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Scent in Japan--my experiences

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The Japanese trace their scent heritage back to ancient Egypt. The Japanese word for 'mummy' is 'mira' which is thought to be related to the word 'myrrh,' an important spice for Egyptian embalmers. It is said that once upon a time, a big piece of strangely-shaped driftwood washed up on the beach. When villagers burned the wood, they discovered a wondrous fragrance. This is thought to be agarwood, or oud as it is known in the Middle East. Certain tree species in southeast Asia react to infections by bacteria or fungus by producing a resin that hardens in the cracks in the wood. This is where the fragrance is, although it takes decades (at least) for the fragrance to develop. Japanese scent specialists categorized agarwood (jinkoh) into six classes based on where (they thought) the wood came from. These are still used today, although the geographical correspondence is pretty vague, and is based more on scent characteristics. A seventh type, apart from the rest, is the most highly prized (and expensive) 'kyara.' Two main trends appeared, the 'myogoh' or incense for Buddhist offerings, and 'sora daki' for scenting living spaces or for afficionados. Incense materials can have distinct relations to Buddhas or sutras. Sandalwood is associated with the Lotus Sutra and Kannon/Kuan Yin. Agarwood is the cosmic Buddha, Dai Nichi Nyorai. Other usual materials for Buddhist incense are cloves, borneol camphor, cinnamon bark, benzoin, star anise, etc. Most of these have associations with Buddhist deities, and are commonly blended for use as stick incenses, chipped incense (burned on a piece of charcoal) and rubbing incense (rubbed on the hands for ritual/psychological purification). Two traditional makers that are active in overseas markets are Shoyeido and Baieido. I think you can request a catalog from either of these to get more info on materials and their respective products. (Experiences in a later post)
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  1. Elias Saif's Avatar
    Thank you so much for such a nice post. I would like you to post this in my blog too so that more people get to know about this history.My blog is <http://godgiftedwood.blogspot.com/>

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