My first encounter with the Japanese fragrant wood chips was in a funeral of a relative of mine. While the Chinese offer incense to the deceased in a funeral, the Japanese use fragrant wood instead. They would stand in front of the picture of the deceased and hold a couple pieces of fragrant wood chip in front of their forehead. Surrounded by the scent of the fragrant wood, they would talk to the deceased one last time. Afterward, they would put the wood chips into the incense burner and let it burn by the fragrant charcoal; the fragrance will slowly rise with the burning smoke. I was told that according to the Buddhist belief, fragrant wood has the power to cleanse our soul. The fragrant wood used in a funeral is perhaps a means to clear away the love and hatred of the deceased had towards the mundane world, so they can leave peacefully without thinking of the life they left.
The fragrant wood is not exclusively used for funerals; like incense, it can be used in everyday life to create a calm atmosphere. However, it requires more patience to light up a piece of fragrant wood chip. Unlike incense sticks or incense cone that can be easily lit up using a burning match, with the fragrant wood chip, you have to first prepare a cup filled with fragrant ashes, then light up the fragrant charcoal. When the charcoal turns white, you can finally add in your wood chips. Most of the fragrant woods are made of sandalwood or agarwood, the difference in the type of wood and the distance between the wood and the charcoal can also bring out a subtly different scent. It takes time to light up the wood, it also takes time to get the perfect scent by trying to move the wood chips closer to or further away from the charcoal. The burning process requires dedication which in turn helps one to focus on burning and forget about the tedious everyday life.
Nakahori is a brand that specializes in producing incense stick for the Japanese shrine. Seeing the lack of popularity of fragrant wood when compared to other types of incense, Nakahori has launched a brand called Tokyo Kodo that focuses on promoting fragrant wood. The brand’s gift set consists of fragrant sandalwood and agarwood, ash, charcoal, a tweezer for picking up the charcoal, a spatula for sweeping the ash around the wood, and a glass.