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Incense Games

Kumiko: The Games of Kodo

Kumiko (Ku-me-koh) are the incense games played during a Kodo ceremony.

These games are a fun and enjoyable way to experience the pleasures of incense with your friends and family.

There are almost limitless variations of Kumiko to enjoy within the Kodo style of incense burning.

Traditional Kodo includes the burning of three to six types of raw Agarwood (a.k.a. Aloeswood), and occasionally, sandalwood.

incense games - listening to incense

The incense games are often based on seasonal themes, history, classic literature, waka poetry, or travel.

In Kodo, the term “listening to incense” is used and symbolizes the attention and mindfulness paid to each fragrant wood in the ceremony.

The idea of all of these incense games is to enjoy the process of listening to each fragrant wood. These are not contests but simply methods for enjoying the fragrances and reawakening our sense of smell.

There are no winners or losers in Kodo, just the simple elegance of enjoying fine incense.

Here we introduce three Incense Games anyone can enjoy.

Click on each incense game title for instructions:

The Game of Three

Three Scenic Places

The Rikkoku Journey

The Game of Three

Three unique kinds of Agarwood are used in this game.

Each wood is cut into three pieces, about the size of a grain of rice, and wrapped in separate packets. This produces a total of nine packets.

Each packet has a small hidden label inside which denotes the type of Agarwood it contains.

The packets are shuffled and three random packets are chosen to play the game with.

Step 1

The Komoto (incense presenter) informs the guests that three woods are being used and they are named one, two, and three.

Step 2

The Komoto prepares the Kodo cup, called the Kiki gouro, meaning “listening cup,” and passes around each wood. The first wood is called number one and so on to number three.

Step 3

Each guest experiences each wood and determines if the fragrances were identical or different.

Each guest scores on a sheet using vertical lines to indicate each wood.

Separate lines indicate woods were different.

Horizontal lines connecting two or more woods indicates the guest to believe those woods were identical.

Scoring sheets would look something like this:

incense games scoring-game-of-3

The Komoto then opens the packets used, reads the hidden labels and reveals the answers.

Three Scenic Places

The Komoto and/or the guests choose three scenic places in the world. Each place will be represented by a unique aloeswood.

In Japan, these special places are Matsushima, Amanohashidate, and Itsukushima. We’re playing informal games though and so we may choose any three places in the world.

Four unique kinds of aloeswood are used. One for each scenic spot and the fourth represents the boat to take us there.

Three different aloeswoods represent each of the three special places. Cut two pieces off each of these woods, to about the size of a grain of rice, and wrap into packets. One of each of these is a sample.

Each packet has a small upside down label inside which denotes the type of aloeswood it contains.

The fourth aloeswood represents the boat, and is cut to grain-of-rice size and wrapped into a single packet. Seven packets total; two each of the three special places woods and one boat.

Step 1

The Komoto prepares, announces the names, and passes one sample of each of the three aloeswoods representing special spots to the guests. This gives each guest an association for each aroma. Guests listen to each of the three special spot aloeswoods and try and remember each wood.

Step 2

The Komoto shuffles the four remaining packets, then prepares and passes around each wood without naming them. Used packets are arranged in the order used.

Step 3

Guests listen to each wood and record their answers as to which aloeswood was which special place and which was the boat.

Scoring sheets would look something like this:

1st wood = Matsushima (or other designated place)

2nd wood = Amanohashidate (or other designated place)

3rd wood = The Boat

4th wood = Itsukushima (or other designated place)

The Komoto opens the packets used, reads the hidden labels and reveals the answers.

The purpose of the game is to enjoy the places, and each of the woods. Answers are interpreted as:

If all three places and the boat are guessed correctly, it’s said that you encountered beautiful weather and have visited all three scenic spots.

If three woods were identified correctly, you encountered clear weather and have visited two scenic spots with your boat now heading towards the third.

If two woods were identified, it’s interpreted as the scenic spots were somewhat obscured by the evening mist.

It only one wood is guessed correctly, it was due to the morning mist, which lingers longer than evening mist and thus obscures the scenery further.

*If the one wood identified was the boat, then the player is said to have viewed each of the spots from the boat, without actually having set foot on land.

And if none of the woods were guessed correctly it was because the mist at times, can be as thick as clouds, in which case nothing can be seen.

*From “The Book of Incense,” by Kiyoko Morita. Copyrights © belong to their respective holders.

The Rikkoku Journey

This game uses the entire Rikkoku set, also known as the Six Countries of Aloeswood

Six unique kinds of aloeswood are used. A piece of each wood is cut, to about the size of a grain of rice, and wrapped. Six packets total.

Each packet has a small hidden label inside which denotes the type of aloeswood it contains. The packets are shuffled and the game begins.

Step 1

The Komoto or guests read the aroma descriptions for each wood of the Rikkoku.

Step 2

The Komoto shuffles the packets, prepares and passes each wood to the guests. Used packets are laid out in the order they’re used.

Step 3

Guests experience or “listen” to each aloeswood and matches the aroma of each of the six woods with the official Kodo description for the six woods of the Rikkoku. Each records their answers on a their own answer sheet.

Scoring sheets would look something like this:

1st wood = Kyara

2nd wood = Manaban

3rd wood = Rakoku

4th wood = Sasora

5th wood = Sumotara

6th wood = Manaka

The Komoto opens the packets used in their order, reads the hidden labels and reveals the answers.

The Book of Incense: Enjoying the Traditional Art of Japanese Scents – by Kiyoko Morita