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The Rikkoku

Traditional Japanese Classifications of Agarwood

Rikkoku: literal translation is the “Six Countries of Agarwood.”


A gentle and dignified smell with a touch of bitterness. The fragrance is like an aristocrat in its elegance and gracefulness.


A sharp and pungent smell similar to sandalwood. Its smell is generally bitter, and reminds one of a warrior.


Smells light and enticing, changing like the mood of a woman with bitter feelings. [Obviously the connoisseurs of this day were men!] None of the five qualities (tastes) are easily detectable. The fragrance is of good quality if it disappears quickly.


Mostly sweet. The presence of sticky oil on a mica piece is often a sign that the fragrance is Manaban. The smell is coarse and unrefined, just like that of a peasant.


Sour at the beginning and end. Sometimes mistaken for Kyara, it has something, however, distasteful and ill-bred about it, like a servant disguised as a noble person.


Cool and sour. Good-quality Sasora is mistaken for kyara, especially when it first begins to burn. Sometimes it is so light and faint that one may think the smell has disappeared. It reminds one of a monk.

The five qualities (tastes) used to classify agarwood aromas:

• Sweet — Resembles the smell of honey or concentrated sugar
• Sour — Resembles the smell of plums or other acidic foods
• Hot — Resembles the smell of red peppers when put in a fire
• Salty — Resembles the smell of a towel after wiping perspiration from the brow, or the lingering smell of ocean water when seaweed is dried on a fire
• Bitter — Resembles the smell of bitter herbal medicine when it is mixed or boiled

*Adopted from “The Book of Incense,” written by Kiyoko Morita.

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The Book of Incense: Enjoying the Traditional Art of Japanese Scents – by Kiyoko Morita