Japanese Incense Chest - Kodogubako

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Project by madburg posted 08-15-2021 09:48 AM 949 views 3 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch


Here we go! Those of you that follow my posts know that I have been hooked on Japanese boxes for a few years now. The diversity of their styles and unique uses have provide me with inspiration to do something different. So, this is my Incense chest a Kodogubako.
Kodogu is incense, and bako is box.

The chest is full of small boxes and trays with unique contents. It’s quite a large lidded box at a 260mm cube. It is tied with a traditional kimono cord.

Its contents are all utensils and equipment used in the Japanese Incense Games – Komiko. The outside is decorated in a teak parquetry diamond pattern with shell stringing, shell dots and contrasting edging and bandings of walnut. The inside is sprinkled with gold dust. The theme of teak parquetry, shell strings and dots and the gold sprinkled interior is common to all the boxes contents.

It is part of a suite of Incense furniture that includes a document box – Ryoshibako, and a writing table – Bundai. Here’s a picture of the three. I’ll do a separate post for the Ryoshibako, and Bundai.

The Incense box opens onto four layers of trays and smaller incense boxes kobako, which hold a full set of incense equipment - Jisshu – Kodogu.

1st layer
The first tier comprises two boxes.

One is a Writing box, a suzuri-bako, which holds an inkstone, a water dropper, calligraphy brushes in their own trays, pus black and vermillion ink sticks, also in their own small boxes. Its lid can be used as a tray for collecting participants answer sheets at the end of the game.

The other box contains the Incense board, Honkouban. Two rows of shell flowers – Kikuza, are where the different incenses on their small mica plates are placed before and after each round of the main game.

Under the Incense board are ten small boxes each containing a set of twelve voting.answer tiles – ko-fuda. See my earlier post on these here. These small boxes made of walnut will gold edging, contain a set of 12 voting/answer tiles in two piles of six. That’s a total of 120 tiles!!!!!! They are made from ebony, highly polished and finished, then laser engraved. Gold paint is then rubbed into the engraving, and once dry they are sanded again with 600 grit leaving the gold behind in the engravings!

One side of each set has a motif unique to that set, so guests/participants using them are identified. The motifs for these sets are botanical: Pine, Plum, Bamboo, Chrysanthemum, Paulownia, Hagi, Iris, Peony, Willow, Cherry Blossom.

On the other side of three of the tiles in every subset, is the Chinese ideograph for ‘one’ (一), signifying incense 1 or variety A. Three more bear ‘two’ (二), or variety B, and a further trio ‘three’ (三) or variety C. The last three, carry the katakana-character (客) which means ‘visitor/guest’. This is the symbol for the variety supplied by one of the guest/participants or variety D. In addition, a ‘star’ and ‘moon’ symbol is included on some of the tiles.

These sets are used by participants at the end of each round of the game to indicate the variety of incense that they think they have just sampled.

2nd Layer
The next layer down is an incense tray Koban.

It holds a range of fabric accessories sew together for me by my ever patient wife – thank you!

A large patterned fabric sheet bordered with purple, a Uchijiki, is used like a tablecloth and is laid directly on the tatami mats.

On top of this goes a silver and gold folded card, a Jishiki. Gold side up is used in spring and summer, silver side up in autumn and winter, also gold in daytime, and silver in night. On top of the Jishiki are placed all the equipment of the incense games/ceremony.

Also in this tray is a small brocade wallet containing a set of Fire Tools hidogu. These are used to prepare the incense burners with a burning charcoal tablet that heats the various incense used in the game, making them release their unique fragrances.

The set of Fire Tools comprises:
haioshi - a spatula like press for arranging the soft grey rice ash in the incense burner into a Mt Fuji style cone. A glowing charcoal tablet, a tandon is buried in this Mt Fuji cone. haboki – a feather brush to brush away stray ash on the sides or lip of the incense burners.
haibashi - a pair of metal chopsticks for handling the burning charcoal tablet, and placing it in the Mt Fuji cone. They can be used to decorated the ash cone with particular patterns.
kosaji - incense spoon to place a small piece of incense wood on a ginyo.
ginyo - literally, ‘silver leaves’. Framed squares of mica, on which the incense is heated. It is placed on the top of the Mt Fuji cone. ginyo-basami – tweezers for placing the ginyo on top on the Mt Fuji cone of ash.
hiaji - poker for piercing a small hole in the summit of the Mount Fuji-shaped cone. It is then used for controlling the height of the burning charcoal by pressing it down deeper into the ash.
haibashi - pair of wooden chopsticks.

Also in this tray is a small magenta coloured cloth. This is used for ceremonially wiping the incense burners and the fire tools before they are put into use.

The tray nagabon, holding the above can be used for distributing answer/record sheets to the guests.

3rd Layer
The next layer has a smaller incense tray, Koban, with four small boxes.

The smallest square box contains ten numbered folded origami paper packets – torinokogami. These packets are used to store participants answer tiles – ko-funda after each round of the game. The packets may also be used as a lottery, by putting a numbered wooden tag inside, which decides the seating order of the participants.

The other rectangular lidded box contains the paper packages, Sozutsumi, which hold the smaller wrappers holding individual chips of both the main incense, and the trial incense used in the game. These smaller wrappers are called shinoori or Kotsutsumi.

A third box has a small Incense Tasting Board – Kokoromi Koban on top.

It is similar to the main Honkouban, but has six shell flowers Kikuza lined up in two rows. If the game involves an initial tasting/sampling of incense, then these sample incenses, on their ‘silver leaves’, are displayed on this board prior to the game.

Inside this box and below the Tasting Board, are a set of skewers known as uguisu, or nightingales, or warblers. The master of ceremonies, the Komoto, threads the used incense wrappers onto it after they have been used in the game, so keeping them in the order that they were presented. The uguisu is traditionally stuck into the tatami mat to hold the wrappers in place.

If the game does not use guest tiles, ko-fuda, for registering their answers at the end of each round, then guest have their own individual answer sheets. These answer sheets are kept closed by other uguisu, which are also traditionally stuck into the tatami mat.

The fourth box contains eight small ceramic jars kōgō , used to store different incense wood chips for use in different Komiko games.

The tray holding these four boxes can be used as the ‘Answer/Record tray’ – Tegirokubon. Used for collecting and distributing the participants answer/record sheets.

In traditional samurai style incense games, these answer/record sheets were distributed in a larger Kigamisashi, the 2nd layer tray, and collected with the lid of the suzuri-bako.

Bottom of the chest
Finally in the base of the main box are a range of ceramic containers in velvet bags, plus two more small wooden boxes.

One is a three-tiered box, a jukogo, used for storing charcoal blocks – tandon, new mica plates, and burned out incense with its used mica plate.

The other small box (on the right) is a voting box, a fudazutsu. It has a small slot in the top where participants deposit their answer/voting tiles, ko-funda, at the end of each round of the game.

The other velvet bags hold two cylindrical incense-burners – koro, also known as te-kōro, hand-held censer. Two more hold square section ceramic ash containers, takigara-ire, where fresh ash for the incense burners is kept.

Two more hold round ceramic containers for used ash. Another holds a golden container, a kyojitate, used specifically to display the Fire Tools. There is also a larger brass Hidori-koro Incense burner, used to hold and carry the ignited charcoal before it is placed and used in the koro.

This is a layout of the tools ready for the start of a game.

Finally …........... and very well done if you’ve got this far. The full contents of the chest.

I’ve been making the chest since last November, along with a few other things and the Document box and writing table that goes with it. One of my most enjoyable projects.

I’m now looking forward to trying everything out, by playing some Incense Games Kumiko with some Japanese friends who have helped me out with many aspects of the chest – thankyou Tad. While Google will translate the Japanese texts that one finds on the internet, the translation doesn’t always make sense!!

Thanks for looking. I hope you enjoyed the project and finding out some of the aspects of this fascinating subject!

-- Madburg WA

14 comments so far

View Peteybadboy's profile


4029 posts in 3199 days

#1 posted 08-15-2021 10:14 AM

That is a work of ART!

-- Petey

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1133 posts in 3562 days

#2 posted 08-15-2021 11:17 AM

Fantastic! What more can one say? A masterclass in technique and execution.

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

8488 posts in 1831 days

#3 posted 08-15-2021 12:31 PM

Wow! That’s a crazy level of detail, many sub-projects, and you still have more to go. I spent some time thinking about building inro, and even that level of complexity seems daunting.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View 987Ron's profile (online now)


2236 posts in 566 days

#4 posted 08-15-2021 01:11 PM

Not only the wonderful box but great detail and workmanship. A wonderful collection of items inside as well.
Thanks for the entire post.

-- Ron

View sras's profile


6360 posts in 4378 days

#5 posted 08-15-2021 02:08 PM

Words fail me. I always enjoy seeing your work. So much to appreciate in this one.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View EarlS's profile


4762 posts in 3597 days

#6 posted 08-15-2021 04:03 PM


There is so much detail in both the woodworking and, maybe more impressive, the explanation of the various items and their purpose.

I always look forward to reading your posts and seeing all of the pictures that go with them.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View pottz's profile


20750 posts in 2234 days

#7 posted 08-15-2021 04:04 PM

impressive to say the least.a work of art.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View woodchucker1's profile


24 posts in 85 days

#8 posted 08-15-2021 04:54 PM

WOW AWESOME I love Japanese craftsmanship, Everything is so detailed and precise. This game is very hard to comprehend . But I am sure the Japanese folks love it. I have a tea set that is very nice in a nice box. I also collect and use SAMARI SWORDS . They are very nice and made so well.

View drewpy's profile


1074 posts in 2606 days

#9 posted 08-15-2021 10:52 PM

This is incredible and beautifully done. All the detail blow my mind. Wonderful work!

-- Drew -- "The greatest wealth is health".

View therealSteveN's profile (online now)


8925 posts in 1823 days

#10 posted 08-16-2021 07:41 PM

WOW, perfect, complete, and so well done.

-- Think safe, be safe

View awsum55's profile


1160 posts in 1758 days

#11 posted 08-18-2021 01:15 PM

Another amazing project! Do you sell the items you make or do you just collect them? Your work is incredible. Thanks for sharing your talents.

-- John D, OP, KS

View madburg's profile


348 posts in 2092 days

#12 posted 08-18-2021 02:01 PM

Thanks everyone. I think I may have posted it at the wrong time of day living down here in Australia, so it missed a lot of US and Canadian jocks. John D – yes I do sell things, but I don’t make them to sell! I make things because I want to, so yes I do collect them. But I do have some pieces in a gallery down here in Western Australia and through them I sell the occasional piece, which makes room for more!!

-- Madburg WA

View Softshell's profile


45 posts in 1906 days

#13 posted 08-25-2021 06:00 PM

Beautiful work of art!

View Steddy's profile


2 posts in 59 days

#14 posted 08-29-2021 01:07 AM

I am absolutely amazed at the detail of this work. The degree of patience and precision is outstanding.

-- Stedroy, New South Wales, Australia

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