August 29, 2021

Japanese Incense 101: Three Simple Practices for Storing Japanese Incense

One of the more common experiences with Japanese incense is the collection of various incenses to promote specific moods, incenses for different times of the day, incenses for different seasons, and incenses for different specific uses. Over time, such a collection of incense is sure to outgrow the space next to the incense burner!

But as Japanese incense is filled with rare and natural ingredients prized for their specific fragrances, the question of how to store a Japanese incense collection to best preserve its fragrant qualities over the long term comes into play. For some, this often leads to great lengths and even greater expense to create the "perfect" incense storage system.

But such lengths are not necessary if some basic understandings are put into place:

First, Japanese incense prefers dryness. As such, the first consideration when storing incense is controlling moisture and humidity. Storing incense in a basement or refrigerator may expose it to undesirable dampness and higher humidity levels. Over time this moisture will degrade the incense and may even promote mold growth - an unwanted addition to mix with fragrant woods!

But there are less obvious ways incense may be exposed to moisture. Placing incense in resealable plastic bags or glass vials may often trap moisture. Often used with the intent of preventing fragrance cross contamination, this practice may create more harm than good. Japanese incense is by and large a natural product that needs to breath. Incenses made with oils pressed from fragrant woods and other ingredients need to be able to release naturally and slowly over time. Sealing it in air tight containers also runs the risk of trapping moisture, and vacuum sealing runs the risk of removing oils or preventing the incense from being able to breath.

Second, Japanese incense is often presented in beautifully designed packaging that is part of the Japanese incense experience. But besides its beauty, often Japanese incense will come packaged in Kiri 桐 (Paulownia) wood boxes that naturally expand and contract to control humidity levels. Additionally, incense packaging is designed to keep incense sticks closely together to prevent breakage. Removing incense from its packaging and transferring it into glass containers, wooden boxes, or plastic bags removes the structural value of the original container and exposes the incense to breakage.

Third, Japanese incense likes cool darkness. Removing incense from its packaging and putting it in glass jars or clear plastic exposes the incense to light which allows light to break down fragrant compounds. Exposing stored incense to direct sunlight may also increase the temperature the incense will experience, helping to degrade its fragrance more quickly.

Finally, Japanese incense is by and large a natural product and as such will absorb odors and fragrances from its surrounding environment. This means incense stored near where strong odors are common such as in a kitchen may absorb unwanted odors. It also means that storing incense in cigar boxes or humidors may contaminate the delicate fragrances of Japanese incense. Often the heavy smell of cigars will linger in cigar boxes, and humidors - although attractive - are usually lined with highly aromatic Cedar which can overpower subtle Japanese fragrances. Care must also be taken when storing dissimilar fragrances together - for example a floral incense may overpower and color a more delicate fine Aloeswood fragrance.

With these in mind, when storing your Japanese incense collection, here are three simple best practices for how to safely do so:

  1. Keep Japanese incense in the packaging it came in. This will provide the most favorable conditions for preventing incense breakage, unwanted light exposure, and excess humidity. Plus the beauty of the various packaging will add elegance to the collection, and any kiri wood packaging will guard against moisture and humidity.
  2. Store Japanese incense in a cool dry dark place. If money is not an object, a kiri wood tansu may be purchased for just this use. But for most, the easiest and most cost effective place to store incense is inside a typical dresser drawer kept in an air conditioned space. If air conditioning is not available, opt for a drawer at ground level in a space that has good air movement, preferably not in a lower level such as a basement.
  3. Be mindful of fragrance cross contamination. Don't store incense in areas where strong odors are created or in chests/boxes/closets lined with strong scented aromatic woods like Cedar. Store like incenses together - daily incense with daily incenses, floral incense with floral incense, Aloeswood with Aloeswood, etc. Again, if money is not an obstacle, a multi-drawered kiri wood tansu will fit the task nicely. However, the easiest and most cost efficient way to do this is just by using separate drawers in a typical dresser for dissimilar incenses.

By following these three simple best practices, Japanese incense can easily and safely be stored in almost any home with little effort and expense, ensuring its enjoyment along the fragrant path for the long term.


This page is part of Kikoh's Japanese Incense 101 series. This series of posts is intended to help provide greater information and understanding as you progress along this fragrant path. Learn more...