Incense - koo

[ . BACK to Worldkigo TOP . ]


***** Location: India, worldwide
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


Part of the smell of India is due to incense, frequently used everywhere to overpower other smells, especially during the monsoon season. Patschouli and sandalwood and many more scents come to mind.

Incense is used in many religious rituals too. We have to distinguish between this use (incense, francincense, Weihrauch) and the use of incense sticks, joss sticks (Räucherstäbchen) for every-day fragrance purposes.

Gabi Greve

Other expressions:

incense stick, joss stick, incense coil, aroma coil
senkoo 線香 Senko incense stick


Incense sticks or Agarbatti as it is called in India is as old as the Vedas themselves…

My childhood days were so entwined with my parent’s devoutness and piety . . . their daily prayers in the prayer room – called the Pooja room – the agarbatti filling the silences in the songs my mother sang praising mother goodness – a scene still vivid and clear in my mind . . .

Agarbatti is a small scale industry in India, each state having its many varieties of aroma sticks. Many use exotic blends of the evergreen forest – thus bringing nature into our homes!

trek . . .
through the forest stumble

upon smells i know

Kala Ramesh


In India warmth and elegance is not only in the hearts of its people, it is in the air too. Floral Incense offers wide range of Incense, Incense Sticks, Dhoop, Agarbattis, Japanese Incense Sticks, Aroma, Cones and Coils that aromatize your surroundings.

All about Indian Incence:

Worldwide use


Räucherstäbchen, Weihrauch.

Weihrauch is usually only used in Catholic Churches. It is the sap from Boswellia sacra (Boswellia carteri). Frankincense Tree.

Wild Boswellias grow in Somalia and in the Arabic Peninsula. Their resin, the frankincense, is collected during dry periods. The trees are tapped by making a 3 inch incision in the bark, or by scrapping some of it.

More information in English

This is a very useful link in German von Michael Pfeifer



Sometimes I feel the private use of incense in a home is the origin of all modern aromatherapy. To light an incense stick and a candle after a hectic day of work, listen to some soft music and taste some nice ricewine is a treat for all of your senses. It lifts your spirit on a higer level in no time and lets you enjoy the moment as a human BE-ING, not DO-ING for a while.

Incense in Japan has been introduced together with Buddhism in the 5th century and been used during religious ceremonies for a long time. It seems to purify the holy space of a temple and pacify the mind of the worshippers to enable them to get a glimpse (should I say: a whiff) of the Beyond.

But maybe only in Japan has the use of incense been elevated to the "Way of the Incense" (koodoo 香道), next to the Way of Tea, the Way of the Flowers, the Way of the Bow and so many other Japanes WAYs of enriching life with a sence of the true, good and beautiful (shinzenbi 真善美).

During the Heian period the use of incense turned into an elaborate "Fragrance Hobby" (gankoo 翫香) which brings us to the novel of Genji (Genji Monogatari 源氏物語) by Murasaki Shikibu 紫式部.

Genji-Koo 源氏香 Genji Ko Incence patterns

香の図 "Scheme of incenses of Genji". Fonts of patterns of Genjiko
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

Genji kô
There is a form of incense ceremony still practiced today known as Genji-kô (Genji incense). It is essentially a highly refined parlor game, based on one's ability to hold the olfactory memory of several different scents and tell them apart. The scoring system uses a set of symbols coded to 52 of the 54 chapters of The Tale of Genji. Despite the Heian-era overtones of its name, Genji-kô has nothing to do with the way incense was used during Murasaki's day. It comes, rather, from a tradition of incense guessing that was developed in the fourteenth century.
These symbols, which have long since entered the realm of design motifs, are combinations of five vertical bars joined at the top by horizontal bars in different combinations. If the bars are connected, that means those scents are deemed the same.
For example, five single vertical bars with no horizontals, would indicate that all five scents were different. This corresponds to Chapter Two of The Tale of Genji, "The Broom Tree.
source : www.lizadalby.com

. Reference : Patterns of Genji-Ko . PDF .


senkoo 線香 Senko incense stick
makkoo 抹香(まっこう)Makko incense powder

makkoo shokunin 抹香職人 craftsman making Makko

source : edoichiba.jp. makkou...

. Edo no shokunin 江戸の職人 Edo craftsmen .


- quote
Japanese incense
The following are the main ingredients in Japanese incense:

Agarwood (沈香, jinkō, jinkoo) (also called Aloeswood)
Sandalwood (白檀, byakudan)
Borneo Camphor (竜脳, ryūnō, ryuunoo)
Benzoin (安息香, ansokukō, ansokukoo)
Frankincense (乳香, nyūkō, nyuukoo)
Clove (丁字, chōji, chooji)
Star Anise (唐樒, tōshikimitooshikimi)
Rhubarb (大黄, daiō, daioo, dai-oo)
Cinnamon (桂皮, keihi keihi)
Licorice (甘草, kanzō, kanzoo)
Patchouli (パチョリ, pachori)

Another important ingredient in Japanese incense is kyara (伽羅).
Kyara is one kind of agarwood (Japanese incense companies divide agarwood into six categories depending on the region obtained and properties of the agarwood). Kyara is currently worth more than its weight in gold.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

kyara 伽羅

More details:
. WKD : Different Kinds of Incense  お香の種類 .


I have written extensively about the use and the culture of incense in Japan.
Please read my three articles quoted below.

The smell of incense can be very subtle and faint, so the act of concentrated smelling it is called "listening to incense" (monkoo, bunkoo 聞香, koo o kiku 香を聞く) in Japanese.
Here the verb "KIKU (LISTENING)" in Japanese means to use all senses to appreciate one thing in its full potential and with all your attention. KIKU is maybe the change of the verb 利く, as in "tasting ricewine, kikizake 利き酒", meaning "appreciating" something.

Here is one explanation for this expression with incense:

In the Buddha's world everything is fragrant like incense, including the words of Buddha. Fragrance and incense are synonymous, and Buddha's words of teaching are incense. Therefore Bodhisattvas listen to Buddha's words in the form of incense, instead of smelling them.

Incense Container, Japanese Incense Culture
Incense stick holder
Incense Burner

Gabi Greve


. hangonkoo, hankonkoo 反魂香
soul-returning incense


In Japan , where almost all are Buddhists, we use incense on every morning to pray to the ancestors . Of course I do it every morning.

with smell of incense
will remember you
tomorrow morning

senkoo ya anata o omou asu no asa

Nakamura Sakuo


New York

Here in New York, incense has no season, or apparently, any limitations:

Greenwich Village -
in the midst of eight days of rain
the smell of incense

Greenwich Village
Autumn rains persist -
the smell of incense

Kami (Judy Kamilhor)


Sacramental Christian Churches

incense is a seasonal kigo in the sacramental christian churches.
incense is used on special feast days during the year to enhance the worship service.

on these days incense it used during the opening procession, at the time of the scripture readings, and sometimes the altar and the congregation are blessed with incense.

here is one haiku/senryu i 'got' during a six week stay at a benedictine monastery:

the young monk
reads the gospel

susan delphine delaney, plano, texas

Things found on the way


CLICK here for more photos

"All in One
One in All"
Daruma smiles
incense silences ~

Narayanan Raghunathan

More of his Daruma haiku are here:
... group/happyhaiku/message/1597


MORE - hokku about fragrance by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

ran no ka ya choo no tsubasa ni takimono su

Lady butterfly
perfumes wings by floating
over the orchid.
Tr. Beilenson

The butterfly is perfuming
It's wings in the scent
Of the orchid.
Tr. R.H. Blyth

The orchid's perfume
clings to the butterfly's wings
like temple incense
Tr. Sam Hamill

orchid breathing
incense into
butterfly wings
Tr. Lucien Stryck

fragrant orchid—
into a butterfly’s wings
it breathes the incense
Tr. Ueda

ran no ka ya choo no tsubasa ni takimono su
transformed in normal Japanese
ran no ka ga choo no tsubasa ni takimono suru yoo desu

fragrance of orchids -
it clings to the wings of a butterfly
like incense
Tr. Gabi Greve

There is the cut marker YA at the end of line 1.

Basho was at a tea shop on the way to Ise shrine.
A lady at the tea shop had asked him to write a hokku including her name, Cho 蝶Butterfly.

. Basho at Ise Shrine 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingu .

. Smell, fragrance, haiku and kigo


kyarakusaki hito no karine ya oborozuki

fragrance of kyara incense
while he takes a nap -
hazy spring moon

MORE of his haiku about frangrance
. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .


aki-kaze ya senko no kemuri yurete ori

autumn breeze,
incense smoke coils and twists
signifying nothing

Susumu Takiguchi


incense smoulders
on the bamboo cupboard
rarefied shadows

Geert Verbeke


and some incense smoke -
the longest night

und Incenserauch <>
die laengste Nacht

long night, yo-naga, nagaki yo is a kigo for autumn.

... ... ...

two curly smokelines
from one incense
wonderous waves

Gabi Greve 2004

... ... ...

burning incense
the smell of another life
behind closed eyes



Ein Mönch vor der Wand.
Regen prasselt ans Fenster.
Ein Räucherstäbchen.

A monk before the wall.
Rain thunders at the window.
An incense stick.
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Arndt Büssing (2000)


drifting at the shrine

Dr. Vidur Jyoti
India, April 2008


incense smoke
waves of chants wash
over the idol

Johannes Manjrekar
India, February 2011


incense smoke
curls around his bald head

Chen-ou Liu
Canada, February 2011

Related words

***** Incense coils agains mosquitoes, mosquitoe coils
katori senkoo 香取線香

kigo for all summer

They are used everywhere to keep the mosquitoes away.


***** . hoshi no takimono 星の薫物 incense for the stars .
hoshi no kaori 星の薫(ほしのかおり)
fragrance for the stars
hitorikoo 火取香(ひとりこう)Tanabata incense
Offering incense at the Imperial Palace in the Tanabata night.


Koo お香 Incense - Introduction

Senkotate 線香立 Incense Stick Holder

Koogoo - Incense Container 香合とだるま

Kooro - Incense Burner  香炉とだるま

. Incense in India ... HAIKU


- #incense #makko #senko -


Unknown said...



Gabi Greve said...

fr. j.d. godwins remarks on incense

Read it here:



Gabi Greve said...

morning meditation -
the smoke of incense
hangs in the trees

Have a look here !

Gabi Greve, March 2006

Anonymous said...

the temple of Arhats ~
incense sticks in hand
tears in the eyes

Fivehundred Arhats Temples - Gohyaku Rakan 五百羅漢

Narayanan Raghunathan

Gabi Greve said...

burning incense -
the different smell
of the last puff

© Gabi Greve 2007

Anonymous said...

sandalwood ...
her voice, too
was haunting

Ella Wagemakers

Anonymous said...

to my robe
scent of musk

Ella Wagemakers

Anonymous said...

The incense ran out
It's gone from my hair; I miss
sweetness coating my lungs.

©2007-2008 *Fairytale-Heart

Anonymous said...

college apartment
nag champa smolders
in a dirty ashtray

risingsakura, 2006


Anonymous said...

fragrant smoke rises
from the red point of incense;
it lingers unseen.

Na rayanan Raghunathan said...

merging incenses
sandalwood tuberose ~ a butterfly comes to sniff

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

toshi no ichi senkoo kai ni idebayana

I go out to buy some incense . . .

end of the year by Basho

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

he mo hirazu jinkoo mo takazu toshi no kure

the year ends
without farts
or fine incense

This hokku was written at the beginning of the 9th month (October) in 1821, when Issa was living in his hometown. Issa uses a humorous colloquial idiom to sum up his year so far: he has neither farted nor scented his house with expensive agarwood incense imported from south Asia. That is, the year has been so-so, average, ordinary, nothing special. Like the proverbial glass that is both half empty and half full, this expression is somewhat vague and very sensitive to context. In terms of Issa's life when he was 59, does it suggest "not bad" or, rather, "could have been worse"? In terms of Japanese poetry, the tendency to understate things and the preference for humility in self-references also affect the way the hokku is read.

The date of the hokku's composition is a bit odd. It is written in autumn, almost four months before New Year's Eve, but the hokku uses "year's end," a winter word normally referring to the 12th month, especially to the latter part of the 12th month. Issa doesn't write the season (winter) above the hokku, as he normally does when he writes hokku that are out of season, so he seems to be writing from within autumn. We can only guess, but perhaps Issa felt his year had been mediocre at best, and this hokku was a prayer that nothing worse would happen during the last third of the year. Stating things the way they are and then projecting them into the future is a powerful form of prayer.

Looking at Issa's actual year in 1821, in the 1st month his infant second son Ishitaro was asphyxiated while he was strapped to his mother's back as she worked. It was not his wife's fault, and Ishitaro apparently made no cries for help, so no one was to blame, but Issa went into deep depression for a while after Ishitaro's death and wrote some dark haibun words about it. And in the 4th month Issa's wife Kiku came down with a bad case of gout that kept her in bed for four months. It was an ailment that would kill her two years later. On the other hand, Issa must have known his wife was pregnant again (with the son they would eventually name Konzaburo), and many of Issa's hokku were anthologized during this year. However, at the end of the year Issa writes directly about his condition in an appeal to the local tax authorities, asking them to lessen the amount of his assessed taxes because his life is so difficult. This appeal gives the impression that for Issa 1821 was a year full of nothing but "farts," and even subtracting for the special pleading he was probably doing, the appeal suggests that the hokku translated above may be fairly stoic, understated, and perhaps ironic. In addition to being a prayer, perhaps Issa wrote the hokku to keep himself cheerful in a situation in which various shades of disaster were becoming the new normal for him.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Buson said...

Yosa Buson and fragrance

kyarakusaki hito no karine ya oborozuki

fragrance of kyara incense
while he takes a nap -
hazy spring moon

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Japanese shrines related to incense :
Kooboku Jinja 枯木神社 Koboku Jinja
Awaji, Hyogo
Mikage Jinja 弥加宜神社 / 彌伽宜神社
another name is - Oomori Jinja 大森神社 Omori Jinja
Maizuru, Kyoto