Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rose Neriko

Neriko is a traditional Japanese incense dating back to the 7th century, when women of aristocracy blended their signature scent to imprint their impressions on men. Back then men and women in court lived completely separated. The Story of Genji mentions incenses and their impression on Hikari Genji numerous times.

I started off by making a more traditional blend of sandalwood, jinko, resins, and kaiko or cuddy shells, cloves and camphor. The neriko was nice enough, but there was nothing special about it. I remembered the pieces of jinko that  Ross Urrere had given me that he had soaked in rose absolutes. They smelled heavenly!

So, I thought to modernize and Westernize the neriko by adding rose. I started by just adding some rose absolute, but then I got this brilliant idea to add rose petals and rose concrete. I pounded the rose petals by hand into powder, then added the wood powders, spices, camphor, etc. After it was moistened, I added the rose absolute and the rose concrete, and pounded the mixture the prescribed 1000 times and then rolled the paste into small balls.

From top left clockwise: kunroku resin, jinko, camphor, rose petals, sandalwood
I love making neriko. It's very tactic and satisfying. It's also kind of mindless once you get over the measuring part. It takes a while to make, but I can watch TV while I do it. And the result is almost always satisfying. (I did make a few stinkers along the way; a necessary evil, I think.)

The rose neriko smells like a fresh, raw, dewy rose to me. It's not the refined, French, perfumy rose. Nerikos are not to be burned, but heated. It lasts for over one hour heated in an aroma pot. It's smokeless, which is a fact I like very much.

Neriko is used in tea ceremonies, too, in the winter. In the summer, jinko and sandalwood are burned. (Or more precisely, heated.) I will write about some traditional neriko I have in the near future.

Rose Neriko can be found on Etsy!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A New Friend

My new friend Yanagi-san on the left; my good friend Akiko on the right
 I've been looking for someone to teach me kodo (香道)or the way of incense, but to no avail. There seems to be a lot of teachers of the way of tea, but not incense. Then, a good friend of mine met someone that teaches about incense that used to work for one of the largest incense makers in Japan. She even managed to arranged for me to meet him! A dream come true!!

I met Kenichi Yanagi on a Friday afternoon. Our conversation began with ousu ("weak" tea) that my friend served on the tatami mat. It was a great ice breaker and a very nice gesture. We listened to three different woods that I had: an old sasora from the Edo period, a kyara from Yamadamatsu, and a sumotara also from Yamadamatsu.

I asked him about how to distinguish the five different tastes, kan (sweet 甘,) san (sour 酸,) shin (hot or spicy 辛,) ku (bitter 苦,) and kan (salty 鹹.) Sweet is fairly easy to distinguish, and I finally think I understand sour and salty. Sasora was sweet with a touch of sour. The scent became a little bitter (I thought) as time passed, but was largely unchanged. Apparently, constancy is one of the things that is required of good quality.

Yanagi-san cut a tiny, tiny piece off and said that it's better to use very small pieces of wood to tell the quality of the wood. I thought this to be very interesting as we dilute essential oils and absolutes when we evaluate them. In fact, I work in dilution when I'm composing as I can tell the nuances better when the oils are highly diluted. Also, we were told that a venerable monk that names woods listens to the wood as he hold the burner on his lap. He says that "if the scent doesn't reach his nose, it's not worthy of being named."

Yanagi-san gives lectures on Japanese incense materials and on incenses mentioned in the Bible. No less than thirty scent materials are mentioned in the Bible, he told us. He goes to botanical gardens around the world to find these plants. He is having a hard time finding a live spikenard plant. If anyone knows where one can see it, please let me know!