The Japanese incense company Baieido was founded in 1657 by Jinkoya (meaning “aloeswood trader”) Sakubei in the city of Sakai, a trading port where incense was a hot commodity. Baieido’s Hinoki Incense is made with the essential oil of a venerable and treasured tree — the hinoki cypress. During feudal times in Japan, the hinoki cypress was one of the Five Sacred Trees of the Kiso forest; death sentences were handed down to those who felled a hinoki cypress without permission from the authorities.
Hinoki means “fire tree” in Japanese; in certain Shinto rites, pieces of dry hinoki wood are rubbed together to produce a flame. The wood of the hinoki was used to build imperial palaces, temples, Nō theatres, and Shinto shrines. Traditionally, the Ise Shrine was dismantled and rebuilt every 20 years using hinoki cypress lumber from Kiso. The wood itself is strong and durable — resistant to insects and rot. The lemon-scented hinoki wood is used to build not only things mighty but things mundane — bath houses and bath tubs.
The hinoki cypress is slow growing and, these days, rare — Japanese law requires that the hinoki’s fragrant oil be extracted only from dead trees. (Hinoki tree farms are being established around the world but the old hinoki trees of Japan are protected.)
Hinoki oil kills fungus, bacteria and viruses and is gentle on the skin; it is used to treat abrasions and skin infections. Hinoki oil is a decongestant and aids in healing respiratory illnesses. Hinoki is also a relaxant — the smell of hinoki in the steamy Japanese bath house makes one feel refreshed and sleepy at the same time.
Baieido’s Hinoki Incense is smokeless and each stick burns for approximately 35 minutes. When hinoki is burned, it produces a dark, cedar-cypress aroma. I lit my hinoki incense stick and fell asleep for a few minutes — when I woke up the room smelled of winter in my neighborhood, when neighbors burn fragrant wood in their fireplaces. I do not believe Baieido’s Hinoki incense contains just hinoki; every now and then I detected (fleetingly) sweet sandalwood and spicy frankincense. (If you want to experience the citrusy element of hinoki — smell the wood itself or the essential oil.)
Smokeless incense is great for use in air-conditioned homes and in winter when the house is tightly shut. You will smell the incense only during the burn; the fragrance will disappear quickly from the air.
Baieido offers not only centuries-old classic scents that were used by the imperial family and in temples, it creates modern aromas too (florals, tea and coffee scents). I hope to review other Baieido fragrances during the coming months. Baiedo Hinoki Incense (50 sticks for approximately $9) is available at baieido, scents-of-earth, sensia and tributetea.
Note: image via www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de.