This week I was lucky enough to attend a very rare event a ‘Kodo’ ceremony, organized by Odette Toilette, the fragrance lady.
The ceremony took place in The Conran Shop, a perfect venue, surrounded as we were by beauty and elegance, that enhanced the whole experience.
There were about 15 of us sitting in a circle on low stools and cushions and we partook of an incense ritual. Led by a Junior incense master.
Like the historic tea ceremony Kodo is a Japenese ritual started in about the 1500 ce. There are only two Kodo schools in Japan each with an unbroken line of 500 years. The arts are passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth and years of practice.
The master we were with, is the 21st generation to practice Kodo. He says ‘I was predestined to do this . If I was to have a son they would be 22nd generation. There is only 1 female Kodo practitioner, I have a daughter and next month my wife will give birth to another daughter. So challenges await me.’The Fragrance we used comes from the jungle in southeast Asia.
Through his interpreter the master said the following :
‘The Samurai used incense to calm themselves before they went to battle. They fought 1 to 1 using swords and the person who lost the battle was decapitated. The Samurai considered what it would be like when dead and did not want to smell bad. The incense is burnt to impregnate everything before battle and it shows respect to not be filthy.
In our practice we refer to smell as listening even though we use the nose, you take fragrance all the way to bottom of your heart and are feeling what the fragrant bark is telling you and you unite yourself through the fragrance the Kodo ceremony is a way of self heightening . The fragrance tree takes 50-100 years to be about 4ft in height. Wine and whisky are matured for years with the help of humans, these trees are just natural and every bark has a different fragrance and it can invoke different experiences and memories from the past. It is an abstract concept as you can’t see fragrance, we train for 10-20-30 years. The scent of this bark smells same as it did 1000 years ago so we are experiencing the same fragrance as our ancestors. We can’t have a dialogue with them, but we have another form of dialogue with the shared experience. It is our duty to keep the experience, so future generations can experience this. ‘
After this description the master showed how the incense is burnt and it was passed to us all in turn to experience.
Once we had ‘listened’ to the bark we were lucky enough to each be given incense sticks made by Nikon Kudo for Fornasetti to take away. Not as pure as the real thing but almost as good!