What’s So Special About Japanese Incense?

What’s So Special About Japanese Incense?

Walking into a room filled with the heady scent of incense instantly transports you to another space or time. Close your eyes; the woody notes of sandalwood or the crispness of a floral hanging in the air can catapult you to a Church, a meditation room or spa — even a temple in Japan. For nothing is as evocative as scent. And Japanese incense is one of the most redolent forms of home fragrance in the world. 

First created in the 5th century in Egypt, it was then adopted in Ancient China, where incense crafted from cinnamon and sandalwood was burnt during religious worship. Brought to Japan by Korean Buddhists in the 6th century, it is said that centuries later, Samurai warriors perfumed their armor and helmets with the scent of incense to make themselves feel invincible during battle. (The power of scent is real.)

Elsewhere, in the last century, incense has become renowned for the intoxicating smells associated with hippies and second-hand shops — with such strong fumes it might incite a coughing fit. But there are two types of incense in this world. Japanese, which is crafted from pure rolled incense, and non-Japanese — which is instead crafted from rolled wood and accelerants to help it burn that, quite literally, go up in smoke.

For the Japanese are masters of the art of incense — so much so, they even have a grading system to establish the most premium sticks. And so tied up is premium incense with ritual, it is said in Japan that you can literally hear incense burning if you meditate hard enough.

One of the oldest incense companies in Japan, Shoyeido was founded in 1705 and today employs incense artisans who make the brand’s sticks by hand with recipes and techniques that have remained unchanged since its inception. Using only natural ingredients — some of which are medicinal-grade — each stick burns for 20 minutes, which is just enough time to infuse a room with a light, fragrant aroma. 

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