Posted by: softypapa | March 22, 2008

Old Buddhist Altar Incense Holder – Butsudan Senkoutate

Buddhism Buddhist Altar Butsudan Temple Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Softypapa Tokaido

Buddhism Buddhist Altar Butsudan Temple Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Softypapa Tokaido

Buddhism Buddhist Altar Butsudan Temple Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Softypapa Tokaido

Buddhism Buddhist Altar Butsudan Temple Japan Japanese Nippon Nihon Softypapa Tokaido 



Specialized containers such as the item listed here are called senkoutate in Japan where they are used to hold sticks of incense for use with Buddhist temple and home altars.  This high quality ceramic incense holder is in fair condition with marks, scratches and wear as evidence of past use.  A highlight of this piece – in addition to it’s expert craftsmanship – is the incredible celadon glaze.  Developed fifteen hundred years ago in China, the celadon family of glazes are today recognized as some of the finest ever created.  Noted for it’s transparent gloss or semi-gloss surface and gray green to blue green to jade green color, the glazes were developed to imitate the natural beauty of jade.  The color variations are the result of a pooling effect where the glaze settles into low spots on the piece producing a thicker layer and deeper hue of green.  High spots on the piece then receive a thinner coat of glaze resulting in a lighter shade of green with tantalizing hints of the cool, white porcelain beneath.  This very special and authentic Buddhist altar tool dates from the mid to late Japanese Showa period (1926-1989) and was acquired in the beautiful and historic city of Shizuoka, Japan near the foot of Mt. Fuji.  Click here to see more items for the butsudan altar!

Height: 4.3 inches (11.0 centimeters)
Weight: 3.0 ounces (87 grams)

here to see more Buddhist items!
here to see additional treasures from Japan!

More about Japanese Buddhist home altars

At the start of the long Japanese Edo period (1600-1868) the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu determined that the country of Nippon (Japan) should be closed to the outside world with the exception of a few ports of trade.  This was done in an effort to protect Japan from the colonizing forces of the west and in particular to isolate the Japanese people from the influences of Christianity, which the Shogun viewed as a threat to the principals of Confucianism upon which his rule did depend.  Over time this ruler’s fear of Christianity grew such that laws were eventually passed requiring the Japanese to annually swear devotion to Buddhism.  Fearing the threat and penalties of Christian belief, many Japanese families began to erect small Buddhist altars within their home as further proof of their loyalty to Buddhism.  These home altars or butsudan were commonly outfitted with religious implements such as bells, incense burners, candlesticks and statues such that they might resemble Buddhist temples in miniature.  Specialist crafts developed for the sole purpose of manufacturing beautiful wooden butsudan and their associated articles of worship.  Over time, the practice of maintaining a home altar lost it’s original purpose of publicly expressing one’s loyalty to Buddhism and instead became an accepted and important household function, particularly with families acting as the head of the household name (usually the first born son’s household).  Far from being forgotten as a relic of Japan’s past, the butsudan is today an important household fixture which may receive daily attention by family members who consider the altar to symbolically enshrine the spirits and memories of departed ancestors.

In my wife’s (Japanese) parent’s home a large butsudan can be found in the central family room.  My wife’s parents are very traditional Japanese and each morning and evening the butsudan receives a ceremonial offering of fresh water and the first scoop of rice from the rice cooker.   The offering is prepared in the kitchen by my mother-in-law and delivered to the altar by my father-in-law who also rings the altar bell and offers a prayer upon delivering the water and rice.  This practice is still quite common in Japan (particularly with the older generation) and represents an interesting example of how the butsudan retains an important function in Japanese life.  My wife’s family also makes similar daily offerings to a Shinto (native Japanese religion) shrine situated in their kitchen.  The latter offering is to the kitchen god who protects the home from fire.

More photos below!

item code: R1S3-0004555
category code: (butsudannomono)
ship code: L1650


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