• Noriko Tada, FRSA /Yukiko Okubo, FRSA

RSA JFN Event: Experiencing Japanese Incense Culture

On February 27, 2018, 19 participants gathered to learn about the Japanese incense from Mr. Yohei Yamada, the 18th generation owner of Yamada-matsu Incense Store keeping business ever since the beginning of 18 century Edo period. Our aim was to understand how Yamada-matsu sustainably succeeded in nurturing the fragrance culture in Japan as well as laying a solid foundation in incense business for such a long time.


The Japanese incense has a long history going back to the 6th Century, when it was introduced to Japan along with the Buddhism celebrating Buddhist rituals. Ever since then, it has been quietly resided in our lives to develop our incense culture. The tools and products have changed their forms depending on the trend over the years, however, the essence stays there to enrich our daily lives.

One of the impressive message was “to listen to the incense,” instead of smelling the incense, meaning that people listen to the “smell” to enjoy the fragrance’s character by asking what smell it is through our soul. This shows how fragrance has in depth world that connects fragrance to memory.

After the lecture and workshop, we had a discussion session.

One topic that stirred debate was “education.” Younger children are becoming very insensitive to “smell” these days. They can’t even distinguish the smell of nature bringing cautious views that they might lack the ability to “live” and adults might need to start shedding lights on this issue. Thus, most participants agreed to the new concept “stimulate and nurture senses of smell (kōiku).” For your reference, Mr. Yamada has offering classes for children as part of his CSR activities.

Another highlight was the idea of “sustainability,” the basic concept that underlies in many areas of business in Kyoto. Mr. Yamada inherited the idea from his predecessor that he should consider how he can sustainably continue his business in the long run rather than gaining extensive profit, which can be a precious advice that many modern business people may want to take into consideration.

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