Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Gourd-Shaped Incense Container, 1625–1675

What is this object?

This small, ceramic container is used to hold pieces of incense. The entire piece is shaped to look like a gourd, and it is painted with a design of leaves.

How is it used in the tea gathering?

In a full, four-hour tea gathering, which includes the serving of a light meal, sweets, and two kinds of tea, the host builds the charcoal fire in front of the guests. The host then places a small piece of incense near the hot coals. As the incense warms, it gives the tearoom a pleasing fragrance. The guests ask to view the incense container more closely and will likely inquire about the shape and the maker. In some tea gatherings, the host places the incense container in the alcove for the guests to view. Incense containers come in a variety of shapes—animals, seashells, gourds, toys—and often evoke the time of year. They are usually made of ceramic, shell, or lacquered wood.


  1. Using quick-drying clay, make your own incense containers in the shape of a fruit, vegetable, or animal.
  2. Play an incense game. Find two contrasting incense types. Light one type and let all the students smell it—this is the main incense or incense “A.” Light three other pieces in any combination in different parts of the room and see if students can guess which is different from the main incense. Have students mark a card with A for those that are the same as the main incense and B for those that are different.