Ko (incense) ()

"Ko" originally referred to fragrances of natural aromatic trees such as eaglewood, agalloch, and sandalwood. For this reason, the term is used to describe the fragrance of joss sticks, shoko (fragrance giving materials such as fragrance woods that are cut into small pieces), incense powder, and zuko (incense for applying to a priest's body or Buddha statue), or it is used as a general term for all of these incense. It is also referred to as "Oko."

India, where Buddhism originated, produces many fragrant woods, and Ko plays an important role in preventing odor resulting from the hot climate. In Buddhism, when an incense is burned, it is considered to drive off impurity and cleanse the mind; therefore, burning incense before the Buddha or a mortuary tablet and making offerings along with flowers and votive light is regarded as the fundamentals of memorial service for the dead (there is a saying 'koge wo tamukeru' (offer flowers and incense for Buddha)). In addition, there are many cases where fragrant woods are used as materials for making Buddha statues and {Buddhist altar fittings}, and there also are many descriptions on incense in the Buddhist sutra. Other than being deeply linked with Buddhism, incense is also used in many religions.

In Christianity, the Orthodox Church frequently uses incense with censers, etc.

The history of incense is old, dating back around 3000 B.C. to the Mesopotamia civilization. There are many kinds of incense, such as powders made from the barks, leaves, and roots of sandalwood and cloves, those such as frankincense and benzoin that are made from fragrant resins, or those which are made from animals such as musks and ambergris; and normally, incense is divided into koboku (meiko) and neriko (awasego) (pastille).

Furthermore, according to the way in which they are used, ko is divided broadly into incense which are used by burning (shoko), and incense which are used for rubbing into one's body (zuko). Among them, shoko is divided according to their shapes, into senko which are in the forms of a stick, coil, or whorl, and makko which are in powder; but there are many variations.

Ko has healing effects, for by smelling its aroma, substances that bring comfort such as alpha wave and endorphin are secreted inside the brain.

[Original Japanese]