Walking into a room filled with the heady scent of incense instantly transports you to another space or time. Close your eyes; the woody notes of sandalwood or the crispness of a floral hanging in the air can catapult you to a Church, a meditation room or spa — even a temple in Japan. For nothing is as evocative as scent. And Japanese incense is one of the most redolent forms of home fragrance in the world.
But those spindly, fragrant sticks — with connotations wrapped up in ritual and ceremony — have had something of an unusual trajectory.
First created in the 5th century in Egypt, it was then adopted in Ancient China, where incense crafted from cinnamon and sandalwood was burnt during religious worship. Brought to Japan by Korean Buddhists in the 6th century, it is said that centuries later, Samurai warriors perfumed their armour and helmets with the scent of incense to make themselves feel invincible during battle. (The power of scent is real.)
Elsewhere, in the last century, incense has become renowned for the intoxicating smells associated with hippies and second-hand shops — with such strong fumes it might incite a coughing fit. But there are two types of incense in this world. Japanese, which is crafted from pure rolled incense, and non-Japanese — which is instead crafted from rolled wood and accelerants to help it burn that, quite literally, go up in smoke. And here at Trunk, we only stock incense from Japan.
For the Japanese are masters of the art of incense — so much so, they even have a grading system to establish the most premium sticks. And so tied up is premium incense with ritual, it is said in Japan that you can literally hear incense burning, if you meditate hard enough. (They even have classes to help you along the way.)
Mats first came across Shoyeido during a trip to Kyoto — we’ve sold it in our stores ever since. One of the oldest incense companies in Japan, Shoyeido was founded in 1705 and today employs incense artisans who make the brand’s sticks by hand with recipes and techniques that have remained unchanged since its inception. Using only natural ingredients — some of which are medicinal-grade — each stick burns for 20 minutes, which is just enough time to infuse a room with a light, fragrant aroma. (It also means the days of panicking whether you blew out a candle or not are over.)
In all of our stores, we burn Shoyeido’s Nijo Blue incense every day, and our customers love it so much they often ask us what it is, and pick-up their own box to take home. There is something so much more atmospheric about incense than there is a candle; candles create a mood with the glow and flicker of a flame, but incense is entirely based on the scent alone. And the smell of one stick lingers long after it’s burned, meaning it’s ideal for when you’re hosting friends at home or throwing a dinner party.
But which box to choose? All of the scents we sell at Trunk are sandalwood based, each blended with different notes. Blue is floral and has a lightness to it, while the red is mixed with cinnamon and frankincense and is sweet yet mellow. And if you’re still undecided, our incense selection box has a taster of everything, with five key scents to help you pick your favourite.
Combined with a ceramic incense holder, it also makes for a great gift. We know what we want in our stockings this festive season…