Gyokushodo’s new Nerikoh – Kusa no To, Hanafuna, Shiun

Its been a while since I wrote a review! I have been trying to reign in my budget a bit by going through my existing stockpiles before purchasing anything new, but I had the opportunity to try Gyokushodo’s new line up of nerikoh offerings earlier today thanks to Kotaro-san from Japan Incense.

On first analysis all three blends contain the typical Ume-gaka style ingredients, including camphor, clove, cassia and agar wood. They each start off with a blast of camphor and clove, and then settle down into a sour plum fragrance, and eventually wrapping up with a nice woody agarwood aroma. The difference in the three though is the concentration of ingredients. Whereas Kusa no To is the lowest price point of the three, it is obvious it has less of the key ingredients than the next two up the line, and does not project as much. Hanafuna ups the game a bit, and Shiun does that but also seems to have extra agar wood added to it.

Interview with Anna Pach/Masahiko Kikuya from Kikuya Seishindo and Kohgen

Olfactory Rescue Service is delighted to bring to you an interview with Anna Pach, who works at Kikuya Seishindo/Kohgen in Japan. The questions in this interview come from myself and several of our readers who left questions in a previous thread. As time goes by, we at ORS have been noticing that the Japanese incense market has been opening up to the west and we figured there could not be a better time to learn more directly from the source. – Mike

Hello Anna, could you introduce yourself to us? (Where you work and what your position is.)

Hello ORS Readers! First of all I would like to thank each one of you for the questions and to Mike who gave us the opportunity to make this interview. I think he had a great idea on building a bridge between Japan and the West to spread knowledge about Japanese incense to all incense lovers! The questions have been answered with the consultation of Mr. Masahiko Kikuya – the owner of Kikuya Seishindo (Kohgen) company.

My name is Anna. I was born in Poland, in the middle of Europe. I got interested in Japanese culture and language when I was a teenager. Since that time I was dreaming about studying Japanese at university and hoped to go to Japan one day. I managed to make my dreams come true and entered Japanese Studies at Jagiellonian University – one of the oldest universities in the world. Then I traveled to Japan several times. During my studies I also practiced Japanese Way of Tea (Urasenke school) for five years. I wanted to find a job close to the traditional Japanese culture, so I was looking for an internship in Japan. I found the Kikuya Seishindo company, which runs Kohgen, a Japanese store which specializes mainly in Japanese incense, but also provides traditional Japanese prayer beads (ojuzu), Kodo (“Way of Incense”) utensils, incense ingredients, hand made Japanese candles, fragrant bags, bath essence and other fragrant goods. The name “Kohgen” (香源) literary means Source of Incense, but I think that the translation Source of Fragrance reflects better the variety of our products available.

Our English site for individual Customers is called Kohgen World (

How did you come to get a job selling incense in Japan given where you’re from? How many languages do you speak?

After I finished my half-year internship at Kohgen, I received a job offer. I was still a student at that time, so I had to return to Poland to graduate. After that I went back to Japan this year and became a full time worker here at Kohgen. Today I work as a translator and international marketing manager. My mother tongue is Polish, but I speak English and Japanese as well. During my education I also studied French, German and Chinese, but I`m not speaking them on a daily basis, so I cannot say I`m fluent. I just know some basics🙂

What is a typical day at the job like?

Each day at Kohgen is different and filled with different fragrance! I learn a lot everyday, as we have over 5,000 products! Of course there is also a day schedule, which contains morning meetings, cleaning of our workspaces, one-hour breaks, business meetings etc. Every day I`m answering e-mails, serving our international customers, preparing goods for shipment and of course translating product descriptions and data about the incenses, designing graphics and web-pages, managing our Facebook and Instagram profiles.

What are the challenges like for you in terms of communicating with customers all over the world in different languages?

As you said, our customers are spread all over the world, and I communicate with them mainly in English (sometimes in Japanese, if they speak in Japanese to me, if for example they have Japanese roots). I`m aware that sometimes communicating in English is hard for people whose mother tongue is different, especially when I`m not a native speaker too. Knowing that I try to adjust my words to be easy to understand even by people who are not very fluent in English. Of course, people all over the world have different accents, so sometimes it`s hard to understand well and fast on the phone, but I`m doing my best to provide the best service. Another thing are time zones, but this is another topic.

Does your company just market incense or does it also have its own line of incenses?

Kohgen provides incense of almost all Japanese makers for both individual customers and for wholesale orders. We are not an incense maker, but we have our own original Kohgen line of incense which was created by our owner.

Recently the most popular ones are:

Original Kohgen Incense Classical Agarwood (you can find it on our Kohgen World English site here:

Kohgen Incense Sticks, Sumi (Ink) (available here:


What are the requirements for hiring a Japanese incense maker? Is there a name for the job?

A person who is responsible for creating fragrance and compounding the incense ingredients is called in Japanese chogo-shi or chokoh-shi, which may be translated simply as a perfumer, or to elaborate more: a master of compounding aromatic materials.

A person who is producing incense in terms of creating its shape is called an incense making craftsman.

The requirements for hiring a Japanese incense maker differ depending on a company, so the best way to know them in detail is to contact a particular incense maker.

Are there precedents for non-Japanese incense makers or is the work strictly kept to nationals? Do Westerners ever get hired as incense makers in Japan?

I think that there are no precedents for non-Japanese to work as an incense maker, but to work in Japan you have to clear many documents and procedures, so it`s not easy to get such job. Incense making recipes are the secrets of the companies, so they are not revealed.

But if you study a lot and do many trial and errors you can learn how to make a good incense. I have never heard about Western person who is working as an incense maker in Japan.

What do you think the dominant trend is in Japanese incense? Do you see Japanese incense evolving for the time or do you see it adhering more to tradition?

In general, half of the Japanese incense market is Less Smoke Type incense and the second half is ordinary smoke type. At Kohgen stores in Japan, over 90% of incense sold are those which have a clear fragrance or produce smoke. Over 70% incense sold are traditional fragrances.

There are family Buddhist altars at homes in Japan, so incenses are burned regularly. People who lives in Japanese apartments prefer using Less Smoke Type incense, so as not to disturb the neighbors – I think this is a popular trend. Except for that, a lot of people are burning incense as a hobby, so those are trying all kinds and types. Another one is to enjoy the fragrances which refer to the ongoing season.

There are also Less Smoke Type incenses, but with strong, deep and fragrance despite their low smoke – this is also one of the trends in Japan.

Are incense makers given free reign or are they presented with certain parameters (price point, type of incense, use of specific ingredients, etc.) that they are required to follow?

Incense makers can create them freely, which means it’s up to them regarding the parameters you provided. Raw materials used by Japanese incense makers are approved by IFRA (International Fragrance Association), so they are also checked in terms of safety.


What have been the challenges for Japanese incense makers breaking into the international markets? How long have you been selling to American and other customers?

The biggest challenge for Japanese incense makers is language. There are a lot of people who like Japanese incense abroad, but the makers need to make a great effort to introduce their incense to the international market.

In Japan, incense is used to relax, to help focus or for meditation, but of course it can also be used the same way abroad. To export the incense, the suppliers need to deal with many obstacles like, for example, shipping fees.

Kohgen sells worldwide and has provided English support since 2014.

In regard to the North American market, does the company have plans to change its product range, marketing, and customer education? How has the company changed from its experiences selling over here?

We would like to introduce Japanese incense as it is to all people around the world, so we do not change the products range. Regarding marketing and customer education, we are making the product descriptions in English more detailed to introduce and explain various aspects of Japanese culture. For example, there are a lot of traditional Japanese patterns on incense burners. One of them is called sho-chiku-bai (松竹梅). When a Japanese person sees the Japanese characters, he/she knows immediately that the pattern is a combination of pine, bamboo and plum. Not everyone abroad knows that, so I believe that additional explanations are relevant.

Another example is, that when we are adding samples to the parcels, international customers who cannot read Japanese would not be able to know the incense name, brand and fragrance just by looking on the package. Because of that we decided to number the samples packages and attach a sample list, which has incense brands, names and fragrances written according to the numbers on the samples we send. Thanks to that our customers can easily find the incense they received as a sample from us.

To sum up, we are adjusting our services to answer our international customers needs and to make Japanese incense more understandable and approachable for them.


What are some of your best selling incenses in Japan? In the US?

In general, the best selling incense series in Japan is Seiun and Mainichi Koh (Everyday Incense) which are available at many department stores or supermarkets. Kohgen is the incense specialist shop where you can find a wide variety of incense and find your personal, favorite one.

The best selling incense series at Kohgen stores in Japan are: Gyokushodo brand Kojurin series, Kunjudo brand Karin series, Baieido brand Kobunboku series, Nippon Kodo Kyara Taikan series.

In the US the most popular series are: Shoyeido Horikawa and Kinkaku series, Kyukyodo Six Kinds of Fragrant Woods (Rokushu Takimono), Nippon Kodo from Mainichi-koh up to Kyara Taikan series. Kneaded incense (nerikoh) from Shoyeido and Kyukyodo are also popular.

Are modern incenses more popular now?

Modern incenses are popular, but traditional fragrances are popular as well. Incense arrived in Japan about 1500 years ago and has been used since, so traditional fragrances are still popular today.

What is the general price range of good-quality (NOT high-quality agarwood) Japanese incense?

The average price of good-quality incense is 5000 JPY (approx. $49.62) for an economic bulk pack (approx. 400 sticks).

Is all nice japanese incense either sandalwood or agarwood, or are there other types of scents that are considered really nice?

Sandalwood and Agarwood are the fundamental incense ingredients, but there are also another raw aromatic materials. They are used to supplement and reinforce the fragrance. Through mixing the ingredients in different proportions many various blends and fragrances can be created. Incense ingredients used 1500 years ago are still used to this day.

There is a very interesting incense called Wakaba (Daihatsu is the maker). This is the incense which is available on Japanese market for a very long time. It was created from Rozan Sandalwood from Mysore and French perfumes to make an impression of Young Leaves – this is how you can translate this incense name. The incense was very popular among previous generation of Japanese people, so it is a very nostalgic fragrance for today’s generation. I think that this nostalgic for Japanese incense may be a very nice discover for people abroad.

What else is out there that is very different from the traditional agarwood and sandalwood based incenses?

There are a lot of fragrances very different from traditional agarwood- and sandalwood-based incense. For example various flowers scents, perfumed scents or even drink fragrances (like coffee, green tea, black tea etc.). New fragrances are moving along with the times and people’s needs.

What are your personal favorite incenses? What would be your favorite incenses if you had unlimited money?

High price does not mean the best incense. Of course, for example the incenses made by Nippon Kodo worth about 2 thousands USD are great without fail, but each maker has its highest quality incense and all of them are wonderful. There are many great ones like Kyara Enju (Seijudo maker), Kyara Kokoh (Baieido maker), En no Sho (Gyokushodo maker).

Whether incense is good or bad depends on the ingredients quality, blending technique, but the most important is ones personal taste. The same way we like some dishes and foods us the same way we like fragrances. We may even come across our favorite incense by complete accident and fell in love with it. Because of that I would like to encourage you to try as many as possible and find your own favorite one.

Can you recommend a few good books on the history of incense in Japan?

In Japanese there are many books, but if you are learning Japanese and looking for something good, then I can recommend the book called 『よく分かるお香とお線香の教科書』(“Easy to understand Japanese Incense Handbook”). It is great for two reasons: one is that it was written by top famous Japanese incense companies and second, it is in a form of dialogue, so it is easy to read and understand.

If you don`t know Japanese, then I would recommend “The Book of Incense” written by Kiyoko Morita with the cooperation of Shoyeido. It is complex, easy to understand and written by Japanese of profound knowledge about Japanese incense and its history.

Both titles include information on the history of incense in Japan.

What five incenses could you recommend to a newcomer?

It is extremely hard to recommend only five as you cannot try many fragrances within this number. Instead of that I would like to introduce you the way to find your favorite fragrance by trying many incense without wasting your money and time:


Try Kohgen Original Trial Kit – it contains 20 different incenses, 2 sticks per each. There are 10 Japanese style and 10 European style fragrances. English explanations are included in the kit, thanks to which you can easily understand the incenses names and brands.

You can find Kohgen Original Trial Kit here:


After you know to some extend which fragrances you like, then try the trial size packages and assortment packages of your favorites brands.


When you know your best choices, then you can use economical bulk packs. If you want you can also change the fragrance and start over.


Can you comment on the future of agarwood content and quality, and how are old companies dealing with formula changes and demands?

Throughout the years people learned more about agarwood. It is possible to cultivate it now to some extent, although it takes time to get a high quality wood. The more time passes the better quality it becomes, that is why it’s very expensive and it needs to be saved. There is still an issue with Kyara, the highest quality agarwood, of which it is not yet known how to cultivate. Incense makers are keeping those precious ingredients stored and use them with a great care and consideration. They are adjusting the ingredients compounding according to current times and customers’ needs by producing new incense or stopping to produce some items.

Are there similar issues with sandalwood or other ingredients?

Sandalwood is crucial for incense making, so it is also secured and used with a great care. There are similar issues with other very rare incense ingredients which cannot be easily obtained.

How is Japan adapting to international laws protecting endangered species and how has that changed the incense market?

International laws prohibit the export of raw Agarwood outside Japan, but incense sticks including Agarwood as an ingredient can be shipped. I think this is the way how Japan has adapted to the international laws and this is the factor which changes the market.

Any last words?

Incense has been used in Japan from long ago, but it is not yet widely spread abroad. Kohgen would like to introduce the goodness of Japanese incense for as many people as possible and also spread the knowledge about them. Our company motto is: “To spread the culture of Japanese incense to all people and to the future.” We would like to put it through and reach as many incense lovers and future fans as possible.

Thank you very much for reading this interview and your interest in Japanese incense! I hope that you had a chance to learn something new. If you are interested and would like to stay updated, feel free to join us on:

・Facebook (Kikuya Seishindo)


・Instagram (kohgen_world)

You can also visit our English site here:

Thank you!


Discussions about retailers

on Olfactory Rescue Service are closed until further notice. Thanks!

A few things…

First of all, thanks to everyone who has posted questions for Anna Pach. I’m going to leave the window open a little longer, but over the next couple of weeks I will be coming up with some of my own and then sending all of them to her. Please check the post downstream a bit if you haven’t had a chance to see it, and I encourage everyone to leave a question.

Second, I need to remind of some guidelines here. I’ve mentioned before that I closed the window on criticisms of Essence of the Ages in a previous thread, so this is a reminder that in particular if you’re a new poster and all you’re here for is to shoot off a complaint and then bolt, I’m not inclined to pass it by our filter. I think by this point there are plenty of back and forths on that particular issue in that thread, enough for people to make up their minds on whether to purchase from this company. The best we can do at this point is to note that we allowed the debate to go on for quite a while and that it is now over. It is not ORS’s job to resolve complaints with a company.

Third, if you are a business and you aren’t seeing your post come through on ORS it’s very likely that you’re not following the rules of etiquette here. If you want visibility for your business, the last thing you should be posting is (for example) how you can’t wait to translate ORS and put our articles on your page or creating a response to a reader’s comment that is entirely based on garnering business from it (PARTICULARLY when it sells products that are protected by CITES). Please consider that the best way to introduce yourselves to me is to use the About page and contact me through the information there, as I’m happy to chat with you and get to know you. In many ways this is a simple gauntlet to run because if you haven’t taken the time to go through our information pages, then you can’t really expect us to take the time to feature you here.  As a service to our readers we are careful who we add to the links and like to get some idea that people are happy with your business first before we can recommend them.

Also, if you’re leaving a comment the site is moderated. So if the same post is posted in different threads multiple times, only one will be passed through.

Thanks for reading!

Incense Corner

Hi, I added a new link to the Blog links on the left, an incense review site called Incense Corner.  The site also has a Facebook group. Both destinations review and discuss a lot of incenses that we haven’t reviewed here, so they can both open a whole new area of incense for people to discover.

I also want to remind everyone to catch the previous post on our upcoming article with Anna Pach at Koh Gen. Please don’t forget to drop in a question or two for her in the comments or directly through me via the About page here. Thanks!

A call for questions!

Hello everyone. One of the reasons I started Olfactory Rescue Service many years ago was that there were very few English language-based information sources on incenses from the East. Initially I began writing about incenses to journal my experiences with them, which I figured would help in some way to describe what was being imported in the USA and as a result have made new friends which has helped to open up various parts of the incense world to the community here. But amazingly enough over the years, I have never been contacted by one Japan-based incense seller or company until last weekend. Anna Pach, who works for Koh Gen/Kikuya Seishindo in Japan, got in touch with me and we had a good chat and I thought maybe this could be an opportunity to find out more about Japan and its many lines of incenses by way of an interview-chat. So while I will have my own questions of course, I thought it might be fun to open up questions to the community here. If there’s anything you want to ask Anna, you can either ask questions in the comments on this page or use the About page on the left to contact me and send questions anonymously. I will send her all of the questions in one e-mail that she will be able to answer at her leisure. I will leave up this request for a couple of weeks (or longer depending upon response) and send a reminder or two as well so that hopefully everyone has a chance. After this I will post the final document to ORS for everyone to read.

A quick note…

Looks like my schedule has freed up from earlier this year. Please contact me via the information on the about page if you are looking for product reviews or any other inquiries. Thanks for your patience.

Out for a bit.

My real job workload has increased exponentially this year to the point where I haven’t been able to attend to any outstanding ORS reviews or even keep on social media, or do anything but recuperate on my down time in the last month. This looks to be true probably through June or July at least. I had meant to share my impressions on Mermade’s Sacred Grove, Pan’s Earth, Deep Earth Kyphi and Earth Angel. All I can say at this point is they are excellent as usual and I recommend grabbing them if they are in stock. Anyway for the time being if you would like me to review something first please check with me first by writing me at the About page. I’m glad to see Ross is around doing some new reviews while I’m gone! All the best to everyone and hope to be back after the insanity eases up.

Yamadamatsu Shu-yu series:

The Yamadamatsu Shu-yu series has been around for some time but has never gotten much attention here. This is more in the realm of a heads up rather then full on review, there are no “lesser lights” in this line up. You might think of this set as a sort of “Laboratory Standard” in stick form as to what good wood based incense is supposed to smell like. To a large degree this smells like incense used to. The scents are the deep agarwood scent of high resin content that one might have found in a Rikkoku set from years ago. Each as a slightly different scent to it that is reminiscent of its name.

I think the current batch is pretty close in scent to the ones I have from five years ago but given that my older sticks were not keep air tight it gets hard to tell. It is, to my knowledge, the only series of its kind (at least on a major commercial level, Kyarazen’s single area sets are also along these lines).

Japanincense/Kohshi sells these at a remarkable price, one, which is pretty much at Japanese retail and  makes these a great deal. The Yamadamatsu line is one of the very few that is sold in this country at these prices and this includes their other incenses as well as their pure wood pieces.

The Kyara sticks tend to go out of stock the fastest which is somewhat humorous to me as the others smell just as wonderful but of course we all get stuck on the Kyara hype.

I highly recommend these, the 15 stick sets in the presentation case are a work of art and very affordable, plus you get the case they come in. -Ross

Kyarazen Enterprises: Holy Lotus and Blue Lotus

I have gotten to sample both of these incenses recently; the Holy Lotus is available now at Kyarazen’s Etsy sit.

The listed ingredients are “Himalayan juniper, Mysore sandalwood, borneol, etc” and I am sure after about 10 sticks of each that there are quite a few other ingredients in both of them They are done in such a way that it becomes very hard to discern any individual notes. On occasion one can say “oh yes Juniper or Sandalwood” but it really seems to depend on the state of ones nose at that moment. Neither of these two are “florals” except in an allegorical sense. These are based on original, very old Chinese formulas when floral additives were not too common. These incenses are part of the Hall of the Peaceful Heart series, made by Dr Li Fupeng of Kyarazen Enterprises.

The Holy Lotus is a bit “sweeter” or rounded, while the Blue Lotus a touch dryer or perhaps astringent (but still very softly so). Both of these would lend themselves very well to meditation, as they are great for concentration and centering.

The scent does tell you that as in everything I have had the chance to use from Kyarazen the materials used are truly remarkable as is the amount of effort that goes into the production. His ingredients remind me a lot of the materials on Mandy Aftels perfume organ. Everything on it is sourced through much effort and sometimes years of tracking down, and then used in such a manner as to present a flawless work of scented art. This seems to be true for both of them.

On another note, if given the chance to get a hold of the Cyro Mysore sticks, don’t think, just go for it. There is nothing better in a Sandalwood, really, they are astounding. When I figure out where I managed to store a video clip of the grinding process I will post it. Don’t know of anyone else willing  to use liquid nitrogen in order to not loose any of the sandalwood oils! -Ross

Found the clip….don’t try this at home!!!

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