Essence of the Ages imports incense from Japan, India, Bhutan, Korean, Tibet, and Nepal. Only the finest incense!


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How to Prepare the Kodo Cup

The preparing of the Kodo cup is an intricate and important part of the Japanese Incense Ceremony. Here, in simplified detail, is the way to prepare a censer for the burning of raw woods and resins. This is a very subtle way to enjoy the aroma of sandalwood and aloeswood. In Japan this is called 'listening' to the incense and can be enjoyed on any experience level.

The first step in preparation is filling the Incense Cup (Kiki-gouro) with rice chaff ash (kouro-bai). Fill loosely and do not compact.

Heating the charcoal: One very important part of preparing the Kodo cup is heating the charcoal properly. If has not burned long enough before you put it in the Kodo cup it will have an unpleasant aroma which will be retained in the ash and effect the presentation. For this reason the charcoal is ignited and placed in a separate censor until it is glowing red in the center and white on the entire outside, and the offensive aroma is burned away. Any heat resistant censor can be used. Shown is a Japanese Hitori-gouro.

Stirring the ash bed: While the charcoal is heating, the ash (kouro-bai) is stirred with the chopsticks using a clockwise motion. Fluffing the ash in this manner allows air (oxygen) for charcoal to burn properly.

Preparing hole for charcoal: After preparing the ash, use the metal chopsticks to make a hole in the center for the charcoal (Kou-tadon) to be placed. You only need to make the hole about two centimeters (2 cm.) deep because the ash is loose and the charcoal can be pressed down to the proper height.

Placing charcoal in censer: Once the charcoal is glowing red in the center and white on the entire outside place the charcoal in the Kodo cup and you are ready to begin covering the charcoal with ash and building your ash mound. Please note: the charcoal in the next two images has not been lit so that you can see the actual charcoal in these instructions. As the ready charcoal is white on the outside the color contrast would not have allowed viewing of the placement.

Making the ash mound: Next you take the metal chopsticks (koji) and begin making a mound over the charcoal, working from the edge with a counter-clockwise upwards motion. This keeps the ash loose for a better burning of the charcoal.

Tamping the ash: This is a very important part of the process. You want to lightly tamp the surface without compacting the ash below the surface, Remember, the charcoal needs air to burn properly.

Hold the ash press parallel to your shoulders and lightly press the surface as you rotate the cup counter clockwise. Keep the ash tamper (Haioshi) 90 degrees to the front of the Kiki-gouro.

Making the ash pattern: Once the mound is smooth you begin making the ash pattern.

There are three styles of ash patterns. Shin-kouro or Shin-bai (True pattern) is the most formal. It is divided into five sections called Gou, and the listening line Kiki-suji.

An odd number of lines, (kosuji) usually nine, divide the five sections (gou).

On the left is the positive (You) "True Ash" (Shin-bai) pattern of the Oie school.

Here is the negative or "In" pattern. Notice how the kosuji reverse in the negative pattern.

The least formal is called the Sou-bai or Sou-kouro. In this pattern the Gou are omitted, and only the kiki-suji (listening line) is marked. Sou means "Draft" or "Grass".

Making the vent: After making the pattern use the metal chopstick to make a hole or vent down to the charcoal. This allows the most heat to rise at the center where you will place the mica plate (silver leaf) and center the incense (koh).

Cleaning with the feather tool: If you have a feather, it's used now to clean the ash from the edge of the cup.

Placing the silver leaf (Gin-you): Place the mica plate gently on top of the air-hole and press it down softly to secure the mica in place and keep it level.

Placing the Incense Wood (Kou boku): Place a piece of aloeswood or sandalwood on the mica plate.

Note: Aloeswood piece should be about the size of a grain of rice.

The raw materials should not smoke, but rather slowly release their wonderful aromas through low heat. Resins in the wood may visibly bubble.


If the charcoal is buried too low, the mica may not get warm enough to release the woods' fragrance. In this case, remove the mica plate, fluff the ash, and bring the charcoal up higher and begin again. Also, if the ash is old and used, it may not let the charcoal breathe and force it to extinguish itself. Always use clean ash for Kodo.

If the charcoal is too high and therefore too close to the mica plate, it will generate too much heat and may smoke the wood. This is remedied by either adding a second mica plate to diffuse the heat, or by removing the mica plate and using a chopstick through the hole to push the charcoal further down.

Copyright -- David Oller 2000 - 2002
Thanks also to Mark Ambrose - Scents of Earth™, for his expertise.

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*Flat rate shipping does not apply to International shipments, shipping to Hawaii, Alaska, or American Territories.
For these items shipping will be calculated once the order is packed and before credit card billing.
Last updated: October 17, 2017
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