III. Japanese Grading System and the Secret of "Kyara"

(1) Japanese Grading System

The Japanese use of Jinkoh (Japanese name of agarwood) can be traced far back to ancient time. The use of Jinkoh has become the inseparable part of Japanese life, especially for the wealthy and Buddhists. 

In the past, Japanese used Chinese grading system of Jinkoh, which only recognized A.A.R. as Jinkoh, while Kanankoh (Kanam) is recognized as the highest quality. Among A.A.R., the concentration of oleoresin and the buoyancy are the main ways that Japanese decides Jinkoh¡¦s grading. Below are two records to support this view related to Japanese grading system: 

  1. In 1606, Shogun Togogawa (General who controlled all Japan) wrote letters to several kings in the Southeast Asia to ask for high qualitJinkoh. In one letter, he requested the king of Vietnam whether the highest quality- "kanankoh" is available. Kanankoh's characteristics were clearly indicated in Chinese medical and botanical books at that time.

  2. Ranjatai, the biggest piece of Jinkoh in Japan nowadays is preserved in Todaiji temple. Originally, Ranjatai's weighted about 13 Kilograms. However, the current weight of Ranjatai is 11.6 kilograms. It is believed that small pieces were cut off by emperors and shoguns for their belief in Jinkoh's  magical power. 

The original name of Ranjaitai is "Yellow-matured" according to study " Diary of Pharmaceutical School " written in 1574. " Yellow-matured "  is the name of the lowest grade Jinkoh among three-grades grading system according to "Compendium of Materia Medica". This grade of Jinkoh contain less oleoresin so that it cannot sink into water or be used as medicine.1

Nowadays, Japanese does not use grading system used in the past. In fact, Japanese Kohdo users began to find substitutes for A.A.R because the supply of A.A.R. has been getting limited. The most well-known substitute is Aquilaria malaccensis Lamk. (A.M.L.). 

Most of the substitutes cannot be used as medicine, nor can their fragrance compare to A.A.R's. In order to cope with various substitutes, Japanese has to give up the resin- containing basis grading system that had been used for a thousand years but to grade Jinkoh according to its fragrance. 

Since different people have different preferences to fragrances, it's no longer possible to grade Jinkoh objectively. According to the fragrance generated while it is burning, six different grades were created, which are Kyara, Rakoku, Manka, Manaban, Sumotara, and Sasora. 

It results that different Kohdo sect have different grading system. For example, a piece of Jinkoh recognized as Kyara in one incense maker may not be recognized as Kyara in another. 

(2) The Secret of "Kyara"

In Japan, some believes that " Kyara "  is equivalent to Kanam (Kanankoh). However, Kyara does not have the glutinous characteristic that " Kanam " has- the small shreds can be pinched and rolled into a ball. In fact, in current Japanese grading system, Kyara is not even necessarily A.A.R.2


1. Treatment of Kohdo, pp.38
2. Treatment of Kodo, pp.43

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