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Japanese Incense Ceremony

Yoshiko Nakata

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Kodo Ceremony

Yoshiko Nakata presents Kodo Ceremonies and classes at Baieido's main office in Sakai City, Osaka, Japan. She has diplomas of lecture in the Kodo Misono Goryu sect. Regardless of age or sex, a unique atmosphere where people can meet and enjoy Kodo is provided in the home of Baieido, and the heart of Yoshiko Nakata!

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Kodo Party at Baieido
Yoshiko Nakata with Kodo Writer


Journal of a Kodo Volunteer

Trip to America in Japan week -- 1992

By Yoshiko Nakata


No way -- I could not possibly! To be honest, that was how I felt about it at first.

At the end of February, an official from the Chamber of Commerce of Sakai city came to Baieido and told us that he was hoping some of us would go to America to give demonstrations of the ceremonial uses of incense during Japan Week. I refused to go at that time. According to him, this was to be the second time this annual event introducing Japanese traditions and culture would be held in the U.S. More than two thousand Japanese from different fields participate as volunteers each year. This is the first time Sakai City has ever attended the Japan Week. Its purpose is to exhibit such traditions as sword making and the incense ceremony.

How could we accept such an important mission? We felt uncertain but, after much enthusiastic persuasion on the part of the people from the Sakai city Chamber of Commerce, we finally decided that we should not miss this great opportunity. Perhaps our decision was prompted by curiosity. First we asked Misono Goryu Soke, Tatsumi Eigetsu Sensei for help. She kindly agreed and four of us (Soke, Mrs. Enami, Mrs. Takahashi and I ) were chosen to go to Portland, Oregon to be in the Second Annual Japan Week in America. Well, everything after that was a big fuss. First of all, the tools. We had all the tools including koro and tatami mattresses send by ship. Tomorrow is the big day, the day of departure! Time flies. We will be leaving as early as tomorrow. I was very restless worrying about what I forgot to pack. I am sure that we sent the incense wood but could not help being too careful and packed another aloeswood. I kept opening and closing the suitcase thinking it would be very disappointing and embarrassing to have forgotten any accessories for the kimono outfit. The whole day was like this and passed in the blink of an eye.


May 20

Finally today is the day. Our flight is United 810 departing Osaka International Airport via San Francisco to Portland. At San Francisco Airport, we had two hours transit time, so we decided to have lunch at a cafeteria. I ordered a sandwich which was enormous, confirming what people say to the effect that everything is big in America. The meat by itself was at least 2 inches thick (I am not exaggerating). We were shocked at the size of the sandwiches, but finished them at once. They say a lot of Japanese usually get sick of the food in foreign countries; however, we seem to have very adaptive members in this group. There was still some time left, and we wondered around the duty free shops.

At one shop, we recognized a beautiful Japanese woman and were wondering where we had seen her before. Yes, it was a familiar TV face, the actress Yuko Asano. At that precise moment there was the flash of a camera and she shouted, Please do not take pictures . It must be hard to be a celebrity. At three o'clock, our plane arrived at Portland. It is the biggest city in Oregon and is called Rose city . It is truly beautiful, filled with blooming roses. After a little sightseeing, we got to the hotel, which had a view of Oregon Fuji mountain. I felt a little homesick looking at the mountain. I missed my husband and the rest of my family and wondered whether they were missing me or feeling relaxed without me, I suddenly felt very tired and sleepy. Anyway, I should go to bed now. Good night.


May 21

Good morning. How are you today? I woke up to a wake up call in English.

Today we will prepare for the Japan Week that starts tomorrow. We took an old fashioned looking street car (using a free pass) and headed to the convention center. It is a remarkable modern building and we saw the bell given by the sister city Sapporo in front of it. The first thing we had to do was to check the packages sent by ship. Thank God, incense wood, tools and everything else were all intact. The specially ordered tatami mattresses looked great. We are all ready for the opening tomorrow. I cannot believe that this huge center will be filled with people. We went out for drinks and dinner with the sword makers. We had delicious steaks and grilled salmon. Very relaxing. Tomorrow, we will have to be in good form in order to represent the Japanese people.

Yoshiko

May 22

The Japan week finally started today. It is very bracing to wear kimono dress as usual. In the morning, we went to the Portland City Hall to greet the mayor. As one might expect in a great city hall, there was a big security guard standing at the entrance. Or so we thought. He was very friendly and turned out to be the mayor himself. He was very nice, a typical friendly American with beard. In the afternoon, the Japan week really began with the cutting of the ribbon. At the exhibition hall, there were 12-13 sites for demonstrations: knives from Sakai city, incense ceremony, Kumihimo (braided cords), calligraphy, flower arrangement, tea ceremony and taiko drums. There were always 5-6 demonstrations going on, and all the sites were packed. I was very surprised at the increasing interest in Japanese culture among Americans.

Well, it was our turn for demonstration. We did what is called "Genji koh"; the game is played by guessing which two kinds of incense out of five are the same. As soon as I said, "please join us!", people did not hesitate to participate. In Japan, it takes forever to collect enough people to play; however, here in America everybody is very enthusiastic. People do not want to miss the great opportunities. While Soke was explaining how it worked, we started burning incense. When the interpreter explained the process, participants were enthusiastic, and when they mentioned that we were here as volunteers, they nodded thoughtfully. Everybody tried very hard and to our amazement, one third of them gave the correct answers.

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When Soke told them that that was the very best kind of incense wood, a person next to me whispered "nice!". With that very gentle smile, I felt so encouraged. I am looking forward very much to the demonstration at the main stage tomorrow.


May 23

To the main stage. We were a little nervous wondering if people were willing to come up to the stage or not only to find our worries were totally unnecessary. As soon as we said, "please come up to the stage," many people came up. With their shoes on! To our shout "oh, no shoes," they said, " oh, I'm sorry," with a big smile. Very cheerful and innocent people. For beginners, the guests were very good at telling incense. We had a great variety of people in age and sex. There was a little girl on her mother's lap behaving very well and seriously trying the incense. They were nothing like quiet Japanese. Very expressive. I really liked that they responded well with smiles. And they were not afraid of asking questions. "Where do you get the incense wood?", "what kind of incense is this?" and so forth.

After the demonstration, they gathered to smell some more. I was very impressed by their enthusiasm. Thanks to the Baieido secret aloeswood . Maybe!?


May 24

Today is the last day of Japan week. All through the event, we wore kimono dress. It stood out. We have been asked not only to be in the pictures with people but also to give autographs. Here, I am like a popular actress, Yuko Asano. I was surprised at myself grabbing a pen already while saying, "no way, I am shy". While giving autographs to one person after another, before I knew it there was a long line in front of me. It felt funny but not so bad to give autographs for the first time in my life although I was saying, " I am sorry for being a bit old for a teen idol". During the week, people's interest in kimono dress was beyond our expectation. "Wonderful!" about the belt (obi) or "beautiful" about the belt fixer (obidome), they complimented our outfit continuously. It was amazing how encouraging these comments were. Back in Japan I had no idea how powerful "compliments" were. I wonder if I should start saying "splendid!" and "great!" much more often.

Also I noticed their rich facial expressions. When we were preparing the incense, they would say "nice play" and show their respect. When trying the incense, they would look so happy about the great smell. When leaving, again they would say "thank you" and their gratitude was also quite visible on their faces. I could not help but smile. Then a warm gentle feeling filled my heart.

Where does this happiness come from? I never really felt before that people are capable of communicating without understanding each others languages, but it was different this time. I tried to smile as much as possible even in my hotel room in front of the mirror. There is nothing as wonderful as a smile. I had such a great experience on this trip. It was my first trip abroad for eleven days without my husband. Usually, I feel very safe with him on a trip. This one was definitely different and rather free. I am a little worried that I love it too much. Well, before I spend too much time missing this trip thinking "I was so lucky to have a great experience like this", I should pay attention to that familiar voice calling, "hey, Mother"

How did you like it? I feel frustrated that it was so different from giving a speech and I could not write everything I wanted to. But I want to thank Sakai city for giving me this great opportunity and thank everybody who helped me.

Thank you very much.

Yoshiko Nakata

Translation by Satori Bray
Edited by Kyozaburo Nakata