Our group has been very lucky in set of experiences we will have in Japan. We have had two very unique ones recently. Last night at 11:45 PM, there was an earthquake centered on Kameoka. It ranked a 2 out of 7 on the Japanese earthquake scale. A couple of the members in the group said they heard a loud noise and the building swayed a bit. I slept right though it. Then we found out that there is a typhoon heading this way and will hit tonight sometime.
So in the face of the typhoon, we headed off to Shoyeido an incense manufacturer who has been in business for over 300 years. Shoyeido has a big factory in Kyoto where they make most of their incense by machine but we saw the handmade incense at their headquarters. We were told that there has been no loss of quality in the factory process, in fact, the people who originally made the incense by hand currently do the hand inspection of the machine made incense and say the quality is quite good.
The production of incense starts with wood such as sandalwood from India or agarwood. The wood is hand chipped from the logs before it is ground up so only the best is added in. Other spices, such as cloves, frakensense, sea shells, and other items used in Chinese medicine, are powdered and added in as well. Shoyeido imports almost all of its incense components since they can only make a tiny amount of ingredients here in Japan.
Various liquids are added to make a type of dough. The air is crushed out of dough and the dough is push through spaghetti making machine and placed on wooden boards. Craftsmen cut the incense to one size, make sure it is straight, a very important step, then dry it in a special climate control room. After drying, the incense has a final hand inspection and is then wrapped for shipping.
Our lunch meeting was with Masataka Hata the CEO of Shoyeido. He is the 12th generation of his family to hold this position. He gave us a short presentation about the history of incense in Japan. It described how Buddhist brought incense to Japan in the 6th century and over the years, the Japanese slowly altered the ingredients and manufacture of it so that it became their own. It has played a big part in Japanese life for centuries for things like perfuming of hair and in games where you have to correctly identify the type of incense by smell.
Mr. Hata was very philosophical about incense making considering it from many different perspectives. He sees burning incense as a universal process, citing its use in both Buddhism and Catholicism, and working on all five senses. The fragrance calls attention to it through its smell that makes you want to look at it and, as he put it, you can “listen to incense”
He also pointed out through his presentation that with the sense of sight, is easy to handle what direction you want to focus a smell on. However, a smell is hard to focus on one place but eventually the sense of smell eventually adapts to an ambient smell.
Mr. Hata also noted that as technology has progessed in the 20th and 21st centuries, our sensory experience has been dominated by digital audio and visual stimuli. The sense of smell has fallen behind and that there is still market opportunity to feed that sense.
Shoyeido has a plant in Colorado and Mr. Hata discussed a little about trying to market in America. Incense has long been associated with Buddhism or hippies (his word, I swear), but he wanted to expand the experience of incense to a bigger market. He believes that Japanese fragrances are very compatible with US market. So, in a smart marketing move, he uses the Japanese word for incense, koh, when discussing his product. This removes the perceived negative connotation in the US. In Japan, he uses the English word for incense to market it better.
As the typhoon was beginning to roll in, we visited Nijo Castle. It was built at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate as a symbol of its power. The castle was deliberately built to be less than defensible. This was to show that the shogun was so powerful he could afford to show some “weakness” because he was completely unafraid of any challengers.
The castle was built with the famed nightingale floors to protect against ninja attack. There are special pins under the floor so that when you walk on it, the floor makes a chirp. When our group walked on the floor it really did sound like a small flock of birds was in the hall with us. Even though the floor was built 400 years ago, it still works just as well today. There were also various beautiful gardens around Nijo but it was a dreary day and we were drenched by the time we made it to the sword shop.
At the sword shop, Nhan bought a daisho, a beautiful set of swords with a black lacquer scabbard, blue hilt wrappings and sageo, and a black same. The photos do not do them justice. He spent $900 on both of them and another $80 for shipping. The most brave thing he did though was buy it with his girlfriend in the same room. Nhan, I salute you!
We returned to Kameoka early to get some Internet time. By the time we were finished, a lot of the places were closed including Dr. Stapp’s favorite yakimeshi (fried rice) restaurant so we went to Seiyu for dinner. Rebecca is a vegetarian so we asked for an order of yakimeshi with no meat, or at least we thought we did. Apparently, shrimp is not in meat Japan so Tim and I got a few extra shrimp.
Since we were at the Japanese Wal-Mart, we all stocked up on supplies and food for the up coming weekend. I was looking to replace a strap on a piece of carry on luggage so I split off from the group to look for one. With horribly bad Japanese I asked the saleslady if they had one. After a tortured discussion I got across what I was looking for and she got across that they didn’t have one for sale. She did remember that they had extra replacement straps behind the counter so, she gave me one. Seiyu, I thank you!
After shopping, most of us came back to play Texas hold ’em. It was a pretty fun game but no one was really able to dominate the game. The winners of big pots kept moving around the circle but Tim, a finance major, usually had the the biggest pile.
Most of the people on this trip are still undergraduates so I was Teased terribly about being “old” especially because I wore a fanny pack. Hey! My fanny pack is incredibly useful and I can pack a lot of stuff in it…OK, I feel the same way about fanny packs, but I forgot to pack a smaller day exploration pack. The pack still works quite well for day trips and it holds a surprisingly large number of items leaving my hands free. I don’t care what it looks like I’m taking it with me.
Finally, very late, we planned what we’re going to do tomorrow with our semi-free day. We decided to go to Osaka and hopefully catch a matinee of a Bunraku, or Japanese puppet shows, try to see a sports game (soccer or baseball), go see the gadgets at Den Den Town, and see what else we can see there as well.
Tomorrow, Todiji Flea Market and Japanese puppet shows.