpler games at home with friends. The kodo ceremony provides an elegant experience that cannot be found outside Japan. It is an activity that tests the senses. Though kodo sets can be purchased on the Internet, it takes an enormous deal of patience to become a true practitioner of the art.

There is an old legend that agarwood originally arrived in the country of Japan when a log of the incense wood simply washed ashore of the Awaji-shima Island in 595 CE. When the wood was put near an open fire, people noticed that it gave off a pleasant smell. This led to them presenting the wood to their local officials. However, the actual way that the wood came to Japan was with the supplies that were brought to construct a Buddhist Temple in 538 CE. The first people burned the wood for religious ceremonies, but it eventually came to be burned simply for appreciation and became a very popular art form. Kodo came into existence from the incense games that Japanese aristocracy played with each other. The actual manner and structure of the rituals were formalized in Japan's Muromachi era. This time in the fifteenth century is also when the Ikebana flower arrangement art and the Japanese tea ceremony rose to popularity.

The basic kodo ceremony involves the participants sitting together and taking turns sniffing a censer filled with burning incense.  The participants articulate their observations of the incense to one another and play guessing games to see who can figure out what the material composing the incense actually is.  One of these games is called Genjikō.  In the game of Genjikō, the players must pick which censers contain the same scents and which ones contain scents which are different from the others.

Kodo is an interesting Japanese tradition still practiced today.