The Art of Koh

Kodo literally means "the way of incense". Together with Chado (tea ceremony) and ikebana (flower arranging), this is one of the three major classical arts that an educated woman had to be accomplished in. Kodo is perhaps the least known of the three, but today its modern cousin, aromatherapy, is very popular. When practicing kodo one places a mica plate on top of the glowing coals covered with the incense or fragrant wood. The wood is not burned, but gives its scent in a very subtle way.

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Kodo seems mainly to be about the sensation of smell, but the kodo secret lies in "listening". Participants of kodo do not 'smell' (the Japanese verb "kagu") but listen ( "kiku") to the smell of the wood, so they don't really use their nose but rather open their hearts and souls. Modern western psychologists and therapists know all about the power of smells, how a smell can instantly bring back a person to an event in their childhood.

Fragrant wood, according to tradition, was first used in Buddhist rituals in the Nara Period (710-794). As such natural fragrant wood is very rare and it may take centuries to acquire its fragrance, incense was invented and used. Similar to the incense used in churches, it was thought that it had cleansing properties. Even today it is used to clean the long wooden memory tablets sacrificed to the deceased during a funeral.

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Smoldering incense sticks (Senko) are regularly placed on the grave stones or butsudan, small altars you will find in many Japanese homes. Kodo became a discipline at the time of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1443-1490), who asked the scholar Sanjonishi Sanetaka to write a book about all incense used at that time. Because of this, Sanjonishi is regarded as the father of kodo.

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