Why mosquito-repellent incense is in spiral?

August 5, 2015 Juju Kurihara Culture, History, Lifestyle Tags: , , , , 3 Comments

There are many things in summer in Japan; fireworks, shaved ice, summer festivals, coming back ancestor´s spirits, greeting cards, somen noodles, watermelons, horror stories and more. One of them is mosquito.repellent incense, Katori senko (蚊取り線香) in Japanese. As a semi-tropical island, there are a lot of mosquitos in summer of Japan. The most even ones are yabuka (ヤブ蚊), the one of black and white stripy fellow who fly around the ears during the night and don´t leave you sleep. Evil evil mosquito. 
Katori senko is one of the most important items as well as a fan or an air conditioning. This green spiral incense is your life saver (kind of) in summer. It has a sweet particular smell. 
This is a very common item all over Japan. But why mosquito-repellent incense is in spiral? I don´t know about other countries but at least as long as I know, Katori senko has been always like this. But why?
In the history, it wasn´t a spiral shape. The first ever mosquito-repellent came in sticks like normal incense (in 1890). They were about 20cm long and lasted only for 40 minutes. Since they were thin, at least three sticks were needed to be burnt to be effective. This model was perfect for playing shogi (将棋/ Japanese chess) on the porch but didn´t last long enough to protect people from mosquitos while they were sleeping. However, making them long wasn´t a solution as they would be easy to break in the middle and become a cause of fire.
The inventor and the founder of Kinchoko (金鳥香), Ei-ichiro Ueyama (上山英一郎) was looking for a solution. Then his wife found a snake coiled up in the garage and this was when this great idea came up. “Spiral”. Now I know the story, it doe look like a snake, doesn´t it?
At the beginning, they were rolling it one by one by hand. Then they discovered “double coil” method, which could reduce the volume and also increased the resistance. And the length of a coil increased from 60cm to 75cm that would last about 7 hours and a half to burn.  
A mini secret. Only Kincho makes anti-clockwise coil in the world! Just because they wanted something different. I like the founder´s mischievousness. (Left: Kincho, right: other marker)
Kincho´s mosquito-repellent incense uses pyrethrum since they started and all the products are made in its own factory. Shokunin even checks the texture of the incense by touching it! Is this too particular? Well, that´s why they are shokunin. 
The design hasn´t been changed all these years. 
But in time, there are some evolutions. There are thicker incense to last more hours and it´s perfect for camping or working outside. 
Or different aromas. 
The top part of the tin box is actually used as an incense holder. Very clever design.
Of course you can have more tasteful holders. This pig one is very traditional. 
Or do you prefer more arty ones?
Find your own favourite one and keep the mosquitos away to enjoy your sleep. 
Subscribe for Newsletter? : HERE  


  1. Mariele 3 years Reply

    I grew up in the Dominican Republic, I remember hot summer at ny grandparents home. They would light this all over the house as soon as the sun went down. I cab still smell it right now.

    • Juju Kurihara 3 years

      Nice to know you have the same summer memory as mine. 

      It’s also relaxing somehow. The smoke, the smell and the cooler air in the evening. All good memories.

  2. Corey Bass 8 years Reply

    Weve had these in australia for ages. I remember as a little kid growing up in South Australia just as the sun was going down in summer mum or dad would light one of these up to keep the mozzies away. The “Mozzie Coils” as they are called over here either come in a little box or in something like the tin. I can remember rushing up to light one up for mum and dad and it was always a struggle to get the intertwined coils apart without breaking them, it almost became a game.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *