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Incense Ingredient

Aloeswood - Agarwood

Japanese: Jinko

aloeswood tree
Young aloeswood trees in South Kalimantan —
   photo by Kyozaburo Nakata

Aquilara ssp.

Aquilaria is an evergreen tree growing up to 40 meters high and 60 centimeters in diameter. Aquilaria is native to Northern India, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. These trees frequently become infected with a fungus and begin to produce an aromatic resin commonly called Aloeswood, Agarwood, and Oud. This resin is used by Traditional Chinese, Unanai, Ayuravedic, and Tibetan physicians. The resin is created in response to an attack from Phialophora parasitica, which is a parasite fungus or mold.

The fungul attack creates an immunal response in the tree. This is commonly known as agar #1. An inferior resin is created by the wounding of aquilaria trees. this is commonly called agar #2.

The fungus and decomposition process continue to generate a very rich and dark resin to form within its heartwood. This is the preferred resin used in making fine Japanese incense. The resin created as an immune response makes the most sacred oil on the planet . As you can see the wood is extremely rare and often very difficult to obtain, as well as being quite expensive. The best quality is Kyara. Kyara comes in four types: Green, Iron, Purple, and Black.

There are many stories about aloeswood being buried under the ground for hundreds of years. This legend comes from an old Chinese book on incense, but today most aloeswood comes from infected trees that, although in the process of decaying and dying, are indeed still standing. However, sometimes the roots become infected with the fungus and these can be found underground.

Inspecting Kyara
Kyozaburo Nakata inspecting Kyara & Aloes Wood
  in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It is believed, the famous piece of aloeswood called Ranjatai was presented by Komyo Emperor for Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in the year 756(1244 years ago). Ranjatai was kept in the Shosoin warehouse of Todaiji Temple. Today, Ranjatai belongs to the Royal family of Japan. Every autumn, many treasures of Shosoin are exhibited in National Museum in Nara, titled  Shosoin Ten (Exhibition). Ranjatai can be seen there every 10 or 15 years. Because there are many treasures in Shosoin, every year, they change the object of exhibition. The last exhibition of Ranjatai was four years ago, it may be ten years before we see Ranjatai again. Ranjatai has been now been identified as coming from Laos or Vietnam by Japan's leading expert on Aloeswood, Dr. Yoneda from Osaka University.

Aloeswood is a very popular ingredient in Japanese incense, and is often used in some Tibetan medicinal incense formulas.

© Copyright  1999-2001 David Oller & Kyozaburo Nakata