Way of Incense - A Sacred Japanese Competition

The Japanese hold many things dear and sacred, the art of incense and ceremony being one of them. Koh-Do translates to 'Way of Incense' and is a ceremony and competition burning the fragrant resinous wood of the aquilaria trees, called agarwood or aloeswood.


Koh-Do began as a game and was done at parties by Samurai and high ranking aristocrats before becoming a refined art and was also used as a purifying smoke before battle. It then became a popular event for the higher classes and has been withered down to a precise magic.

The art of the Koh-Do ceremony takes over thirty years to master, involving many years of study and lots of practical work.


During a Koh-Do ceremony the small piece of wood is placed onto a mica plate so the fragrance is emitted gently from the wood and it is not burned by a flame. The fragrance is both enjoyed as a 'smell' and on a more spiritual level to 'listen' to the wood is to open up body and spirit.


A Koh-Do ceremony takes place, like a tea ceremony, in a quiet space, usually with a floor covered in tatami mats where the participants will sit. A komoto or fragrance master will have prepared the incense and each person will take turns is smelling and guessing the notes or scents involved. Traditionally the wood is burned on a plate held by the left hand and smelt through the fingers of the right as it is raised to the face. The art of guessing the scents is taken very seriously.


There are six kinds of 'fragrant wood' used in a Koh-Do ceremony, or 'rikkoku' which link to the six Ancient countries of East Asia; kyara, rakoku, manaka, manaban, sumatora, and sasora. And there are also five 'tastes' or 'gomi' which are the essences of these woods; mai (sweet), nigai (bitter), karai (spicy hot), suppai (sour), shio karai (salty).

The Koh-Do masters spend years of dedication to this art being able to pick exactly what scents are in each piece of wood burned. The smell of agarwood is so unique as it emits not only it's resinous, woody smells but also sweet, fruity and floral scents. It takes some time to grow these trees and to acquire the resin, popularity of the scents are creating a harmful environment to the trees as it can cause death to the tree if not done correctly and with care. This has created a rarity to the prized agarwood resin and it's price has sky rocketed.

The Koh-Do is performed both as a competition between masters and as a well being experience. Spiritually Koh-Do is said to encompass several benefits to the human mind, body and soul; Sharpens the senses, Purifies the mind and body, Removes mental or spiritual “pollutants”,Promotes alertness, Heals feelings of loneliness, Creates a feeling of harmony even under stress Even in abundance, is not overwhelming, Satisfies, even in small quantities, Does not decay even over centuries, Does no harm even if used every day.






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