How Do You Make and Burn Japanese Incense?


In our previous blog (Why is Japanese Incense So Captivating?) on the art of Kodo, we delved into the rich tapestry of history, culture, and spirituality that surrounds Japanese incense. We discovered its deep-seated traditions and the intricate craftsmanship behind incense holders.

Continuing our aromatic journey, this blog post will guide you through the practical aspects of Japanese incense. We’ll learn the art of making your incense, and how to burn incense properly. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned enthusiast, these insights will enhance your experience and deepen your appreciation of this ancient practice.

How to Make Japanese Incense?

Creating your Japanese incense is an artful practice that blends tradition with personal expression. This journey into the world of incense-making involves careful selection of ingredients, mastering the blending process, shaping your creation, and ensuring its preservation. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you craft your aromatic masterpiece.

Gather Your Ingredients:

  • Essential Ingredients:
    • Aromatic powders: Agarwood (kyara or jinko), hinoki cypress, sandalwood, or floral blends like sakura.
    • Binding agent: Rice starch (komeikogami)
    • Water: Pure, ideally spring water
  • Optional:
    • Essential oils: For adding specific fragrance notes
    • Natural dyes: For coloring your incense (beetroot for red, turmeric for yellow)
    • Tools: Mortar and pestle, mixing bowls, rolling pin, measuring spoons, molds (optional), bamboo drying screens, brush (optional)

The Blending Process:

  • Grind: If using raw wood, grind it into fine powder using a mortar and pestle.
  • Measure: Start with small quantities of powders, aiming for a 1:1 ratio of aromatic powders to rice starch. You can adjust later based on your preference.
  • Mix: Slowly add water to the powders, mixing gently until it forms a soft, pliable dough. Avoid over-mixing, as it can make the incense crumbly.
  • Experiment: Feel free to add essential oils, dyes, or other optional ingredients for unique touches.

Shaping the Incense:

  • Choose your form: Roll the dough into thin sticks for classic Koh-style incense, mold it into cones or coils for visual artistry, or sculpt it into personalized shapes using molds or your hands.
  • Utilize tools: Use a rolling pin to achieve uniform thickness for sticks, or brush water on your hands to prevent sticking while shaping.
  • Air dry: Place your incense creations on bamboo screens or porous surfaces in a well-ventilated, cool, and dry place. Sunlight can expedite drying, but avoid direct sunlight as it can crack the incense.

Drying and Curing:

  • Patience is key: Drying can take several days to weeks, depending on the humidity and thickness of your incense. Let it dry naturally for the best results.
  • Curing for depth: Once dry, place your incense in a sealed container lined with cedarwood chips or parchment paper for several weeks to allow the fragrances to mature and deepen.

Preservation and Storage:

  • Cool and dark is best: Store your incense in cool, dark places away from moisture and direct sunlight. Wooden boxes or airtight containers lined with cedarwood are ideal.
  • Label your creations: Label your incense with the ingredients and date of creation to track your experiments and revisit favorite blends.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Start small and experiment with different blends and shapes before making large batches.
  • Consider wearing gloves while handling essential oils and dyes.
  • Use different types of molds to create unique incense designs.
  • Infuse your incense with natural materials like dried flowers or herbs for a touch of texture and scent.
  • Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the creative process!

Making Japanese incense is a journey of exploration, tradition, and personal expression. Embrace the aromatic adventure, experiment with your senses, and discover the joy of crafting your fragrant masterpieces.

How to Burn Japanese Incense?

Burning Japanese incense is an art that combines tradition, mindfulness, and a deep appreciation for the subtleties of fragrance. It’s a ritual that enhances the ambiance of a space, aids in meditation, and can even become a practice in mindfulness itself. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you enjoy this enriching experience.

Preparing Your Space:

  • Well-Ventilated Area: Ensure your space is well-ventilated. Good airflow helps in dispersing the incense fragrance evenly and also prevents the accumulation of smoke, which can be overwhelming in closed spaces.
  • Safety Tips: Place your incense holder on a stable, heat-resistant surface to prevent any risk of fire. Keep it away from flammable materials like curtains, and ensure it’s out of reach of children and pets. Never leave burning incense unattended.

Choosing Your Incense:

  • Types of Japanese Incense: Japanese incense comes in various forms, including sticks, cones, and coils. The most common are stick incenses without a bamboo core, known for their pure, smokeless burn.
  • Selecting the Right Fragrance: The choice of fragrance depends on your personal preference and the purpose. For relaxation, scents like lavender and sandalwood are popular. For meditation, agarwood or frankincense can be grounding. Floral scents like cherry blossom are uplifting and perfect for creating a welcoming atmosphere.

The Burning Technique:

  • Lighting the Incense: Hold the incense stick at its non-aromatic end and light the tip with a flame. Let it burn for a few seconds and then gently blow out the flame. You should see a glowing ember and a wisp of smoke indicating it’s burning properly.
  • Managing Burn Rate and Smoke: Place the incense in the holder at a suitable angle to ensure it burns evenly. If you find the smoke too intense, you can break the stick into a shorter length before lighting it.

Mindful Incense Burning:

  • Incorporating Mindfulness: Treat the act of burning incense as a ritual. Take time to observe the fragrance, the smoke patterns, and the ember’s glow. This practice can help you become more present and grounded.
  • Incense in Meditation and Relaxation: Use the scent as a focus point for meditation. The ritual of lighting incense can signify the beginning of a meditation session, helping you transition into a state of mindfulness. The aroma can aid in deepening your relaxation and concentration.

In conclusion, burning Japanese incense is a simple yet profound practice that can bring a sense of tranquility and mindfulness to your daily routine. By respecting the traditional methods and incorporating a mindful approach, you can transform the act of burning incense into a deeply personal and enriching experience.


Whether you choose to delve into the art of crafting your fragrant masterpiece or surrender to the beauty of a handcrafted koro, remember that incense is a language spoken in whispers. So, listen closely, savor the nuances, and let the magic of scent guide you on a path of personal discovery and inner peace. As you embrace the aromatic art of Kodo, you not only embark on a cultural exploration but also unlock a deeper connection to yourself and the world around you.

May your journey be fragrant, enriching, and forever filled with the captivating echoes of Japanese incense.

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