The tale of Kungyokudo, Japan’s oldest incense maker, goes all the way back to 1594. It’s a long journey that began with crafting incense for the samurai and the Pure Land Buddhist monks. This is a company that survived feudalism and kept pace with the industrial upscaling of the modern era. Kungyokudo is now embracing change once again to remain relevant in our contemporary age while honouring the traditions of Japanese incense.
At the helm of this transition is Chihaya Ouno, the company’s brand manager and the wife of Kazuo Ouno, the president and inheritor of the family’s 427-year-old business. In the late 16th century, Riemon Ouno, the founder of Kungyokudo, established a medicine shop and incense dispensary next to Honganji Temple in Kyoto. Now, 17 generations later, the company and the family continue to thrive in the same location.
The Ouno connection to Honganji Temple goes back even further than the company’s founding, however. Originally, the temple was located in Osaka, and the Ouno ancestors were temple attendants. During the Sengoku Period, society passed through a period of upheaval. At one point, the temple had to be abandoned, and one of the attendants carried the Buddha statue on his back to safety. Afterwards, he was honoured by the temple and given a new family name, Ouno.
The family stayed devoted to their Buddhist teachers, and when Honganji Temple finally relocated to Kyoto five generations later, the Ounos followed and became its supplier of incense and medicine. The recipes and wisdom of the incense have been passed down within the family ever since.
To read our full interview with Chihaya Ouno, please order Issue 107.