Yamadamatsu Shihou Kyara

Where to start. A note on the name, Shihou in Japanese means ‘all directions’. I put some prep time in before I lit this coil to take notes on it, cleansing my olfactory senses with coffee beans and ensuring the room was free from other scents, etc etc.
This coil is all wood. It immediately hits you with concentrated, pure aloes wood scent, with a rich turpentine backed up by a light rosy cedar sweetness, mixed with a hint of ozone. This is by no means a 100-paces style incense, even though it comes in a coil. You will definitely want to sit down and listen to this one on a personal level.

Yamadamatsu Shoyo & Shigei

Yamadamatsu’s Shoyo is quite enlightening, hence the name as it is written here means “Shining Light”. This coil has a strong initial top note of both vanilla and a resinous labdanum scent, combined with at first a woody, salty aloes wood that eventually fades to a mid/base note of cedar. There’s not much else to say other than this is a wonderful scent well worth the price.

Shigei on the other hand is all about the wood. Unlike its predecessors, this coil forgoes any blend and instead contains a straight blend of Vietnamese aloes wood, with a top note of buttery, salty aloes wood to its scent. With a price of 10$ per coil, it is definitely a incense you will want to sit down with and study.

Yamadamatsu Gyoka

Yamadamatsu’s Gyoka blend is the lowest of the line of aloeswood coils currently available. It has a top note of strong, slightly sweet, spicy, peppery aloeswood, alongside a buttery mid note of medicinal herbs and a touch of lysimachiae herba. Overall it reminds me a lot of a Baiedo blend, but slightly sweeter. The fragrance of this blend has a bit of a learning curve to it, and after a bit of time spent with it, it begins to remind me of an old log cabin, with the rich turpentine and wood scents that one associates with such.

Yamadamatsu Fujitsubo

This will be the first of my reviews of several Yamadamatsu scents I recently picked up from the wonderful people over at Japan Incense. Fujitsubo means (in the way it is written here) jar of wisteria, and comes in two forms, stick and coil. I am basing this review off of my impressions of the coil variant as I write, and I am immediately confronted with a sticky sweet floral reminiscent of a strong perfume. I get top notes of vanilla and lavender, with mid notes of rose and a base note of talcum powder and a slight, slight hint of spice. There is not a strong learning curve to this mix, as all the scents are quite up front and easy to pull out. At the very lowest end of the Yamadamatsu coils, this incense should be a pleasing treat to anyone who loves strong, sweet in-your-face florals without breaking the bank.

Yamadamatsu now at Japan Incense

Kohshi/JapanIncense is now offering Yamadamatsu’s incense directly on their website. There are a lot of choices to ponder in a variety of incense styles. Perhaps best of all, the prices on all of it appear to be quite close to what amounts to Japanese retail. This is a first for US buyers and not to be missed. The Shu-ju  series of high end kyara incense sticks is once again being sold (they were sadly gone for about a year) in all three scents. I think these are some of the best on the market and are (or at least were, mine are about 2 years old at this point) a very classic scent without too much spice in order to let the wood notes really shine.

There is quite a collection in the raw woods section at many different levels and prices, including three different types or grades of kyara, about the same for the agarwoods and some of the best sandalwood around.

I have to say that at these prices it is a lot saner to buy here rather than over the internet in Japan and then go through the agony of shipping and the dreaded “What if it doesn’t make it through Customs?”. Not to mention wondering if you have actually gotten the Japanese to English translation figured out so that you really did order the right things and not destroy your bank account for the wrong stuff :)

July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere :)

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight :)

April 2012 Top Ten

1. Dhuni Frangapani: Maybe one of the best flora’s around. It smells a lot more like the real flower then, say, as essential oil. It is also not cloying or overly sweet. A remarkable incense and well worth the price (actually it is dirt cheap compared to most Japanese scents, I am clueless as to how they manage to do this).

2. Dhuni Citronella: I really like the somewhat sharp top note in this one; it is unlike anything else I am familiar with in incense. The floral notes that follow behind are also very nice and like the Frangapani not cloying. A very nicely balanced scent.

3.Tennendo Enkuu: One of the last words in a dry scented incense. Very elegant and austere as well as a great mediation tool. Lots of Vietnamese Aloeswood make this unique and a real winner.

4. Kyukodo Murasakino: This comes in a truly beautiful wooden presentation case, inside of which is a scroll shaped tube covered in dark silk. The sticks are a deep shade of green and have a wonderful aloeswood base upon which a stunning, somewhat indescribable floralish/spice/perfume set of notes ride. I cannot think of any other maker that does this as well as Kyukodo. This is a real show stopper and is also a very classical “Old Japan” scent offering. They seem to have pulled out all the stops on this one, the word “flawless” comes to mind.

5. Kyukodo Seigetsu: A beautiful Japanese floral based on aloeswood. More overtly floral then Murasakino but less sweet then Azusa. Somewhat like Jasmine but with notes of Honeysuckle and some other white flowers. Like some of the offerings from Kyukodo there is a very slight under tone of charcoal (at least to my nose) but in this case the overall floral is so beautiful that it just does not matter.

6. Mermade Hougary Light Green Superior Frankincense: If you like Frankincense you should get this. It has been hard to get really top quality green Hougary and I am glad that Katlyn has found a source. This has a really clear citrus note riding across the resin backround that is pretty unbeatable. A winner.

7.Baieido Byakudan Kobunboku: One of the all time incense deals and still going strong. Given the recent price increases in sandalwood I was a little worried but having used this for the last ten days or so and compared it to an older box it still rocks. I tend to judge most other sandalwoods by this one. It has a very well done and classic set of spice notes (cinnamon, clove, camphor and lord only knows what else) that add to the blend.

8. Minorien Granulated Aloeswood Blend: A great loose aloeswood blend for the electric heater or coals. Very spicy with a big dose of Japanese/Chinese herbs mixed in at a very reasonable price. Somewhat dry in nature without all the overt green notes that can tend to be in these blends.

9. Yamada Matsu Firebird Select (Houjoukoh Gokuhin): There is a wonderful dry, aloeswood set of notes here on top of which clove, borneo camphor and a host of other notes are riding. The wood really makes this loose mix, which reflects the price. I have found my hand reaching for this a lot since I got it from Kohshi in San Francisco.

10. Baieido Kai un Koh: Because sometimes you just need an incense that can run with the big dogs :) Very deep, thick, strong, multi layered, strong and with an amazing balancing act between dry and spicy, not to mention strong. Not for all occasions but just the thing for some moments. There are a lot of reasons that this has been in so many Top Ten’s at ORS, all of them viable.

 


New Incenses

Beth at EOA has both the new Dhunis’s and Happy Hari lines listed now, both of which are pretty high on the “goodness” charts for Indian incenses. These are hand rolled and seem much more real (read natural) than anything else on the market (Mothers might be in this group also), at least to my nose. Of course, short of some very expensive testing there is no sure fire way to tell, and even GC/MS testing is open to interpiation. Go with what smells/feels right to you.

Over at Equinox Aromatics, Andrew has brought in Star Child from England. They look to be very faithful to some of the esoteric teachings as well as also being all natural. Real Halmaddi is also available at his site and not to be missed, it is very entertaining to experiment with if you are making your own blends.

Kohshi has some new scents in, one of which is Sanjusangendo Incense. It comes out of a temple in Kyoto. Nice woody/amber scent with a hint of cinnamon. They also have Kyukyodo and Yamada Matsu available. It is generally best to call the store and check what’s in stock.

Enjoy   -Ross

Top Ten November 2011

1. Akikaze from Kyukyodo: This is part of what I think of as the “The Heavy Hitters in Wood Boxes” from Kyukyodo. You can get an idea about them at this page in our blog. With luck I will get a review of them out in a week or two. This one is a reasonable price (for what one is getting) with a really beautiful perfume note on top of the woods and a light musk back note. You can check with Kohshi/Japan Incense for availability. I think Kyukyodo does this type of style (perfumed floral’s mixed with quality wood) really well and it very hard to beat here.

2. Kyara Seiran from Seijudo: This is number two in Seijudo’s high end line up, based mostly on price point, not scent. I think it is a little less strong and more likable then the Kyara Enju while still being heavily laced with a very strong set of wood notes and spices with musk undertones. If you are in the market for a Kyara blend this is a great one. I find myself liking it more in the cooler months; it is also very relaxing and quite nice in the evening. It is right up there at the pinnacle of this style and not to be missed; it also comes in a number of different sizes and price points.

3. Byakudan Kokoh from Baieido: This is one of the very best of the “straight up” Sandalwoods, in other words, no perfumes and minimal spices or herbs. It is pretty dry in scent but very true to Sandalwood’s nature. Great for reflection or the post work chilling. Baieido really does the woods oh so well, it is hard to go wrong with them and this is a real winner in a old Japan incense style.

4. Enkuu from Tennendo: You can check in the blog for the notes on this one, it has always been a favorite here at ORS and with good reason. It is very much on the dry side of the scent spectrum, it is also has a very clean (not pine or camphor) set of notes to it combined with a very unique and clear wood base of Aloeswood.

5. Cracked Earth from Aluwwah:  Aluwwah is a Canadian Oud  oil and wood seller as well as an incense maker. He has a number of styles of real, hand made Bakhoors at his site. They use real ingredients and quality woods and oils. This one has a nice resinous note mixed with some woods and ambers. It is somewhat lighter in scent then the Bakhoors that I have tried before, which I like as it tends to allow me to check out the different aspects of the mix. There was also a mix called Deer’s Breath that was a huge floral/musk/oud master piece. It’s out of stock but I hear tell that a successor called Lamb’s Breath is in the works.

6.Deep Earth 2011 from Mermade Incense: For the incense heater or coals, but for sure made to be slowly heated up. Stunning deep resin notes wrapped around woods and herbs, I think the name pretty much says it all. Perfect for Fall into Winter.

7. Evergreen Forest Incense from Mermade Incense: This is, again, for an incense heater, you could also try Sacred Grove if you wanted something along the lines of a cone. Either produce a wonderful “in the forest” scent that freshens up the atmosphere and generates a wonderfully clean and very green scent. Very much a Winter forest scent and just a wonderful treat for the senses.

8. Jihi – Amacha kou from Awaji-Baikundo: Very strong and beautiful amber note with borneal camphor added as well as Hydrangea Tea. I think this is one of the most beautiful amber’s on the market, no matter what country you are from. It is a very clean and warm offering that really livens up a space and would also be great to scent ones clothing with. Very long lasting scent.

9. Meena Supreme from  Happy Hari: Easily one of the very best of the Indian incenses and in general this company looks to be a real winner all around. I have not gotten to try the newer releases yet but you can see Mike’s notes within the blog. This has all the deep floral’s along with the woods and spices. There is also enough separation between the notes to make it really interesting. It is pretty strong; you might not want to start here if you are going to be going through a number of different sticks at one setting.

10. Genmyo from Yamada Matsu: These are in the kneaded style or incense balls. These happen to have Kyara and Aloeswoods plus a spice and oil (I think) blended together for a more modern take on this style. There a sort of amber and caramel mix that rides across the woods. There are three different blends from YM that Kohshi has at their retail outlet in San Francisco. The Aloeswood blend has this same set of notes but the amber/caramel notes are stronger and the woods more backed off. It sort of depends on the day as to which I like more.

April 2011 Top Ten

Tennendo: Enkuu: Dry, austere and intriguing. The perfect meditation scent (well, for some of us). A long time favorite here and with good reason. This is not a simple scent, there are a great many levels to it; it can become a fascinating study listening to it.

Baieido: Kun Sho: This is Cambodian Aloeswood with the subtle addition of a supporting caste of a few other traditional Japanese incense materials. The whole idea here is to showcase the Aloeswood and of all the incense makers I think Baieido does this the best. I reach for this box quite a lot.

Yamada Matsu: Hyofu: This incense relies on a very good grade of Aloeswood, probably Vietnamese, to produce this sort of ultra light floral/clean note (which might be Jasmine) that mixes in with the woods and produces a scent that is very hard to describe and also very intriguing. It has an interesting property of cutting through other scents even though it really is a seemingly light scent. Great for meditation or as something to subtly scent a room. This one also takes a long time to even start to figure out  :)

Kyukyodo: Kinbato: A very nice Aloeswoods base with some sandalwood added in over which rides a beautiful floral with hints of spice. I find this to be a real favorite of mine the more I pull it out. Kyukyodo is shaping up to be the masters at these types of Japanese floral/perfume scented incense. It probably does not hurt that many of these recipes apparently come from the Japanese Imperial Court and its past  incense masters.

Dhuni: Khus:  I burn this in small amounts as I find it strong. That being said I also really like the somewhat greenish and uplifting qualities it has. There are a lot of the Indians that are simply too much for me but this one works quite well. Great stuff and not to be missed. I figure Dhuni (who seems fairly new) is already one of the best around and look forward to new releases. I would really like to see them go for a big woods line.

Minorien  Kanzeon: This is very different from the standard Minorien’s we have had in the past, you can check out my review on this and Daijyoukoh for all the tasting notes, but in general I find this a very refreshing and clean scent, just the thing for Spring time.

Minorien: Granulated Kyara or Sandalwood: These are in a granulated or loose style and while they work well on an electric heater they really cut loose on a makko trail. The Kyara is somewhat reminiscent of their Kyara stick incense, but it is also much more potent and “in your face”. Very deep, almost musty at times, not used lightly! The sandalwood is altogether different with a wonderful sandalwood scent combined with camphor and spices; it’s an upbeat scent that is very fresh and spicy. Available at Japan Incense/Kohshi

These next three are all from small makers; most of them are limited editions or small batch runs. They all use the best of completely natural materials. These are the real deal in hand made aromatic art and every one of them is a treasure.

Mermade: Incense Kisses: These emit a wonderful coco/chocolate scent for all you foodies, very different from anything else I have tried, anywhere. Don’t miss these; they are really fun and something of a real show stopper. You might also try Spring Sutra, which uses a very special Attar(something like 50 different ingredients distilled into in just this). Got a feeling this is very limited. A stunning romance floral.

Nathaniel Musselman: High Temple: Nathaniel does quite a lot of research and goes to great lengths to source the materials for his blends; most of them are also very labor intensive. This one is great on a heater with a great, rich resin scent. It really does justice to the name as it’s very easy to picture something along these lines in ancient temples in Egypt and surrounding areas. It has a very clean and open feel to it. I find that using it on a heater or charcoal, letting it simmer and coming back into the room after about ten to fifteen minutes is a wonderful experience.

Parfume Phyto:  Rose Neriko: Neriko are incense balls made to be gently heated, not burned. When done correctly they will last at least an hour, with enough scent left in them to use again. These are a sort of East meets West scent, using traditional Japanese incense materials and techniques with the addition of assorted forms of rose added. They are delicate, gentle and at the same time come with quite a lot of depth. Not overpowering but they do get the point across. Plus they are smokeless and totally hand made from first class ingredients.

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