Last week ended for me in the most calming way imaginable, at a traditional Japanese incense ceremony. After a week of hurling verbal abuse at the radio as yet another politician did something unbelievable, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
I’ve written before on my love of incense, I really do think it’s a more economical way to scent your home than scented candles, particularly in the summer, when it might not get dark enough for you to appreciate a candle’s flickering atmosphere. What I hadn’t realised was how the Japanese connect incense to nature, calmness and meditation.
It was The Perfume Society who invited me to the ceremony, they are on a bit of a roll with their event schedule currently, I loved Tea Tasting with the Rare Tea Lady and have interviewed the inspiring Robbie Honey for WWP and can imagine his trip around New Covent Garden’s flower market will be hugely enjoyable.
In a quiet VIP room in Selfridges, we met incense master Souhitsu Issiken Hachiya, who lives in Kyoto, Japan and whose family had been incense master for over 20 generations, so he really know what he’s doing. He took us through an edited version of the ceremony with infinite patience, sifting and decorating ancient ash (I think he said it was 500 years old) in which he buried a lump of warming charcoal. Working with silent reverence, he carved meaningful lines in the ash with a neat collection of tools, finally popping the tiny piece of precious incense -warmed by the heat- on the top.
We each had a turn with the three scents he presented, ritually twisting the decorative ceramic pot one way and then the other, covering the top with our hands and inhaling deeply the richly aromatic smoke. It was a step above your normal joss stick, that’s for sure. The smell was quietly fabulous, rich without being overpowering and warming. We were told to listen to the incense and take a moment to appreciate the fact that the fragrance was a direct connection to nature. In all the madness, this simple moment of quiet reflectiveness seemed profoundly relevant and I left the ceremony with my head in a better place.
Lovely though it would be to have a grand incense master come and re calibrate our mood, this is a teeny bit impractical for most of us. Instead I suggest you look at the Fornasetti incense range, available here, and choose one of its lovely, sophisticated scents to simply bring you to a better place.
Real incense nerds might like to know that you can buy Japanese incense directly from the Shoyeido Incense Co, who will mail you anything from their extensive collection. Although the incense itself is quite well priced, starting at around $3, the shipping is pricey, around $39, so either buy in bulk, or split the shipment with a friend.