Tennendo is one of the several Japanese incense companies that has made new headway into the American markets via the great work being done at Scents of Japan (link to right). For so long, incense over here was dominated by Nippon Kodo, Shoyeido, Baieido, Kyukyodo and a few miscellaneous incenses, but now we’re starting to see just how great some of the other companies’ work is. Tennendo, in particular, is a company that’s likely to appeal greatly to the aloeswood lover and in some ways I’d as soon recommend that you check out one of the samplers provided by Essence of the Ages. While it might be easy to go for the inexpensive, $10.25 sampler of several rolls, I can imagine purchasers will immediately wish they’d gone for the seven roll sampler, almost all of which are very fine incenses that I haven’t been able to stop returning to. The good news, of course, is that rolls of all these incenses are relatively affordable, starting in the $20 range for Kuukai and descending as the quality and cost of ingredients do.
I reviewed the Tennendo Frankincense earlier among the seven rolls, but I’m also leaving off, for now, the Karafune and Kohrokan Sandalwood. The former’s a very nice low end, traditional spice and sandalwood blend, while the Sandalwood is very similar to most “old mountain” sticks and possibly redundant if you already have this kind of stick in stock. I’m thinking more and more that it might be useful to compare these styles across companies at some point to address the subtle and sometimes barely existent differences.
The remaining four rolls are all aloeswood incenses, although the low end Renzan is a bit more of a blend. Kuukai is the highest end aloeswood in this “rolls” sequence (So far Enkuu-Horizon is the highest end Tennendo incense in the US market). I’ve been trying to come up with a descriptor that sets Kuukai apart from Tensei, as Kuukai has an almost sandy or rough feel to it that indicates a number of other possible woods being combined with the aloeswood. The result is a very spicy, rich incense that seems to incorporate the fine aloeswood as part of a blend. Tensei, on the other hand, doesn’t have this sort of spicy “grit” to it, going for a very high quality wood blend that makes me think there must be some expensive oils in the incense as the top note of Tensei is to die for, very smooth, a tad floral and sweet. For me, both incenses are on par in terms of effect, with Tensei, of course, being the more affordable blend.
There’s a huge stylistic difference as we drop down to Shorin. Immediately clear is the lower level of aloeswood used in the stick, in fact the wood reminds me a lot of lower end, brandless aloeswood sticks or even the cultivated wood sticks at Sacred Mountain where there’s something of a bitter note to the wood. Fortunately with Shorin the bitter note has been balanced enough where it’s not terribly irritating, and besides a bit of bitter is not necessarily a bad thing. This is all wrapped up in a green stick with some of the same tendencies you see in other green sticks, more of a sharp, pungent sort of aroma. I’ve found when I’m in the mood to go through the whole range that this one breaks up the pattern a bit.
Renzan is a sweet, cherry-blossom like aloeswood in the same lineage as Kyukyodo Shiun or Nippon Kodo Zuiun, where the sticks are generally just a little bit thicker and the wood is mostly a note of complexity rather than a dominant feature. Renzan is probably very close to on par with Shuin and much better that Zuiun with an incredible sweet/wood combo that’s never cloying. In fact this style in general is a great, inexpensive blend to check out and something of an iconic style in its own right. It’s also very user friendly.
Overall, I get the impression that there’s a concentration on the quality of the oil note that Tennendo might be better at than anyone else, it’s something you immediately sense on all of these but the Shorin. For the aloeswood lover who really likes to see those big wood contours, most of these will be highly recommended, not to mention the fact that they’re relatively inexpensive for the quality you’re dealing with. And with the above-mentioned samplers, there’s really no reason to give them all a try.