Awaji Island is known not only for its gourmet cuisine, nature, anime, and its unique experiences but also for its association with fragrances, earning it the name “fragrance island”. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind Awaji Island’s name “Fragrance Island” and provide some details about this unique aspect of the island.
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Why is it Called the Fragrance Island?
Awaji Island is celebrated as the “fragrance island” for being recognized as the birthplace of incense in Japan. It has ancient roots, with the practice in various regions of burning fragrant wood, dating back to even before the Common Era. The ‘Nihon Shoki’ (Chronicles of Japan) recounts the inception of incense culture in Japan during the 3rd year of Emperor Suiko’s reign (595 AD). An agarwood tree, drifted ashore on Awaji Island and was burned as firewood, releasing a delightful fragrance. This delight was then presented to the emperor, marking the beginning of incense culture in Japan.
As the Heian period (794-1185) unfolded, aristocrats and warriors started using fragrances on their clothing and armor for deodorizing purposes. Subsequently, during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the ‘Way of Fragrance’ emerged as a practiced art, and incense became an integral part of daily culture for the citizens. This is the period when the name “fragrance island” for Awaji, began to emerge.
Awaji Island: The Largest Producer of Incense in Japan
Despite its current status as the largest producer of incense in Japan, Awaji Island did not always hold this position. Before World War II, Sakai City in Osaka was the primary producer. However, the city was heavily damaged during the war, prompting many incense craftsmen to relocate to Awaji. The island’s favorable geographical conditions, including its location with the ocean to the west, suitable wind directions, and favorable temperatures, made it an ideal place for the incense-making drying process.
Since then, the “Incense Masters” of the fragrance island have been dedicated to maintaining the high quality of Awaji Island incense, preserving its long history and tradition. These skilled artisans oversee the entire incense manufacturing process, from the initial mixing stage to the final creation, ensuring the quality of all products.
Different Types and Use of Incense on Awaji Island
In recent times, there have been many incense types and applications in society. Stick and spiral incenses are commonly used. For more everyday use, sachet incense has gained popularity recently. These sachets contain scented incense and can be placed in drawers, carried in pockets, or attached to accessories like pouches, allowing individuals to enjoy the fragrance and its subtle warmth in various situations. The gentle scent that lingers in the air as you pass someone is distinct from perfume and imparts a comforting and nurturing sensation. Other types of incense are applied directly with heat.
As the popularity of the “fragrance island” name grows, so does the variety of uses and applications of incense. One popular type is known as “Washi Incense”, which involves making incense using traditional Japanese paper called “washi”. Usually, scented powder or essential oils are applied to washi, and the product is dried to create incense. People appreciate the unique aroma and the texture of the smoke when burned. Washi incense is commonly used in traditional Japanese rituals and in daily life to add fragrance.
Understanding the Incense Production Process
The incense manufacturing process involves several key stages. First is the preparation phase, where various ingredients, including tree bark, glue, and scent, are mixed. Next is the kneading process, where the mixture is kneaded into clay with hot water. The kneaded product is left to cool overnight. The molding step follows, shaping the clay-like material into incense sticks using a machine. The sticks are then cut to size, with the remaining pieces recycled. After molding, the sticks undergo a drying process, resulting in a slight reduction in length. The dried incense sticks undergo meticulous hand inspection before being carefully packed into boxes or bundles, tailored to specific product categories.
If you are interested in learning more about the incense manufacturing process and experiencing hands-on incense making, check out our previous article for more details.
If you are interested in the rich tradition and history of Awaji Island, particularly its association with fragrance, consider visiting Awaji Island to delve further into this traditional aspect. Whether you’re eager to learn more or experience hands-on incense making, Awaji Island offers a unique opportunity to explore its cultural roots.