I See, rising out of darkness, a lotus in a vase. Most of the vase is invisible; but I know that it is of bronze, and that its glimpsing handles are bodies of dragons. Only the lotus is fully illuminated: three pure white flowers, and five great leaves of gold and green — gold above, green on the upcurling undersurface — an artificial lotus. It is bathed by a slanting stream of sunshine; — the darkness beneath and beyond is the dusk of a temple-chamber. I do not see the opening through which the radiance pours; but I am aware that it is a small window shaped in the outline-form of a temple-bell.
The reason that I see the lotus — one memory of my first visit to a Buddhist sanctuary — is that there has come to me an odor of incense. Often when I smell incense, this vision defines; and usually thereafter other sensations of my first day in Japan revive in swift succession with almost painful acuteness.
It is almost ubiquitous — this perfume of incense. It makes one element of the faint but complex and never-to-be-forgotten odor of the Far East. It haunts the dwelling-house not less than the temple — the home of the peasant not less than the yashiki of the prince. Shinto shrines, indeed, Still costlier sorts of incense — veritable luxuries — take the form of lozenges, wafers, pastilles; and a small envelope of such material may be worth four or five pounds sterling. But the commercial and industrial questions relating to Japanese incense represent the least interesting part of a remarkably curious subject.
Lafcadio Hearn


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