|My new friend Yanagi-san on the left; my good friend Akiko on the right|
I met Kenichi Yanagi on a Friday afternoon. Our conversation began with ousu ("weak" tea) that my friend served on the tatami mat. It was a great ice breaker and a very nice gesture. We listened to three different woods that I had: an old sasora from the Edo period, a kyara from Yamadamatsu, and a sumotara also from Yamadamatsu.
I asked him about how to distinguish the five different tastes, kan (sweet 甘,) san (sour 酸,) shin (hot or spicy 辛,) ku (bitter 苦,) and kan (salty 鹹.) Sweet is fairly easy to distinguish, and I finally think I understand sour and salty. Sasora was sweet with a touch of sour. The scent became a little bitter (I thought) as time passed, but was largely unchanged. Apparently, constancy is one of the things that is required of good quality.
Yanagi-san cut a tiny, tiny piece off and said that it's better to use very small pieces of wood to tell the quality of the wood. I thought this to be very interesting as we dilute essential oils and absolutes when we evaluate them. In fact, I work in dilution when I'm composing as I can tell the nuances better when the oils are highly diluted. Also, we were told that a venerable monk that names woods listens to the wood as he hold the burner on his lap. He says that "if the scent doesn't reach his nose, it's not worthy of being named."
Yanagi-san gives lectures on Japanese incense materials and on incenses mentioned in the Bible. No less than thirty scent materials are mentioned in the Bible, he told us. He goes to botanical gardens around the world to find these plants. He is having a hard time finding a live spikenard plant. If anyone knows where one can see it, please let me know!