By Cathy Cawood
Located in Gunge on the west coast of Awaji-shima, and only a 2-minute drive away from Izanagi Shrine, lies the 124-year-old incense factory "Kunjudo" (薫寿堂). In the midst of a trip around Awaji-shima, my friends and I decided to pay it a visit and I was not disappointed.
When you walk in, you can immediately tell that you have entered a company producing incense. There are a few fragrances filling the hallways and showroom area of the building and it’s a delight for the nose. It felt as if I was taking a stroll around the world as I went from smelling lavender to Japanese cypress, and from cherry blossoms to roses. For people worried about the usual smoke accompanying incense sticks: Kunjudo specializes in incense sticks that release almost no smoke. Neither I nor my friends experienced any problems breathing, despite spending nearly two hours inside. Overall, the incense inside Kunjudo releases a mild, but distinct fragrance.
So how do you spend two hours inside an incense factory? Kunjudo offers a free tour of (a part of) its production facilities upon request, a video explaining the history of incense in Japan, a showroom and shop, and the opportunity to make your own incense (for the low price of 500 yen).
If you decide to get a tour of Kunjudo’s production facilities, you will be asked to watch a video in the lobby first. The video shows how Japan first came in touch with incense, started its own production and what the present day situation in Japan is like. It ends with information about Kunjudo’s history, product line and global availability of its incense. The video has Japanese narration and English subtitles. I didn’t time it but the entire video probably took about 5 to 10 minutes.
To get a tour, you simply need to request one at the showroom counter as there are no set times for tours. The tour takes you through a part of Kunjudo’s production facilities and shows the various steps it takes to produce incense. We were accompanied by a lovely gentleman who explained the production process to us and answered any question we had for him. The gentleman only spoke Japanese, however, so bring a Japanese speaker if you intend on asking a lot of questions.
In the middle of the lobby you will find Kunjudo’s showroom, where they showcase a wide range of their products. It also serves as their shop, so if you have any friends or family members interested in incense, don’t forget to buy them something here. Prices are reasonable so you don’t need to break the bank either.
Create your own incense
Perhaps the highlight of my visit to Kunjudo was the opportunity to create my own incense. For 500 yen you get the tools, materials and instructions necessary to produce the incense you want.
They provided me with 3 different colours of powder (yellow, red and blue), which we mixed with water and ground until it turned into something looking like clay. We then added a fragrance to it, flattened the clay and used cookie cutters to produce our very own incense. It still has to dry for 4 days after you finish carving out your incense, so you can’t use it immediately once you get back home (or to your accommodation for the night).
Kunjudo can easily reached by car and has its own parking lot with free parking. For people without a car, there are buses leaving for Awaji Island from Sannomiya Bus Terminal in Kobe.
For people coming from Himeji or further west, I advise taking the JR to Maiko station (舞子) and transfer to the bus heading to Awaji Island there. Whether you depart from Sannomiya Bus Terminal or from Maiko station, take the bus heading to Goshiki (五色)/ Takataya (高田屋嘉兵衛公園), which departs about once an hour, and get off at Gunge (郡家). From there it’s a 5-minute walk to Kunjudo.
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