Passed down since the fifteenth century, 香の十徳 - the "Ten Virtues of Koh" - lists the benefits of using incense. The list is still cited today for its unique appreciation of the spirit of incense.
感格鬼神 - It Brings Communication With the Transcendent
Incense has been used in spiritual practice for centuries in both eastern and western religions. Fragrant offerings are used as universal expressions of communication with the divine, the smoke from incense often viewed as carrying one's prayers to the heavens.
清浄心身 - It Purifies both Mind and Body
For centuries it was believed that the pure natural woods, spices and resins used in Japanese incense had healing and psychological benefits. Recent scientific studies have showed that many natural ingredients used in pure natural incense do indeed live up to these beliefs. Whether it is the calming of Frankincense, the relaxing of lavender, or Cypress for stimulating concentration, pure incense ingredients provide many benefits to both mind and body.
能払汚穢 - It Removes Impurity
Many pure incense ingredients used in Japanese incense like Hinoki Cypress have proven antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that have been used for centuries to neutralize odors and provide purification and cleansing of spaces.
能覚睡眠- It Imparts Alertness
Pure incense ingredients such as camphor, cinnamon and clove have been recognized as increasing mental awareness and gently stimulating the brain, increasing concentration and the enhancing cognitive functions.
Incense is well know for its association with meditation and practices that seek an inner focus, and for good reason. Sandalwood has been used for centuries to deepen the meditative state. Pure ingredients such as Frankencense have been used for the calming effects they have upon the mind.
塵裏愉閑 - In the Midst of Busy Affairs, It Brings a Moment of Peace
There is something about the small amount of time to light a stick of incense and enjoy both the beauty of the rising smoke and way the soft fragrance of natural incense fills the space.
多而不厭 - When It is Plentiful, One Never Tires of It.
Our brains are wired to link memories and emotion to scents. Pure natural ingredients found in Japanese incense are wonderful triggers for the mind, eliciting feelings desired for almost any activity. The biggest challenge is often deciding which favorites to light each day!
募而知足 - When There is Little, Still One is Satisfied
The high quality natural ingredients found in Japanese incense easily fill a space with luxurious fragrance. Even small sticks of high quality Kyara are capable of scenting a room for many hours after they are consumed.
久蔵不朽- Age Does Not Change Its Efficacy
One of the greatest benefits of high quality natural Japanese incense is that, much like fine wine, it often improves with age. Unlike essential oils or lower grade incenses made with chemical fragrance, most Japanese incense uses all natural ingredients that retain their fragrant properties over time, many of which deepening with age. Ranjatai, is a large piece of jinkoh presented to Empress Komyo in 736 CE and still preserved at Todaiji temple in Nara. If a piece of Ranjatai were to be burned today, the same exquisite fragrance experienced over a millennia ago by Empress Komyo would be shared with those extremely fortunate to enjoy this today.
常用無障 - Used Every Day, It Does No Harm
Of all the items on this list, this is the one modern day consumers of incense need to be most aware when purchasing incense. First, most commercially available incenses today use synthetic or petrol-chemical based "fragrances" that are far from natural, as there is no way to know the toxicity of the chemicals used to produce the "fragrance". Second, most commercially available incenses found in the US have bamboo cores and are primarily made up of adhesives and low quality binders that do little but provide smoke, which negate any positive benefits of the fragrance produced.
High quality natural Japanese incense like those offered here use all natural ingredients and have no bamboo core. The stick is made up primarily of natural ingredients that are burned for their fragrance, not their smoke.
However, with all incense, even reduced smoke varieties, smoke is produced. With our modern environmentally "tight" building techniques and more common closed spaces, burning incense without sufficient ventilation can produce negative health benefits. Always be sure to allow for fresh air while burning incense.
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...