Saturday, January 8, 2011

Preparing an Incense Cup for Koudou–Part One


To begin I want to say something about the Japanese language and why you may find it difficult to search for information on what we most commonly call the Japanese Incense Ceremony or Kodo. First, Kodo itself is slightly incorrect and calling Kodo the Japanese Incense Ceremony is entirely incorrect.

The Japanese have several alphabets and the one used to express a Japanese word to English speaking people is called Romanji. Romanji is simply a phonetic alphabet with no fixed method. For example Ko Do and Koh Doh are two exact ways of expressing the same spoken word. Romaji approximates the spoken word and not the written word, so there are no fixed rules. That is how we got the word Kodo. Why is Kodo wrong? Simply because if you listen closely to the word as spoken by the Japanese people you would notice the short “u” sound at the end. So, if you are using Japanese IME to try and convert Kodo to Hiragana or Kanji you will have better luck using Koudou and it will look like this 香道. This may not help you in searching the English webpages but it should help you use IME to search Japanese pages.

Next we have the error in translation of Koudou as the Japanese Incense Ceremony Kou mean “Incense” and Dou means “Way” and so the proper translation would be “The Art of Incense” The term for the actual gathering to play incense games is Kou Seki. I’m not even sure I like the term Incense Ceremony at all because it conjures images of priests swinging brass balls emitting copious amounts of smoke.

Kou Seki on the other hand is a refined gathering of like minded people called the Renshu which means connected group. Kou Seki literally translate to Incense Seat but I believe it is used in the sense of incense meeting, or maybe better incense sharing.

At this point I’m sure you are wondering what all this has to do with preparing the incense cup. Very little, I’m afraid, but I think you will find as we continue I have my reasons to present Koudou in the manner that I do. Think about this: There has been an increasing interest in Koudou for the last fifteen years, yet no teacher has come from Japan to teach in the United States. We have sold hundreds of Koudou cups and Incense Utensils yet we hear people are having trouble using them.

In Japan, you can very easily attend incense meeting throughout the media and cultural centers virtually anywhere in the country. You don’t need to know how to prepare the cup which is actually known as preparing the ash. In these meeting there will be someone with years of training to explain everything to you. Other helpers will bring you tea treats and tea. Yet another person with years of training will prepare the cup for you, another will bring the cup to you, and another will keep track of your records.

If you go to Japan and experience this you will see that in order to transmit incense to the west another approach would be required. The key to this transmission begins with teaching the people attending these ceremonies how to prepare incense censers themselves.

To be continued . . .

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