Incense from Awaji Island

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Incense has been an important element of Japan’s way of life and culture for centuries. Ichimiya ku in Awaji Island, situated in a fan shaped valley over flat land, produces 70 percent of all incense made in Japan.

The history of Ichimiya ku’s incense industry began in the mid-19th century, a period during which the local people had been making a living as fishermen. Unfortunately, they couldn’t go out to sea during winter because of the strong northwestern wind. As such, the fishermen had been looking to utilize abundant dead branches of trees to create a winter industry. One day, villager Tatsuzo Tanaka happened to come across incense making in Sakai, south of Osaka. He was a visionary who saw the future for his town and brought the incense artform home.

They purchased pine needle resources from the neighboring province (current Tokushima prefecture) and began production. As Awaji provided geographically favorable conditions, including good transportation and a generous climate, the industry soon flourished.  And approximately 60% of the current population became engaged in the many aspects of incense making.

Incense has a long history, closely imbedded with Buddhism. Its origin said to be in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, after which it was brought to India for further development. The birth of Buddhism around the latter half of the 5th century BC had a great impact on incense making, as it became a part of the religious practice, leading to it finally arriving in Japan.  Incense was described in Japan’s oldest written history “Nihon Shoki” in 595.

Awaji Island produces many types of incense such as room fragrance, stick, corn, and twirl types or fragrance oil that can be heated. They are often used at restaurants to create a warm, relaxed ambiance.  Kaori-Bukuro — or fragrance poaches, are a highly recommended souvenir for foreign visitors. Their most common sizes are somewhere between a dime and palm size.  Noble people once used them as moth repellants, or carried them around inside clothes as a perfume accessory. In fact, placing a lovely fragrance poach in one’s purse or pocket is something many ladies enjoy very much.

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Photo by Kunjudo‎

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