Does incense bring up memories of flower power dresses and, hey man, being sooo laid back in groovy psychedelic pads? Or of the strict rites of the Catholic Church and young altar servers swaying the thurible to the monotonous rhythm of the priest’s lithurgy?  Not so in Japan.

From about the 14th century onwards, a culture developed based on the use of fragrances because of their calming effect on the senses and refreshing the spririt. In particular, aromatic woods were burned, singularly and in combination. Pastimes were created based on the enjoyment of incense.  The utensils used for these pastimes were often intricately fashioned and carved.

A popular pastime was “Kumiko”, a game based on guessing which aromatics were being burned and in what combination.  The game used figures which were playful in appearance, often dolls, everyday items or flowers. This involved not only the simple burning of fragrant woods and resins, but also moving intricately carved figurines and accessories on a board according to the game’s rules, depending on the players guessing the incense combinations correctly and determining the winner. Thus “Kumiko” game sets came to be delicate miniature models.

The lacquered stand with its criss-cross sticks was used to drape textiles over it, while the box underneath held the incense and thus the cloth absorbed the fragrance.

The pictures were taken at a special exhibit of the Tokyo National Museum.

It certainly sounds like sophisticated games that involved all the senses!  Maybe it is time for a revival?

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