You have all heard of incense, this distinctive stick that releases a unique fragrant smoke when burned. Used in many temples in Japan, it is also widely used by particulars at home for many purposes.
Japanese incense is renowned for its high quality and the finesse of its fragrance. It has been used in Japan since the 6th century and still holds an important place in its history and culture.
Even before living in Japan, I used to love burning incense and I thought I would introduce my favorite Japanese incense shop: Shoyeido.
You’ll find out that Shoyeido is also a great place to shop for souvenirs with many beautiful and unique options to bring home and remember your trip to Japan.
What is Japanese Incense?
A little history to understand how incense became so popular in Japan!
It is widely believed that incense was brought to Japan along with Buddhism in the 6th century. It is recorded in classical Japanese history that burning incense wood began about 1400 years ago, when locals of the island of Awaji gifted a piece of fragrant agarwood to Prince Shōtoku and Empress Suiko, after it drifted ashore and they discovered its beautiful scent and aromatic virtues. Incense burning was then further developed in Japan and was popular amongst members of the Imperial court, mainly used for religious occasions.
It then broadened to a variety of purposes including purification before battle for samurai warriors, spirituality, and even became an art form (kōdo) equally important as the tea ceremony, becoming part of strong traditions in Japanese culture.
But it is during the Edo period that incense became available to the general public. Even nowadays, the appreciation for incense in Japanese culture remains strong and Japanese incense is known worldwide for having the most unique and natural lasting fragrances.
Japanese incense is typically made using two main fragrant woods: sandalwood and agarwood. Other materials used are spices and herbs such as cinnamon bark, clove, lavender, licorice, patchouli… and essential oils.
The incense making process is subject to many variables such as temperature, humidity, drying time, and is usually monitored by long trained artisans.
There are 3 major ways of enjoying incense in Japan:
- Heating incense (kunko, 熏香): heating small pieces of fragrant wood
What you need:
– incense bowl
– white ash
– a piece of charcoal and a tweezers-like tool to hold it after lighting it
– fragrant wood (aromatic wood chips and granules, kneaded incense, pressed incense)
Effect: the smoke is very mild and almost invisible, ideal for small rooms. The fragrance is subtle and discreet.
You can also use an electric or battery-operated portable wood chip heater, ideal for travel (check models here).
- Burning incense (shoko, 焼香): direct-burning incense (sticks (senko) or cones)
What you need:
– incense burner or simple holder (see many shapes available below)
– incense stick/cone
Effect: the smoke is more intense, the smell can reach several rooms.
- Enjoying incense in its raw form without burning or heating (fragrant sachet or body powder)
Where to Buy Japanese Incense?
Shoyeido, founded in 1705 in Kyoto, is one of the famous traditional incense companies in Japan.
Their incense products are broadly used in temples in Japan, and are considered the highest quality, most natural incense available worldwide.
They have a wide variety of unique fragrances to create a natural atmosphere at home.
Aside from the traditional stick incense, they also offer aromatic wood chips, kneaded incense, pressed incense and sachets sold in adorable and beautiful packages printed with Japanese traditional patterns.
It is always a great experience to step into their shop, enjoying soft fragrances while shopping and a very welcoming staff committed to help you in your choice even if you speak little Japanese.
Their “Daily Incense” product line is very popular and affordable, with agreeable scents that can easily be used every day.
You can find their shop list here: https://www.shoyeido.co.jp/english/stores/index.html.
Shoyeisho also has limited items available only in their Kyoto stores. If you are looking for an original souvenir from Kyoto, I highly recommend you buy incense from Shoyeido. It will remind you of the aromas of Kyoto when you return home!
Shoyeido Sanneizaka Store
This is my favorite shop when I visit Kyoto, since it is conveniently located in the beautiful touristic stone- pedestrian road near Kiyomizu dera.
The shop is beautiful and the staff is always formidable. Last time I visited this shop was for Golden Week, and the limited spring collection was already sold out, but the staff went in the back and secretly gave me the last one! What a great and precious souvenir.
The Sanneizaka store sells these adorable paper packages that are only available in this shop! A simple incense holder is included in each packages, which really makes it the most beautiful gift for yourself or loves ones.
Kunkun Store (Kyoto Station Hachijo Gate)
The “kunkun series” is particularly popular and can only be bought at this shop. They are stick-type incenses, and a simple incense holder is included in the package. Their elegant, gentle fragrances are enjoyed by first-time customers and their compact size is a plus!
If you do not have the opportunity to visit Kyoto during your trip in Japan, or if you want to go back shopping for incense in Tokyo, stop by the Shoyeido shop in Ginza! They also have various kinds and shapes of incense and this store is very oshare.
And if you missed your chance to shop during your trip in Japan, or if you want a refill on your favorite incense, international shipping is available for the products listed on their English website.
Ideas to Use Japanese Incense in Your Daily Life
What I love about Japanese incense is their variety of smells! They are strong and discreet at the same time and really suited for daily use.
Here are some ideas to enjoy their fragrance in your daily life.
- Place your burner where you can see it every day and the sticks nearby and easy to access, you will be naturally drowned to use it more often!
- If you work at home for example, you can place your burner on your desk and use it to help you relax!
- You can also store your burner set near your home gym accessories and use them at the same time for a more efficient and relaxed session!
- Feel free to burn incense in the kitchen after cooking a meal, it will have a wonderful deodorizing effect.
- I also like to use incense before a guest comes in.
- You can place cute fragrant bags/sachets in drawers/wardrobe and in your handbag; or place them on any door knob/shelf as part of your room decoration.
Have you ever bought Japanese incense? What did you think? Let us know in the comments section!