JC20 Kyukyodo [incense] × GamFratesi

R&D Jin Kuramoto

“"KYU" and "HATO"”

Connecting over 300 years of the history of fragrance with the world using a new delicate and poetic approach.

Incense arrived in Japan alongside Buddhism, coming from ancient India via China, as an important episode in the world history of incense that reaches much further back in time. Following its arrival, the uses for incense soon extended beyond religious ceremonies and grew into the Japanese practice of Kodo, or the way of fragrance, in which fragrance is experienced and enjoyed in the spirit of Zen. Kodo, which describes the experience of fragrance as “listening” to it, maintains the core concept of the culture of fragrance in Japan to cleanse mind and body by sensing the nature that serves as the context for the fragrance.
The design partners of GamFratesi, who have extensive experience working with numerous types of incense made from such raw materials as agarwood, sandalwood, clove, and cinnamon, as well as in the design of spaces used for practicing Kodo, were asked by Kyukyodo to assist in a product to further popularize the practice of enjoying incense throughout the world.
Its proposal was to take three approaches, which are the use of sculpture-like modules, motifs that serve to invite action, and forms created with incense, to evoke a lifestyle that includes a new way to experience incense. Here elements common to Kodo are made apparent, including delicacy, poetry, and a sense of playfulness, in this new product which adds modern sensibilities to complement the venerable traditions of Kyukyodo.

Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi visited Kyukyodo's factory. All the machines are painted in bright colors.


Tank containing incense ingredients


The raw materials for the incense are imported from such places as China, India, South East Asia, and Africa.


Incense pastille and the mold.


The finished incenses are arranged by hand.


The presentation by GamFratesi



Kyukyodo was founded as a pharmacy in Teramachi, Kyoto, in 1663. It began producing incense using the same raw materials as herbal medicine in the 18th century, while also starting the import and sale of painting and writing implements from China, both of which it continues to this day. Kyukyodo has been the steward of the secret recipe for the incense used by the imperial family since the Meiji period.


GamFratesi is a design studio located in Copenhagen founded in 2006 by Danish architect Stine Gam and Italian architect Enrico Fratesi. The studio strives to fuse respect for tradition with new modes of expression in perfect harmony with each other.