Creating Beautiful Japanese Incense From Matcha

by Emi Noguchi

Looking to spruce up a stale room? Want to monitor the airflow in your workspace? Need to cleanse a new home, but don’t want to contribute to a widespread white sage shortage, out of respect to legitimate religious users of the plant? Or perhaps, like so many, you’re seeking a little aromatic escape. After all, life on Earth is stressful, and scent is an excellent way to enter a completely different time or place! Humans the world over—notably Egypt, China, and India—have been burning incense sticks, cones, and powder for millennia. Whatever the form, it requires an incense holder and, in some cases, an incense burner. We’ll break down that terminology below.

Japanese Matcha Incense Warmer

Incense Products Now at Bokksu!

If you’re here, you are probably aware of the existence of Japanese incense. We, your Bokksu friends, are delighted to announce that we have recently added some new Japanese incense products to our stock! They’re gorgeous, stylish, and obviously, they smell delicious. We are, after all, a snack-happy bunch.

The colloquial “incense burner” of the West is likely accustomed to lighting up incense sticks, blowing out the flames, and watching those little embers disappear into a brand new aromascape. These incense sticks need an incense holder, naturally, but they aren’t always exactly the stylish home object we’d like them to be. Enter: the Matcha Incense Warmer, the incense burner of choice for our new colleague, Japanese incense maker, Incense Kitchen! But wait, you say. Are an incense holder, incense burner, and incense warmer all the same? That feels like an unfair number of terms for the same object. Well, astute reader, there is a difference.

A Brief Incense Glossary

Incense holder: 

Though incense sticks tend to be the more common form of incense in the United States, you can actually burn little cones, sculpted shapes, and even piles of powder! The shape of the incense obviously affects how it’s held and what material the incense holder must be made of. Incense sticks, for example, drop ash as they slowly burn. Because the actual hot element (the ember at the end of incense sticks) does not actually touch the holder, an incense holder can be made of combustible material like wood. The important point is that either the incense holder (or the material placed beneath it) is able to safely hold hot ash. 

If you are burning loose powder, however, your incense holder will actually need to withstand temperatures hot enough to burn the powder. A type of Japanese incense called makkou powder, used among some Buddhist sects, is burned atop a bed of ash from within a metal incense burner...which brings us to our next term!

Incense burner:

Whereas the incense holder typically needs only to hold one’s incense aloft so that it can burn evenly, incense burners come into contact with actual burning material, aka “direct-burning” incense. The incense burner is often used in religious settings. Those unfamiliar with Taoist, Hindu, or Buddhist incense burners may recognize the closed Catholic incense burner swung by a chain.

Japanese incense:

One of these terms is not like the others, but we like the rule of threes. Japanese incense, incense holders, and incense burners can take forms similar to those found in other countries. This includes the popular “coil” shape familiar to many for its use in mosquito deterrent incense! When touring Japanese shrines and temples, you’ll certainly see Japanese incense sticks smoldering upright in large barrels of ash. Take a closer look at the silhouette: these aromatic prayers for the dead are why it’s a faux pas to stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. Because so much Japanese incense is shaped from paste, it can be found in a great variety of visuals! Which brings us to our latest announcement—

Japanese Matcha Incense

Matcha Incense

Bokksu now offers “Itokashika,” a Matcha-flavored Japanese incense line from Incense Kitchen! This five-piece collection of direct-burning incense comes in surprisingly detailed, sweets-like molds of objects used for a tea ceremony. The makers at Incense Kitchen are actually based in the Uji region, a center for green tea growing and innovation for over six hundred years. Uji is where tea farmers developed the “shade-growing” technique used for matcha and some other high-grade teas, shielding growing leaves from the sun for up to a month before harvest to induce a milder flavor. 

This incense and its matching incense burner was created to be heated slowly. The process of creating matcha currently involves unnecessary food waste when matcha particles are removed mechanically from the air, only to be thrown away. The makers at Incense Kitchen saw this as an opportunity to share the world-renowned matcha of their hometown in a new form: by mixing fresh matcha powder directly into incense clay! We hope you’ll take a look, and a smell. Take this opportunity to enjoy the history, flavor, and innovation of some of Uji’s own hometown growers, thinkers, and manufacturers.

Author Bio

Emi Noguchi is a fiction writer, blogger, and freelance writing instructor, and co-founder of MFA App Review. After studying standard Japanese at Columbia University, she picked up Kansai-ben while living in Osaka and some Awa-ben in her paternal hometown in Tokushima. Emi is a 2020 recipient of the John Weston Award and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. You can read her work in Essay Daily, The Spectacle, and Fairy Tale Review. Emi is currently writing a novel about diasporic illnesses, art-making, and traditional Japanese puppetry.