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What is Kôdô?

We often hear about sadô (茶道), the tea ceremony, or even kadô (華 道), the floral art. But have you ever heard of Kôdô (香 道), the third major classical art that all fine Japanese women should learn? It literally means the “way of perfume” and in this article, we will tell you more about this unknown art.

The history of Kôdô

Incense is said to have been brought back from China to Japan for the first time in the 6th century. It was used at first in Buddhist rituals. Little by little, incense became essential in the imperial court life. During the Heian period, dresses and fans were scented with incense, and poems were written about these bewitching scents. Before battles, samurai cleansed their body and mind with incense.

Kodo was created with the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1443-1490), when he asked the scholar Sanjonishi Sanetaka to classify all the incense that was used at the time. It is for this reason that Sanjonishi is considered the “father” of kodo.

How to practice Kôdô?

When practicing kodo, a plate is placed on coals and the incense or scented wood is placed on the plate. Thus, the wood is not really burnt, and gives off its fragrance in a subtle way.

Kodo, incense burner
A more modern way to do Kodo with an electric burner

In Japanese, when you practice Kôdô, you don’t use the verb to “feel” but the verb to “listen”. Thus, the participants “listen” to the incense, not only with their sense of smell but also with their hearts and minds. It is said that smelling a nice scent is like having a good meal. We feel happy and relaxed.

Kodo scents are divided into rikkoku gomi (lit. six countries and five tastes). Rikkoku correspond to the six types of scented wood: kyara, rakoku, manaka, manaban, sumatora and sasora. The gomi represents the 5 tastes: amai (sweet), nigai (bitter), karai (spicy), suppai (sour), shio karai (salty). To break down a given scent using these elements, it takes years of experience.

Practicing Kodo
You have to “listen” to the smell

As for tea ceremony, Kôdô is practiced in groups. Participants pass the incense to each other and take turns trying to guess the scent prepared by the komoto, the person who burns the incense. Participants hold the incense burner in one hand and form a dome over it with the other hand. Having to guess what composes the scent makes the ceremony look like a game.

Until you are able to practice it …

While waiting to be able to practice Kôdô, we have included in our Kamakura Peko Peko Box, sandalwood-scented sheets, with beautiful hydrangea flowers, from Tenkundo store. These do not burn, but slip into your wallet or your jacket pocket, for example, to diffuse a delicious scent around you.

Sandalwood has a deep relaxing effect and is said to be effective in alleviating symptoms such as mild headaches and insomnia. It is effective in suppressing unpleasant and frustrating feelings by calming the mind.

Tenkudo shop in Kamakura has a long history. In the Meiji era, the genius perfumer Yujiro Kito, the founder of Tenkudo, created the perfume incense “Hana no Hana” and the incense stick “Daily incense” (Meiji 42), and became the No. 1 share in Japan. Then, in 1985, the Kito Tenkudo was restored with the flag of inheriting the “samurai incense culture” in the ancient city of Kamakura.

Scented sheets
Scented sheets
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