According to legend, during the seventh century A.D. a large piece of agar wood washed up on the shores of the island of Awaji. The wood was buried, and over time it developed a beautiful aroma. Prince Shotoku presented this wood to the Emperor, who was so taken by the fragrance that began importing this aromatic wood from China or Korea. To this day, agarwood, known as jinkoh (or “sinking wood”) in Japanese, plays an important role in Japanese Ko-doh (literally, “journey of the fragrance”) ceremonies. These ceremonies were developed during the Ashikaga era (1350 to 1500 A.D.) as a result of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s interest in the classification of all incense-burning substances. As is true with tea ceremonies and ikebana, the Ko-doh ceremony serves to raise the human spirit to higher levels. For Ko-doh ceremonies, people in Japan usually use agarwood and sandalwood.
Agarwood has a balsamic, ambergris, woody, deep fragrance that is often described as sweet, spicy, bitter and sour. The agar tree belongs to the Thymelacae family and has branches like the outstretched wings of an eagle. The Japanese only use agar wood for incense burning when it has been infected by fungus (Aspergillus sp. and Fusarium sp.) which creates a resin that produces the fragrant substance. The fragrance of agar wood is deeply relaxing and balancing. Japanese scientists studied its effects in 1993 and determined that it is a strong sedative and extends sleep periods.