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Making Scents of Smell - Manufacturing Incense in Japan

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This paper focuses on a hitherto unremarked aspect of cultural production – smell. It first outlines the historical background of Japanese scent culture, before moving on to describe in detail the processes by which incense is produced in Japan, and the various challenges facing a manufacturer with regard to consistency of raw materials, kneading blended materials, and drying formed incense sticks. It then concentrates on a group of incense manufacturers located on the western coast of Awaji Island in the Inland Sea of Japan, and suggests that it is access to, and successful management of, olfactory knowledge that enables a sub-contracted supplier to become independent by producing his own incense brands. The paper concludes by drawing a series of parallels betweenthe symbolic and social uses of incense in contemporary Japanese society, and thus underscores the connection between olfaction and transition noted for many other societies.

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Brian Moeran

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