Traditional Japanese pastimes: games
Incense, rare woods that give off beautiful smells when burnt slowly, were imported into Japan from at least the eighth century onwards. The appreciation of incense developed into a social activity by the elite classes, and during the Edo period it became more of a game. In a typical version, four types of incense are selected by the host and three of them are passed around for the players to smell. All four are then burnt in random order, and the players have to guess which is which. The players use ivory counters to indicate their guesses. The answers are revealed and the scores are written down.
The incense game involved many pieces of equipment. As well as the containers and wrapping for the incense and the ivory counters, there were special tools used to cut and handle the thin slices of rare and expensive incense. The incense was burnt in a special burner using ash and a lump of burning charcoal prepared with another set of tools. There were special boxes and trays for the ivory counters as well as an inkstone to stake ink to record the results. The boxes provided a good opportunity to display the arts of lacquer and metalwork.
Another popular amusement was the poem game consisted of 200 cards, which were kept in a decorated metal or lacquer box. Half the cards showed a portrait of one of the well-known 'Hundred Poets' and the beginning of a poem. Players had to match these to the end of the poem written on one of the other 100 cards.