QUIET FIRE ::: RETURNING TO MY FAVOURITE JAPANESE INCENSE SHOP





It was a miserable cold and rainy Thursday but in my lunch break between schools I decided to slip out and make my way to the local Buddhist shop. I hadn’t been there in a while, but the last time, they had given me a sample of a sandalwood incense I had liked (second picture: like niche perfumeries, incense houses give out little boxed samples containing three or four sticks for you to try out before committing to a full box.)

Though masked, they of course recognized me from way back. I told them about the book, and they said they wanted to see it. I bought a box of Jinko Denpu – a rich and aromatic spiced agarwood because I feel like a heavier incense for the genkan (house entrance), now the colder weather has come; and the sandalwood in question – whose name I can’t read – for the kitchen. Although it possibly smells more exquisite in the box than when burned – often the case; really you should ask the assistant to light a stick on site in order to be sure ; it is still rather nice. Binding. Warming. Peaceful and uplifting.

43 Comments

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43 responses to “QUIET FIRE ::: RETURNING TO MY FAVOURITE JAPANESE INCENSE SHOP

  1. The incense in the first picture I bought at another shop the other day; this is intensely powdery and sweet like almonds and pistachios and heliotrope; deliciously dreamy and dense, and a great counterpoint to the darker and more austere other incense.

    • Georgia Kossifou

      The idea of something being ‘powdery and sweet like almonds pistachios and heliotrope’ is making my toes curl..

      • In a good way, or like the wicked witch of the west when Dorothy splashes her with a bucket of water?

        I would LOVE to take you there. And they would love it too – a bunch of people in their seventies selling the wooden Buddhist altars : it is amazing what a huge array of incense they have, and they are happy to let you try everything.

        You would come out with a suitcase full. And when you got back to England and opened it up, it would fill up the entire room like ghosts.

      • I will send you a box of the pistachios : email me your address

    • Tara C

      Ooh, that sounds delicious!

    • emmawoolf

      That sounds so delicious. Just what we need right now. (I have had, until recently, a beautiful box of incense that you bought for me years ago. I’ve been ekeing it out…or so I thought. Tom snaffled it a while back and has used up the whole lot in his bedroom (is there anywhere I can buy decent but affordable japanese incense online? xx)

  2. Georgia Kossifou

    God how I miss Japanese Incense, if I ever get back you must take me there.. xx

  3. Those boxes are so elegant and lovely! Japanese incense sounds like quite the contrast to the rather bombastic Hindu agarbatti and dhoops. Currently burning neem sticks on my porch tpo prevent mosquitoes (seems to work?).

    • No no no – when it comes to incense, O-Ko cannot even be spoken of in the same breath as other countries. Literally, incomparable. You need to try some – you would love it. Not these ones I bought, necessarily, which are nice but not poetic or otherworldly like some of the best, truly ethereal incense here can be. It is an art form, and truly beautifully.

  4. Reminds me to dig out the incense I bought on my Japan trip, lovely memories

  5. Tara C

    What a gorgeous shop, I could spend hours in there! I want one of those beautiful wooden shrine boxes. We have a Japanese grocery store with a small incense selection, mostly I have used Shoyeido & Baiedo. There is a nice aloeswood scented one I’m currently enjoying.

  6. I truly know noting about incense, so this is fascinating. The shop looks so pretty and neat, with all the colored boxes lined up! And the owners sound really lovely, unlike your ferocious madam of vintage perfume. Is she still guarding her bottles like a dragon on its hoard?

    • I haven’t been back since!

      No, that shop is in the middle of Tokyo and she is a maniac and a snob.

      This is in Fujisawa, where I work – a satellite city, more suburbanite (and slightly boring in my view), though families seem to think of it as the ideal place to live.

      The owners are probably bemused that a foreigner goes into what is usually a place for bereaved people buying Buddhist altars and choosing an incense to go with it, but a lot of this incense is also available in home furnishing stores etc so is not exclusively religious. It is very refined, and very pleasing to the senses. There are some other articles on Japanese incense at the bottom of this piece I think if you feel like reading more. It really is artisanal, and very beautiful.

    • (You have to actually click on this piece for the further articles to come up : from time to time I do like to write about it, as it is perfume, in essence, and often has prices to match).

  7. matty1649

    It certainly does look like a lovely shop, I’ll bet it smells lovely as well

  8. OnWingsofSaffron

    Very evocative photos: everything seems so quintessentially Japanese! Today, we spent the day mulling around in Düsseldorf, a city quite marked by the Japanese expats here. Had a fantastic light lunch at Yabase (do visit when in Düsseldorf— excellent sashimi), then visited an ultra abstract art installation by Hito Steyerl. I wanted to try the new Dior Rosewood Oud at the Dior store on the Königsallee (Kö), but the didn’t have it?? Now off for Kaffee und Kuchen at Café Heinemann: oh, their Ndalusian orange and apple torte!

    • That all sounds divine, and equally evocative !

      Yes, I have taught returnee students who had been in Düsseldorf – is there a Nissan plant there or something?

      Don’t do sashimi though

      • OnWingsofSaffron

        Around 10.000 Japanese people live in Düsseldorf as approx. 230 Japanese companies have their headquarters there.
        (Sorry about the culinary tip: talking about carrying coals to Newcastle!)

      • No – it is interesting to hear about.

        But blimey – the other day when at immigration I randomly looked up how many British people live in Japan in total – about 15000, I think it was; the reverse about three times more

  9. Robin

    Jaw dropped when I saw the inside of that shop. I would be delirious. We’ve nothing here but cheap stuff from the US, India and China, head shop stuff.

    I still have some incense sticks from that package LuckyScent sent me. You’d written about these and I’d fallen in love with them from your descriptions, so spent the big bucks to get them. There was an assortment in one beautiful packet and I also bought 20 sticks of River Path, the one you loved most, I think, all from Horikawa.

    This is extremely Philistinic of me, but I seem to have problems sensing the notes behind the smoke, behind the carrier material. My nose seems to have better luck at this point with pure resins burned on charcoal. Copal is a favourite. I will burn one of those precious River Path sticks right now to try to train my recalcitrant sense of smell.

    Escapism at its finest from Neil Chapman. Needed it.

    • Thankyou. I fancied some visual simplicity after all the raging.

      I know what you mean about the smoke – resins are indeed more of a ‘quiet fire. Some of this incense is quite functional, to burn at the altar or cover up bad smells, but a lot is more hypnotic and quieting to the spirit. You would fine the floral powdery ones in the first picture intriguing, if possibly a little too sweet. That brand is quite popular, though, and smells delightful when you catch faint wisps of it emanating from someone’s house.

  10. Robin

    Interesting. I burned that stick of River Path and then went out for a bit. Opened the front door to my cabin and was greeted by the most wonderful scent. That’s what I needed to do to get some kind of perspective on it, or let the smoke dissipate and allow the underlying notes to reveal themselves. Revelation!

  11. Great photos. I love incense and wish I had a shop like that near me. I used to have one nearby years ago, but it’s no longer around.

    • I mean it’s another indulgence for a perfume lover – but then I don’t use candles or interior fragrance or anything like that, so that’s my justification! I also like the fact that Japanese incense is supposed to be made (and smells as though it is) made with natural ingredients: you literally are burning powdered woods and spices, plus I like the link with ‘speaking to the beyond’ – a moment of stillness.

  12. Oh my goodness! I think I will have died and gone to heaven if I entered that shop. Absolutely glorious! I want to explore the world of Japanese incense so much more; I am only really familiar with Shoyeido brand. I would definitely enjoy the agarwood one you described, especially around this time of year.

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