The Rikkoku

From the early incense contests mentioned in "The Tale of the Genji", we go to the naming of the six varieties, or aromas of Aloeswood, the Rikkoku. This occurred sometime later, perhaps even as late as the Edo period, and may have been devised by the Kodo genius Yonekawa Johaku. But this is not for certain according to Japanese expert, Professor Jinpo.

Rikkoku literally means "Six Countries." The classifications are:


Kyara is thought to be from Vietnam (Annam) and is sometimes called Kinam Koh, or Kannam.

According to Kyozaburo Nakata of Baieido Ltd., the name Kinam comes from the local language of the Champas of South Vietnam who were early traders of Kyara. The name derives from the combination of the Sanskrit word for black "Kala" and the Chinese word for tree "Bak." Together they formed Kalambak and later the name was changed to Kinam.

The Rikkoku description of Kyara:

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


This is a tricky one. Nanban means "southern barbarian" and appears to be a reference to a general area of Southeast Asia around the 15th century. It also has references to Western traders around that time, such as the Portuguese. It's reference is probably more to a particular type of aloeswood than a geographic distinction. Manaban can not be located today, and new Rikkoku sets apply Jinko with similar characteristics, so it is not known at this time in which region it originated.

The Rikkoku description of Manaban:

"Mostly sweet, the presence of sticky oil on a mica plate is often present after smoldering Manaban. The smell is coarse and unrefined, just like that of a peasant."


Like Manaban, the origination of Sasora is not certain, and in modern Rikkoku, jinko with a similar aromatic property is used. Some say it was originally from the Assam region of India.

The Rikkoku description of Sasora:

"Cool and sour. Good-quality sasora is mistaken for kyara, especially at the beginning. It reminds one of a monk. Sometimes very light and disappearing."


Rakoku is from Laos or Thailand, several books mention Rakoku is from Siam (old name of Thailand).

The Rikkoku description of Rakoku:

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


Sumontara refers to the Sumatra Island in Indonesia.

The Rikkoku description of Sumontara:

"Sour at the beginning and end. Sometimes mistaken for Kyara, but with something distasteful and ill bred about it, like a peasant disguised as a noble."


Managa refers to the Port of Mallaca in Malaysia.

The Rikkoku description of Managa:

"Smells light an enticing, changing like the mood of a woman with bitter feelings. The fragrance is of good quality if it disappears quickly. None of the five qualities are easily detectable."

Incense continues to be a major part of the Japanese culture. Kodo has seen some restoration, and nearly all temples in homes in Japan participate in either casual enjoyment, or its use in religious ceremony.

Incense Koro at Todaii-ji Temple in Nara Japan

We should mention the ancient incenses still preserved in various Japanese temples, and of the famous fragments of Ranjatai. The paper on Ranjatai mentions three parts were cut. One by the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, one by the Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, and one by the Meiji Emperor.

It is common even today for incense masters to give a name to piece of Aloes wood, and it is a great honor to be the recipient of a gift of fine Aloes wood or Kyara whether it is from a piece carrying such a title or not. It is truly a gift from the heart!

Many thanks to Kyozaburo Nakata of Baieido for most of the information here about Aloeswood and the Rikkoku.

Written By David Oller of Esoterics, Edited by Scents of Earth©Copyright 1992-2018.

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