The name ”Koju” was born in Kyoto during the reign of the Emperor Oogimachi in the Tensho period(1573-1593).
The original Koju was a twelfth generation descendant of Yoshisada Yasuda of Seiwa Genji (guardians of Totomi Province when the Kamakura shogunate was established) whose name was Yasuda Mataemon Minamoto Mitsuhiro. According to the records, Koju has been serving the imperial family since Yasuda Mataemon’s time.
According to the records, the second generation Koju, Masakiyo, was summoned by Lord Hideyoshi. The fourth generation Masanaga was summoned by Lord Ieyasu.
In the Edo period, the eighth generation Koju, Juuemon, made many incense and was called the incense meister. Since then, it has become a tradition for Koju meisters to inherit the name of Juuemon. According to the records, Koju’s neriko (blended incense balls) gained great renown after he delivered incense called “Chitose” to Emperor Koukaku, “Kokonoe” to the Omotesenke school, and “Wakakusa” to the Yabunouchi tea ceremony school.
A reference book written by Juuemon himself called “Koju Juuemon's family blending book” still exists today. The text has a vibrant, vivid feel, making the reader feel as if they are learning Juuemon’s teachings through oral tradition.
At the end of the Edo period, one of Koju masters, Takai Juuemon Yoshimasa, became involved with a private school in Kyoto run by Boyo Yamamoto for many years. He researched western fragrances and found great success in the area of herbalism as well.
You can find a description of Koju’s life in Muromachi Shimochoujyamachi, Kyoto during the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods in the “Tea ceremony dictionary” (1956 edition). One passage reads, “The ‘incense store’ shall be protected with Shizuma Sasaki’s ink mark, white cloth and store curtain.”
Thereafter, Koju became the specialized incense company it remains today. It has been involved with incense and incense cultural activities in Tokyo under the name of “Ginza Koju”. After half a century, in April, 2016, Koju returned to its birthplace of Kyoto, and opened a small store in Ninenzaka. The time-honored, elegant culture of Kyoto has been combines with new creations from Ginza, Tokyo to deliver incense products for the present day that spiritually enrich people's everyday life.
■Koju and the ten virtues of koh
The ten virtues of koh are descriptions of the usefulness and properties of superior incense. These ten virtues are all written with four Chinese characters each.
The ten virtues of koh became famous in the Muromachi period through the writings of the zen high priest Ikkyu Sojun. Many intellectuals at the time simply knew about it as something written by a renowned priest who was a scholar and an incense enthusiast. Ikkyu was believed to be an illegitimate child of the Emperor Gokomatsu who was also known as an incense lover. Emperor Gokomatsu authored a study about incense blending called “Gokomatsu’s incense blending methods.” A copy of this old document is still preserved to this day at Koju, along with old references from the Tensho period that belonged to the original Koju himself.
It is written in the document that the original Koju (Yasuda Mataemon Minamoto Mitsuhiro) started calling himself Koju when spreading his famous “Ten Virtues of Koju” during the Tensho period, which began with the start of Nobunaga Oda’s rule.
It has been over 1400 years since numerous Japanese incense cultures were originally created from the precious heaven-sent aromatic woods, which accompanied the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Koju was born into that period of history, and continues to keep the old traditions while creating new ones. With products ranging from Koju’s traditional blended incense balls (Kurobou), an incense product named after Juuemon, to aromatic woods themselves, Koju delivers valuable incense products that satisfy the needs of today’s customers.