Lifestyle | Kateigaho International Japan Edition

Mix & blend Tokyo: Delighting in the ancient art of incense

Court nobles of the Heian Period (794-1185) blended their own aromatic pastilles and burned them to perfume rooms, robes and the paper on which they wrote love letters. In the process they turned the use of incense, which had originally been introduced in Japan as a part of Buddhist ritual, into the elegant pastime of expressing, through fragrances, one’s sensitivity, refinement and love.

Breathe in the good: Juttoku's incense is of all-natural materials including white sandalwood, clove, cinnamon and star anise. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI
Breathe in the good: Juttoku’s incense is of all-natural materials including white sandalwood, clove, cinnamon and star anise. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI

Adapting this venerable tradition to the modern day, Juttoku offers the opportunity to indulge in a unique medium of self-expression by creating your very own incense. The shop provides recipes for blends from nine powdered natural ingredients, among them white sandalwood, clove, cinnamon and star anise. From there, you can go on to craft a blend of your own, choosing which ingredients to combine and in what proportions.

Slow burn: A fragrant wisp of smoke curls up from incense pressed into the shape of bamboo leaves. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI
Slow burn: A fragrant wisp of smoke curls up from incense pressed into the shape of bamboo leaves. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI

“You need neither formal knowledge nor technique. Feel the season and the weather, observe your emotions, picture your recipient if you have one in mind. And enjoy the process,” says Mai Iguchi, owner of Juttoku.

The magical effect of incense can banish idle thoughts and help you get in touch with your inner self. Eleven years ago Iguchi made a 180-degree career change, leaving the IT industry to found Juttoku. Wanting to encourage people to take a moment out of their busy lives to savor the beauty of fragrances, she made it her mission to promote Japan’s incense culture both at home and abroad.

Repre-scent-tative: Incense at Juttoku comes in variegated colors and styles, from sticks and cones to those pressed in the shape of wagashi Japanese sweets using specially crafted frames. All scents are formulated in collaboration with a traditional perfumer on Awaji Island, famed as the incense mecca of Japan. The pressed incense is priced from ¥880 per one-piece box. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI
Repre-scent-tative: Incense at Juttoku comes in variegated colors and styles, from sticks and cones to those pressed in the shape of wagashi Japanese sweets using specially crafted frames. All scents are formulated in collaboration with a traditional perfumer on Awaji Island, famed as the incense mecca of Japan. The pressed incense is priced from ¥880 per one-piece box. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI

On display in her Tokyo shop is Juttoku’s original line of incense as well as burners, stands and other accessories. Iguchi hopes her customers will make these fragrances, which she calls “an invisible element of interior decor,” a part of their daily lives.

At your incense session, you will grind the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, then add water and powdered laurel bark (Machilus thunbergii) to thicken the mixture, which you spread out and cut or hand-knead into your desired form.

Prep station: At Juttoku, you grind your own incense mix using a mortar and pestle before hand-kneading it into your desired shape and leaving it to dry. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI
Prep station: At Juttoku, you grind your own incense mix using a mortar and pestle before hand-kneading it into your desired shape and leaving it to dry. | RYOICHI OKAZAKI

The delicate aroma wafting from the blend will calm your mind as you work with it. It’s a lot like playing with clay and, indeed, kids can enjoy incense-making, too.

Traditional Japanese incense ingredients have always been imported from abroad, mostly Southeast Asia, China and India.

“To make incense is to take very distinct materials and create harmony among them,” says Iguchi. “The process embodies the Japanese practice of adopting elements from foreign cultures and integrating them into our own.”

Juttoku is located at Bentencho 23, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; Mon., Tue. 12 p.m.-6:30 p.m., Fri. till 5 p.m., weekends and hols. 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; closed Wed., Thu. Incense-making sessions are ¥3,000, by appointment only. There are four one-hour sessions per day on weekends and two per day on Mon., Tue., and Fri. For reservations and inquiries, call 03-6205-5211 or visit juttoku.jp. This is the third installment in a four-part series on shops in Tokyo where you can “mix” your own products.

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