Last Sunday I had an interesting experience. It was participation in an incense burning ceremony at The Tokugawa Art Museum. The ceremony was held at a teahouse in the museum.
There are many ways to enjoy incense burning ceremony, but I took part in an interesting activity called kumiko, or incense comparing games, that day. This time I tried a game called kawari-ka-getsu-ko. Ka means the flower and getsu(=tsuki) the moon.
Participants have a chance to smell two incenses in turn. The first one is called the flower and next one is the moon. The participants tried to remember those smells and the game starts:
There are four small bags in front of the host. Each bag has incense. Two of them are the flower and the rest are the moon. The host shuffles all the bags and then selects two of them at random. She or he burns one of the incense and passes it to the participants. They try to guess at which smell it is, the flower or the moon, and write the answer on the paper. And the host burns another of incense. The participants try to guess again. The game is guessing what the pair is: the flower and the flower, the flower and the moon, the moon and the flower, and the moon and the moon. The order has to be correct too.
The participants have to obey many of the rules for the ceremony:
<Manners at the ceremony>
・You can’t wear a short skirt or accessories such as a watch, rings, necklaces, or earrings.
・You shouldn’t be barefoot.
・You mustn’t wear perfume.
・You can’t enter and leave or talk freely during the ceremony.
<The way of smelling>
1. When the censer comes to you, you greet the next person.
2. You take it with your right hand and put it on palm of your left hand.
3. You turn it twice counterclockwise.
4. You put your left index finger on one of the legs of the censer and your left thumb on the edge of it.
5. You cover the censer with your right hand.
6. You smell the incense between your right thumb and index finger quietly.
7. When you exhale, you have to look down the left.
8. You can smell it three times.
9. You turn the censer twice clockwise.
10. You pass it to the next person.
I’ll introduce Japanese incense history a little here.
Incense burning ceremony is a Japan’s important culture, along with its tea ceremony and flower arrangement. According to one of the oldest document named Nihon-shoki, the first time an aromatic tree came to Japan is in 595 and it was drifted ashore at Awaji-shima Island.
However, it’s said that incense was introduced together with sutras and images of Buddha earlier than that because Buddhism was introduced into Japan through the ancient Korea in 538 (Some says it’s in 552). Incense can’t be separated from Buddhism rituals.
In Heian Period (the age of court noble: from the end of the 8th century to the end of the 12th century), incense was not only for Buddhism rituals but also for enjoying the smell for noble people. They burned incense in the room and add the scent to clothes and furniture. In the age of samurai warrior class (until the 16th century), games of guessing the incense was created. At the same time, the ceremony was also established. In Edo Period (until end of the 19th century), the common people began enjoying scent, and the world of incense burning ceremony was in full flourish.
That day, for all of the participants it was the first time to join in the ceremony. That’s why the ceremony was a kind of disaster. But I really enjoyed the experience. I learned many about incense at the ceremony. The most what I was surprised at was that the smell was very subtle. I noticed our daily lives are surrounded by strong smells. Although it was really hot that day, mysteriously I felt calm and relax during the ceremony. It was a really nice experience for me to learn and try the ancient gracious culture.