Japanese Incense

The Journey of Japanese Incense

It begins under the flower of peace, before the fall of the plum blossoms, before monks burning incense in Japanese temples, before the rising scents from scented kimono sleeves mixed with the fragrant incense of natural pine, cedar, lavender, and the flowers of the sun.

The art of Japanese incense making has long been a tribute to nature itself. One of the great Awaseko of early Japan was called "Baika" which is Japanese for plum.

Perhaps one way to look at the connection formed between nature, incense, and humanity is through poetry. . .

I breathe in the cool incense smoke from the metal brazier,
While thinking about a poem for my dear friend Lu Wa.
My sandalwood-hearted companion spits out plum blossoms of smoke,
Looking like the cloudy fog of the other world.
Perhaps it's the soul of my friend the old mountain man
In the smoke's dense patterns?

- Kan Po, in memoriam (undated)

Surely the connection between poetry and incense comes from the connection of poetry and nature . . .

If the maple leaves
On Ogura mountain
Could only have hearts,
They would longingly await
The emperor's pilgrimage.

- Ogura Hyakunin Isshu

Does the sense of smell effect our emotions more than our other senses? Maybe Lafcadio Hearn gave us an answer over one-hundred years ago. . .

"I see rising out of darkness, a lotus in a vase. Most of the vase is invisible; but I know that it is bronze, and that its glimpsing handles are bodies of dragons. Only the lotus is fully illuminated: three pure white flowers, and five great leaves of gold and green,-- gold above, green on the up curling under-surface, an artificial lotus. It is bathed by a slanting stream of sunshine; -- the darkness beneath and beyond is the dusk of a temple-chamber. I do not see the opening through which the radiance pours; but I am aware that it is a small window shaped in the outline-form of a temple bell. The reason that I see the lotus -- one memory of my first visit to a Buddhist sanctuary--is that there has come to me an odor of incense. Often when I smell incense, this vision defines; and usually thereafter other sensations of my first day in Japan revive in swift succession with almost pain acuteness."

Even today, in Japan, there is a strong relationship between nature, incense, poetry, and the human spirit.

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Copyright  1992-2002 David Oller

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