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Kodo: The Art of Appreciating Fragrance

Kodo: The Art of Appreciating Fragrance

It’s always fascinating to discover how different cultures approach celebrating the art of perfumery. From solid perfumes tucked into jewellery in Elizabethan England to custom perfume blending for Venice’s elite families during the 1500s, traditions are created for these unique societies. One of the most interesting is Japan’s Kodo practice – the art of appreciating fragrance. It is so revered that is considered one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement, alongside the tea ceremony and flower arranging. The concept is using focus and specific gestures in a quiet room to promote a sense of well-being through scent.

The art of Kodo is most commonly used with incense but it can be adapted to any concentration and style of scent. It means ‘Way of Fragrance’ in Japanese. According to legend, a log of agarwood (oud) drifted ashore on Japan’s Awaji Island in the third year of Empress Suiko’s reign approximately 595 AD. The residents who found the wood noticed it smelled pleasant when placed near a fire. They subsequently presented the wood to local officials. Over the next 1,000 years, agarwood incense was incorporated into religious ceremonies. The court of nobility particularly embraced the practice and it became an important tradition throughout the country. It’s interesting to learn that Samurai warriors would prepare for battle by purifying their minds and bodies with the incense of koboku.

Expertise concerning tiny pieces of exotic aromatic woods led in the 15th and 16th centuries to the creation of various games or contests. Some involved the memorization of scents, while others revolved around matching aromas. There was also a practice of sequences that held clues to classic poems. Incense and fragrance became incredibly important to Japanese culture and tradition.

If you own an incense burner, you start by holding it in your left hand. Keeping it horizontal, you bring the burner to your nose and slowly inhale the scent through the space between your right thumb and forefinger. It is believed that certain scented fumes can be directly absorbed by the nose and transported directly to the brain causing a sense of immediate well-being.

Here are three of our very favourite oud-themed fragrances you might enjoy.

Atkinsons' Oud Save the King

Atkinsons’ Oud Save the King

Fragrance Description: Atkinsons’ Oud Save The King is a modern amber-oud scent for him or her that opens with brisk notes of Early Grey tea and bergamot. You soon smell the suede and powdery orris that blends nicely with agarwood and sandalwood.

Scent Style: an elegant amber fragrance for him or her

Key ingredients: Earl Grey tea, bergamot, orris, suede, agarwood, guaiac wood, sandalwood

Mine Perfume Lab Oud

Mine Perfume Lab Oud

Fragrance Description: Mine Perfume Company Oud is an amber-woody scent for him or her that layers the finest quality agarwood notes. “This eau de parfum is intense, almost mystical, with a thousand facets,” says Max, the brand founder. “Its typical smoky, resinous and balsamic aroma calls to mind the Orient and the beauty of the Arab culture. A mysterious fragrance with long-lasting, intense and persistent effect on the skin.”

Scent Style: an amber-woody fragrance for him or her

Key ingredients: agarwood (oud)

Van Cleef & Arpels Precious Oud

Van Cleef & Arpels Precious Oud

Fragrance Description: Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire Precious Oud is a luxe floriental fragrance for her with an exotic character. Perfumer Amandine Clerc-Marie mixes notes of incense, agarwood (oud) with juicy pink pepper, fresh bergamot and tuberose. It is a scent with a sense of mystery.

Scent Style: a luxurious floriental scent for her

Key ingredients: bergamot, pink pepper, tuberose, incense, jasmine, agarwood (oud), patchouli, sandalwood, ambergris, vetiver

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  • Trisha Pedros
    January 25, 2024 at 1:31 am

    What a great article! I love that a piece of driftwood (oud) was found to smell nice accidentally to become a part of Japanese culture and history! It’s also super interesting that they discovered scents before other countries 595 AD! Loved reading this one!, Thank you!

  • Andie Ciparis
    January 17, 2024 at 6:47 pm

    Wow really interesting and fascinating read. Not surprising to learn the Japanese appreciating fragrance.

  • Linda L
    January 17, 2024 at 11:08 am

    Why am I not surprised that the Japanese practice the art of Kodo to appreciate fragrance?

  • Brenda Cremer
    January 15, 2024 at 10:41 pm

    The Japanese really know how to appreciate life and we can learn a lot from them.

  • September Dee
    January 15, 2024 at 11:58 am

    Celebrating the art of fragrance is always a good idea. I enjoyed reading the history lesson here.

  • Colleen Cole
    January 15, 2024 at 11:55 am

    I love this idea. Fragrance can have a calming & centring effect. I had no idea the Japanese considered it an art form.

  • Urmi P
    January 15, 2024 at 10:54 am

    Very interesting!! Sounds like a beautiful practice. I completely relate to the idea of certain fragrances leading to an instant mood lift!