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How to use a Japanese incense burner

How to use a Japanese incense burner

Narayan Shrestha |

The Japanese incense burner, known as Koh-ro, is deeply intertwined with Japanese culture and spirituality. Its storied history and elaborate designs elevate it beyond a simple vessel for burning incense - instead, it stands as a gateway to tranquility and mindfulness.

In this article, we immerse ourselves in the fragrant world of Japanese burners. From understanding their cultural significance to offering insights in a beginner's guide, we take a comprehensive journey into its usage and the manifold benefits it brings.


Japanese incense burners have a timeless tradition with roots dating back many years. They are carefully made from a range of materials such as ceramics, metals, and wood. 

The burners come in diverse shapes and sizes, with designs varying from understated to intricate works of art that showcase the esteemed Japanese aesthetic values and craftsmanship.

In the traditional Japanese culture, incense is valued for its role in alleviating solitude, and providing company during solitary moments. Additionally, a kōdō ceremony can be a communal activity with interactive games that involve passing around various incense fragrances and guessing their types. This customary ritual is known as "monko," or incense listening, aimed at distinguishing between different varieties of incense.

No matter what the incense is used for, one thing is certain: Using a Japanese incense burner will surely alleviate the decorative appeal.

Beginners Guide

When embarking on your journey with Japanese incense burners, it's essential to carefully select the perfect one that suits your preferences and requirements. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Design and Material: The burners come in a plethora of designs and shapes. Some burners are simple in design and some can be displayed as art when not in use. If you are a newcomer then it's best to start small before jumping onto a larger piece. Also, keep in mind the material used while crafting the piece.
  2. Portability: As stated above, the incense burner comes in various shapes and sizes. Smaller burners are convenient for personal use while larger centerpiece designs can establish a calming ambience within a room.
  3. Functionality: The type of incense burner to buy also depends on the type of incense stick you will use. The most common incense used are sticks (Kunko), cones (Shoko), and powder (Zuko). Depending on the type of incense, select the appropriate burner. 

How to Use

Using a Japanese Incense burner is a fairly simple process. Follow the steps listed below to enjoy a serene and meditative experience:

  1. Preparation: Place a non-flammable surface such as a ceramic plate or a traditional ash container (known as Kodo) underneath the incense burner to catch any ash or debris. Make sure the space is well-ventilated and away from potential bumps.
  2. Lighting the incense: Hold the stick or cone at a slight angle and light the tip. Allow the flame to burn for a few seconds before gently blowing it out, leaving behind glowing embers.
  3. Placing the Incense: Carefully insert the unlit end of the incense into the burner ensuring that it is upright and secure. Be wary of falling ash while securing the incense.
  4. Appreciating The Fragrance: As soon as the incense begins to burn, take some time to immerse yourself in the fragrance. Focus on your senses while embracing the serene atmosphere created by this practice.


Using a Japanese incense burner goes beyond mere aesthetic and sensory pleasure. It provides numerous benefits that delve deep into various aspects:

  • Incense is widely utilized globally as a fast solution for reducing stress, thanks to its capacity to influence one's mental state rapidly. Its soothing qualities make it a popular choice for enhancing meditation, yoga, and other activities that demand deep focus.
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, using incense can be a great help to create a tranquil environment that promotes better sleep. Some incense contains natural sedatives like chamomile and lavender known for promoting peaceful sleep.
  • Another benefit of Japanese incense is its medicinal properties. Ailments such as respiratory problems, cough and cold, insomnia, gastrointestinal regulation, and even weight loss are believed to be managed using aromatherapy.
  • Japanese incense burners have played a key role in religious rituals for many years, bringing spiritual significance to meditation practices while establishing sacred spaces for personal growth.
  • Using high-quality incense is reliable for removing airborne bacteria, neutralizing unwanted odors, and purifying indoor areas. Research has demonstrated that incense possesses antimicrobial and antibacterial characteristics, as well as aiding in pest management.
  • Embracing the use of a burner facilitates a deeper connection to Japan's rich cultural heritage - offering an avenue to appreciate traditions surrounding this ancient art form deeply rooted in values passed through generations over time.


The Japanese incense holder serves a purpose beyond just burning incense. It symbolizes an entrance to peace and mindfulness, as well as cultural admiration. These holders have become essential in Japanese tradition and spirituality due to their beautiful designs and fragrant offerings.

Understanding the importance and artistic value of these holders, along with following a basic usage guide, allows individuals to start a fragrant journey that enhances their senses and strengthens their connection with themselves and the world.

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