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Japanese Incense

Incense was first brought to Japan in the year 551 CE century from Korea, along with a collection of sutras, an image of the Buddha, and a complete set of temple furniture.  It was initially an import brought over from China, but eventually Japanese incense making developed in to an art form.  Many of the incense companies prevalent in Japan today have been crafting incense for over 300 years.  Most of the ingredients used in Japanese incense come from India and South-east Asia and are chosen for their medicinal properties according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The two most important ingredients in Japanese incense are sandalwood and Agarwood.  Both produce unique and calming scents that are extremely conducive to meditation.  Another essential ingredient is Makko, a powder which is almost completely scentless but which can be used to bind other ingredients together.

Many people are familiar with the Japanese arts of tea ceremony and of flower arranging.  However, few people in the West know about the third major classical art of Japan - the way of incense.  For many years, incense appreciation was practiced in the Japanese courts.  This art is highly refined and includes knowledge of the tools for making and burning incense, which are valued as high art all on their own, the creation of incense, and incense-comparing games, in which one individual would craft a variety of scents, and the other players would have to guess what literary or natural illusion that scent was meant to refer to.  This art when out of favor after the fall of the Shogunate of the Tokugawa era, and did not come back in to favor, partly due to the incredible costliness of the materials that were originally used and partly because the art takes over thirty years to master.

Incense is also, of course, burned in Buddhist temples and along roadsides at shrines as offerings to the gods.  It is burned in the presence of newly-dead corpses in order to shield the soul of the newly departed from demons.  Incense is also often burned daily at home altars that are devoted to the ancestors, and is said to feed and bring solace to the dead.

Two of the most prominent exporters of Japanese incense are Shoyeido, established in 1705 in Kyoto, and Nippon Kodo, established in 1965 in New York.  Shoyeido incense is used extensively by Zen Buddhist temples, and their incense is extremely high quality and traditional.  Nippon Kodo primarily makes Mainichi, "everyday" quality incense, which is inexpensive enough that anyone can enjoy burning it every day in the home.  Both create incredibly clean burning incenses that create soft, calming and distinct scents.

Japanese incense is perhaps the most simple and refined incense available on the modern market.  Japanese incense is generally blended from a small and distinctive number of ingredients, and is usually fairly mild in character, creating a clean and meditative space without creating an overwhelming scent.  Japanese incense is a great starting point for people who are unfamiliar with incense or who are sensitive to very strong smells.  There are an incredible variety of scents and styles of Japanese incense out there so you are sure to find one that will suit your home or work place!
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