The Kikusumi of Nose

For nearly five hundred years, tea masters, starting with Sen no Rikyu, have valued kikusumi (chrysanthemum charcoal) as “the charcoal for chanoyu.” This is why tea ceremony practitioners and charcoal makers have continued to work together in pursuit of creating the beautiful embers of kikusumi.

“Characteristics of high quality kikusumi.”
Kikusumi is produced using kunugi (the Asian oak species often referred to as “sawtooth oak”).
A cross-section cut reveals radiating cracks resembling chrysanthemum flowers. These crack lines need to be fine and evenly spaced.
The bark of the wood must be thin and tight around the core. Young branches used for charcoal should be smooth and resemble a “willow’s skin.”
When the charcoal is burning it will give off the fragrance of the kunugi tree.
When exhausted completely, the remaining ashes resemble a white chrysanthemum flower.

These aesthetic characteristics of kikusumi are not only sought after for its decorative value but are found to be “beautiful” as the result of innovations to charcoal for the purpose of attaining a functional and practical source of fuel. A core with finer and more numerous crack lines allows better air flow through the fuel and cleaner burning. Thin and tight bark skin prevents the charcoal from bursting when it burns. The gasses emitted from the kunugi that give off the pleasant fragrance, actually make the charcoal ignite quickly and burn efficiently.

Kikusumi has come into being out of a harmony between the careful work of charcoal makers and the refined sensibilities of tea masters. This wedding of “function” with “beauty” is what makes kikusumi an excellent fuel and, being so, a truly exquisite creation of the traditional crafts.






これら、美しい菊炭の条件は、なにも装飾性のみを追求したものではなく、実用性を洗練した結果、炭にもたらされた「美しさ」です。 割れが繊細なほど通気性があり燃えやすく、薄く密着した樹皮であるほど爆ぜにくい。 また、香りをもたらす原木由来のガス成分は、着火や燃焼を助けます。

こうした菊炭師の用途に対する誠実な手仕事と、茶人の洗練された審美眼が矛盾することなく調和した菊炭は、 燃料でありながらも、「用と美」が宿った民藝品といえるでしょう。


A skill refined and sublimated into art

In a silent chashitsu, glowing embers ping and the fragrance of burning charcoal wafts through the room. Time passes and the sound of “breeze through pine trees” rises, telling those present the water in the iron pot has come to a boil. The host sets to work whisking the tea. When all the guests have partaken, the charcoal is now an ashen “white flower” on the hearth – the sole witness to a quiet communion.

Charcoal used in the hearth during chanoyu is not only chosen for its utility as an indoor fuel. It must also make a statement to the senses, especially sight, sound and aroma. During chanoyu, when one leaves mundane concerns aside, one is allowed a moment to reflect on the “impermanence” and “frailty” of the world. For that kikusumi is considered the ideal charcoal.

Although the charcoal used in chanoyu is now an important item along with vessels, implements and scroll paintings, it initially was not valued as it is today. When the practice of drinking tea was introduced to Japan, charcoal was considered nothing more than a “fuel” used to boil water indoors. It belonged in the “back” area and not something expressly shown.

This changed during the 16th century when the preparation of tea became an art performed “in front of the guest” and the development of the style emphasizing simplicity, called wabi-cha, by tea masters such as Takeno Jôô and Sen no Rikyu. They established the standard for charcoal that could be appreciated for its beauty, along with its positioning in the hearth and the way the charcoal was to be handled. The attention given to the aesthetic details continued until formal rules and manners of sumi-temae as it is practiced today were realized.

In the Kansai region Ikeda-sumi is famous and it is simply named so because it was sold at the market in the town of Ikeda located between rural mountain communities and the two urban centers of Kyoto and Osaka. The charcoal is actually produced on the foothills of Mount Myôken or the area known as Ikeda okuyama (deep mountain district of Ikeda). The charcoal made in the town of Nose, located at the northern corner of Osaka prefecture is specifically referred to as Nose kikusumi



A skill refined and sublimated into art





関西方面では「池田炭」として有名ですが、里山と都市の交易拠点だった池田市を通じて販売されていたためで、実際の生産現場は妙見山麗一帯の「池田奥山」です。 大阪府能勢町でつくる「能勢菊炭」も、そのうちのひとつです。


Where craftmanship and nature’s power meet.

Winter arrives and leafless kunugi oaks stand dormant. It is time for charcoal makers to get to work. The silent mountains of Nose echo with the sound of chainsaws harvesting kunugi branches that are quickly prepared by practiced workmen.

The kunugi stands of Nose are particular for their rows of “canon batteries.” These strange looking trees are unlike other timber such as cryptomeria or cypress that are felled only once. Rather, they can be harvested over and over again. In respect to their dignified silhouettes they are called oyaji (father, or the more familiar “old man”), It is in these groves of oyaji where craftmanship and nature’s power cohabit, and the landscape they are part of bear witness to the spirit of charcoal making in Nose township.

Up along the mountain slopes, guardian oyaji gaze down on Nose. Let’s turn to a brief history of charcoal in this area and introduce the skills of its charcoal makers.








kiln work
kiln work
kiln work

Grueling work in a scorching kiln.

In December the cutting and preparing of raw kunugi begins and it lasts until April when the yamazakura wild cherry trees bloom. This is when the leafless kunugi are dormant and their branches do not contain any extra moisture; the ideal condition for making charcoal.

These green logs are then fired in a clay earth kiln. It takes about fourteen days for the logs to become charcoal.

The most grueling work is loading the kiln. After the previous lot of charcoal is taken out, the next load is put in before the kiln can cool. The temperature inside is between 80 – 100 C. In the dark with only the light of a headlamp, workers stand the logs on end, making sure they are tightly packed together. In the scorching kiln one can only stay for about twenty minutes. Carefully but quickly the work must be done. When one gets out to have a drink sweat evaporates and a cloud of steam rises off the body. This is repeated and for each firing of a big kiln about 3 tons of wood (over 1000 logs) are required.








Knowing the heat inside a closed kiln

The greatest skill required in making charcoal is knowing how to control the temperature and flames inside the kiln. If the temperature rises too fast, the bark will detach from the wood or the log will split. This spoils the beauty of the charcoal. Likewise, if the flames are smothered too soon the wood is not completely charred and when left too long only ash remains.

To “see” the heat inside a closed kiln, charcoal makers carefully observe the color of the smoke coming out of the small chimney. Right after the loaded kiln is fired the moisture filled smoke is white. As the temperature rises and carbonization progresses the smoke turns from black to purple and finally becomes a transparent gas.

When the temperature is negotiated with success from the time of firing, it takes about 14 days for a beautiful load of Nose kikusumi to appear out of the kiln.






Charcoal making and the preservation of satoyama

The border lands overlapping forested mountain foothills and cultivated village fields are referred to as satoyama. They are born from the work of human hands on nature and at times the response of nature to human endeavor. It is where human life and nature’s activity meet in harmony. The broadleaf forests of Nose have also been preserved by the effort of the people living under their shade. If these forests are untended and not given proper care, bamboo grass and bush will take over and prevent other plants from growing.

The same can be said about kunugi oak; these trees necessary for making Nose kikusumi. To allow these oaks enough time to recover and grow, their branches are only harvested once every 7-8 years. In order to harvest kunugi logs the forest underbrush is removed and the area is tended. It is this balanced cycle of human and natural activity that makes it possible for charcoal production to continue.

To make charcoal is in fact a way to preserve the satoyama. But, to pass on the tradition of Nose kikusumi it is necessary for the satoyama to be protected.









My father’s legacy...

During the last half of his life, my father dedicated himself to making charcoal for the art of the tea ceremony. It seems he talked in detail about his work to other people, but was quiet about his feelings to us, his family. The words he left me with were this is a hard task, but it must be continued for posterity.

Employed locally by my town’s government office until the age of forty-four, I was involved in regional development; assisting in local events and the national sports competitions. With the help of our town’s people, we welcomed many people from neighboring cities to enjoy the rich heritage of our town. I was happy to see my effort result in creating many “Nose fans.” This drove me to work harder, sometimes forgetting to eat and sleep.

Through all of this I learned the importance of knowing my local region and nurturing its unique characteristics. And this quite naturally turned my eyes to the kikusumi my father was making. There were only a handful of charcoal makers in our surrounding area and most likely my father was one of the last.

The high quality of our charcoal is the result of the craft’s refinement in the natural medium of this region’s history and environment. As I learned more about kikusumi, it became clearer to me of how the Nose region had nurtured it to become such a prized commodity.


The act of chanoyu gives shape to the sentiments of thoughtfulness and caring held by the Japanese. It is in the space where the tea is prepared and served that for five centuries kikusumi has fueled the calm ambience and guided the flow of time.

To support the genuine form of chanoyu is in turn the foundation for the true sentiments residing in the hearts of the Japanese. To continue in the task set before us is to ultimately fulfill a great cause. For the last fifteen years, I have simply set my eyes on the distant goal and proceeded as if possessed.

I am like the relay runner passing this product of history the kikusumi of Nose on to the next generation. Recently, the number of like-minded companions has increased providing invaluable assistance. At present, we are concentrating our effort in nurturing the tree groves that provide quality wood and improving our management.

It is my desire for people outside of Japan to learn more about the high-quality and aesthetically appealing kikusumi that was born here in Japan. For this reason, we have started this global website.

Please take a good look at our kikusumi that we as Japanese are proud to offer to the world.

Yoshitaka KOTANI
Head Representative
The Nose Satoyama Creators LLC



yoshitaka kotani



そして大切なことを学んだ。それは「地域を知ること」「地域の個性を大切にすること」。 ふと目にしたのが父が取組む「菊炭」だった。もう職人は府内では父を含み数人でおそらく父が最後になる。





日本が生んだ高性能であって美しい炭「菊炭」を世界へ発信し多くの人の評価を継続の力にしたいとグローバルサイトを開設した。 世界のみなさんへ日本のこだわりの「菊炭」をご覧ください。

yoshitaka kotani