I almost missed this, Nippon Kodo’s limited edition of three new, super premium kyara incenses, finally something in the same league (at least pricewise) as the Baieido and Shoyeido lines. Probably won’t get a chance to try them given the expense, but I hope they stick around at least for a little while. Previously, Kyara Taikan was the top incense line in the NK retail catalog, and it’s a very nice stick, but not really in the same ballpark as Shoyeido and Baieido.
August 2007 – Top 10
- Shoyeido / Premium / Misho – I’m shifting my top 10 around a little this month as I think it might get a bit boring to do an “all time” list when my incense habits change more than my music ones. Misho was my favorite incense since the last update (I’ve bumped Sho-Kaku – and others – from the list as I didn’t burn any recently). While burning this it’s hard to imagine that there are five other premium incenses in the line that are more expensive and high quality, as this is every bit an incredible and formidable aloeswood blend, extremely heavy on the wood. In fact there’s not a stick in this line that doesn’t grow on you over time. It could be the green color to the stick, but that’s the color I associate with this scent, simply one of the most panoramic and intuition-heavy incenses I’ve ever encountered. The more I burn this one, the more I jones for it, I was actually kind of psyched that my 35 stick pack was actually 36. Don’t want to spend 100s of dollars for incense? Try this for an example of what the premium can do. And I have to mention, the picture of the box on the link doesn’t do it justice, the silk almost glows with presence and with the Shun-Yo box it’s the first place my eye drifts to in my incense stock.
- Baieido / Kai Un Koh (bottom of page) – If Misho was my best loved incense of the month, Kai Un Koh was the most burned, made in part partially by its affordability. In fact I can think of few incenses at this price this good. Baieido’s blends are just so woodsy and regal with a concentration on a somewhat bitter or tangy aloeswood that’s like a key to my lock. It’s the first bundle of 50 sticks that made me think about getting another one only a month or two later. It’s literally hard not to burn at least one stick a day. Both this and the Misho I tend to think of like some beautiful antique wood with finish, something you could lose yourself in.
- Dhoop Factory/Medicine Buddha (second to last on page) – My favorites from this line change daily, in fact there’s only one in the line I really don’t like, Lhasa, and I swear it’s probably because of asafoetida content (if you don’t know what this is, go to your local health food store, to the fresh herbs department and take a whiff. You’ll never forget it). The rest are heavenly and so fresh and herbal. I’ve mentioned their Agar 31 blend before, the Medicine Buddha is a stronger and more intense version of that, with a very tangy aloeswood and herb blend. I’m finding many of these blends are perfect to leave going as I drift off to sleep. To date, I’ve never tried a Tibetan/Nepalese stick that was even in the same league, despite continuing to look. Sauna, Alpine, Ganden and Lawudo could all be in this spot given the day.
- Shoyeido / Horin / Ten-Pyo – This was probably my biggest splurge item of all time, the Horin line’s top incense, made possibly by a healthy share of kyara. While I really doubt that this incense or any of the other Horins are quite as complex and impressive as the premium line, it is the most intricate of all the Horins with occasional anise and mint wafts, but mostly it’s like all high line aloeswood incenses, with the wood in front and everything else accentuating it. One day I hope to get this in coils as I can only imagine what a room might smell like after an hour of Ten-Pyo burning. And at least I feel I have a decent kyara stock now.
- Nippon Kodo/Yume-No Yume/Bamboo Leaf – This could be one of the most synthetic lines (given the strength of scent) I’ve talked about in my blog, but it’s one I’ve really warmed to. Probably as much a perfume as an incense in terms of its intensity, the blend of scents are pretty fabulous in the whole line, but this sweet patchouli-like green tea incense is my favorite. It has that tinge of the exotic and is a perfect stick to play off some of the other styles.
- Shoyeido / Premium / Shun-Yo – I started my journey into Shoyeido incenses with the Premium Sampler. I’ll say right off, that one stick of each of these isn’t really enough to truly appreciate the genius involved in the creation. Shun-Yo, like all of the others, just gets better with every stick. It presents a more masala-like blend, which means it has a hint of curry, and unlike Misho’s green tint, the yellowish color brings out a totally different, spicier vibe. It’s not as elegant as Misho, but almost as enjoyable, like most of the premiums, the aloeswood content is up front and extremly complex.
- Ramakrishnanda / Narasingha Dev – I’m not sure why I picked this one for this list, as it might not be my first or second favorite in the list, but in some ways it’s the most original. For one thing, it’s a Frankincense Champa, but not one of the citrusy/peppery ones found in other lines. Instead it’s more of a champa with the Frankincense becoming a note rather than the lead. There’s something sweet and gummy about the masala blend here and I find it quite sublime, enough to be reaching for it fairly often. Also, that it charts in a list of mostly Japanese sticks may or may not say something for it.
- Shoyeido / Horin / Hori-kawa – Turning out to be one of my favorite incenses, certainly a top five for the sandalwood based. The second in the five incense line is incredible in its own right, a spicy floral blend that has the perfect balance of cinnamon in it. Absolutely gorgeous stuff, amazingly a stand out in a stand out line.
- Baieido / Kokonoe (third item down) – These last two are my most recent purchases, both I’ve spend a lot of time in the last few days with. Kokonoe was purchased after sampling it in Baieido’s Aloeswood Sampler, a collection of five incenses that would stand with any others. Kokonoe is the least expensive in the line, created with Indonesian incense, but as formidable and complex as anything I’ve mentioned in this list. It’s a bit dry and tangy but full of depth with one of the best after scents of any incense. True, the other four in the line probably beat it, but to say so is to deflect deserved attention away from a great incense.
- Jinko Yomei (third item down) – One of the most premium incenses not linked to a company like Shoyeido, Baieido, Nippon Kodo or Kyukyodo, this is actually one of the few sticks that smells a little better fresh than it does when burning. I kept returning to the box for the combo of floral and woods, a scent that kept bringing back deja vu for me. I kind of doubt this incense will make it onto a list like this again, but I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over the depth and it could be something I really grow with over time.
I don’t think I can recommend Baieido Kai un Koh (bottom) more, I think it’s going to become a favorite. It’s got that sour or tangy aloeswood scent with a healthy spice content and I’m not sure there’s any combo I like better. I got another sample of Baieido’s Kaden Kobunboku (about half way down) and was a lot more impressed this time around. That’s the best thing I can say about Baieido’s incense, it just gets better with experience.
But onto a few others. Got a box of Keiunko. A rather huge roll of a very green-ish sort of aloeswood blend, a nice combo of the wood, the floral and an almost sweet patchouli-like vibe. It’s a really great incense, one I’m enjoying more as I get to know it. Apparently there are quite a few incenses by smaller companies well worth checking out.
One rather small Japanese company, at least in that they only have 9 or 10 different incenses is Kyukyodo. I’ve only tried their (rather fantastic) Shiun blend, but I picked up what I believe are the two cheapest sandalwood incenses in the line, Ikaruga and Shirohato. Both are very close with the latter, supposedly, a more refined version of the former. It was, a little, but I generally though both were very close. For about $5 a roll, the Ikaruga is a very nice and affordable sandalwood blend, certainly comparable or better with other “every day” green-colored sandalwoods.
I also grabbed a few other rolls in this vein, very affordable sandalwood blends. My favorite was probably the Kokando Rangetsu which I thought was a bit better than most incenses in that range, a very alluring and subtle sandalwood. Kunmeido Byakudankoh (both are last on page) is a red, rather than green stick and seems rather highly floral for an every day sandalwood. At times I thought it was maybe a bit too sweet, and others I thought it was quite nice. The Eisenko (second on page), in comparison, one of the cheapest sandalwoods on the market, didn’t strike me as being much better than, say, Nippon Kodo’s Mainichi-Koh, in fact it didn’t even have that sort of impact.
I picked up a couple of Shoyeido items, the first a box of the second in their premium line, the Ohjya-Koh or King’s Aroma (second down). I didn’t expect this to be terribly impressive, I liked the stick in the sampler package, but found it, like the entire line, to be a lot more revealing with a longer burn. It doesn’t have the intense aloeswood depth of the rest of the line but is pretty complex in its own right and is certainly a (relatively) affordable way to check out a premium incense. I also ordered some sticks of the Horin/Nijo line, which I already have in coils and love, but my recent attention to woodsier Baieido blends is making some of these seem a bit more perfumy than usual. There’s a really nice vanilla/damp scent in Nijo that makes it quite impressive for being the most affordable in that line.
The last item, not Japanese but Tibetan, was a close-out price of five Sonam rolls (5 colors almost half way down on left). Priced too cheap to really have anything to complain about, I can see why they were, as this was five sticks without any sort of presence at all, making me wonder if they’re just too old to have retained a lot of the oil and spice. Compared to the Dhoop Factory blends, there was just no contest. Kind of a yawn.
Been mulling over the latest note from Ecclecstacy, a company that continues to baffle me. I posted about my experiences several weeks ago, particularly in regard to a mystery incense stick. After about two months of back and forth on this issue, culminating in my asking the company if I could send a sample back and where to. I was told I could send a sample but got no address. Asked again and nothing. Then finally, two and a half weeks after I sent that last note, I get a response from the company, asking why I haven’t sent anything yet, with the address embedded in a previous note as if it was there all along. Which, of course, it wasn’t. I’ve basically chosen just to let the matter drop, as the stick is definitely not Baieido, Shoyeido or Nippon Kodo, might be the Sho Ranko line from Kyukyodo and if it’s not, it’s probably some exclusive or rare item which would necessitate doing business again. Not going to happen no matter how great the incense is. I suppose I’ll trade the experience of that incense for the frustration and call it even.
Which at least in my part was discovering Essence of the Ages, who are absolutely fantastic to me. And with a new batch of goodies, I now can prattle on….
Baieido, Baieido, Baieido. I think for the incense connoissuer, this company could be the #1. Even down to their most inexpensive lines, there’s a complexity and depth to their scents that necessitate sampling far more than one stick. For example, the Tokusen Kobunboko line impresses me with its depth more every new stick and my rating of it goes up all the time. Its combination of sandalwood, aloeswood and various spices all mean that the blend reveals more of itself as you “listen” to it.
The company’s fine aloeswood line is almost on an entirely different level, and I’m not talking about their three “wood primary” sticks (Kyara Kokoh, Jinko Kokoh and Byukaden Kokoh) which are in their own price range, but the five sticks that make up their Aloeswood Sampler. My comments will be rough as I’ve only checked out a centimeter or two of each stick. The Kokonoe (Indonesian Aloeswood), the series most inexpensive incense, is dry and elegant, very woodsy and serene. Ho Ryu (Thai Aloeswood) is a bit spicier while just as elegant and the Kun Sho (Cambodian) was something of a new experience in terms of the style. All are amazingly deep, certainly more so than an inch might reveal.
The top two lines are utterly incredible and their price, compared to Shoyeido’s, is much better for a comparable product. The Koh En (Vietnamese Aloeswood) is the best non-kyara containing aloeswood incense I’ve ever experienced. I’ve raved on quite a bit about the Grade 1 of Scented Mountain’s cultivated aloeswood (also Vietnamese) and mention it due to the similarities in wood, but we’re talking the difference between a fine, aged red wine and maybe some $10 bottle from Trader Joes. While both have that almost cinnamon/clove like spice natural to the resin, the Koh En version is so much more refined and balanced, which, of course, may not be a fair comparison given that Koh En probably has some spices, but I’d bet money that we’re talking a much higher grade of aloeswood here. I only hope it won’t spoil the Scented Mountain blends for me!
And then, of course, Baieido’s Koh Shi Boku, the top of the line and one of two Baieido sticks with kyara. I’ve read discussions elsewhere on the differences between kyara “types” and while I’m hardly any expert, Baieido apparently only use the top grade green kyara and I noticed a slightly difference between the (green) kyara in this stick and the (black) kyara usually used in Shoyeido blends. There’s something about this stuff that just leaves me speechless and experiencing kyara with a much woodier background is quite different than the more spicy scent of Shoyeido’s top premium blends. While being substantially cheaper. I can only imagine how amazing the Kyara Kokoh must be as this is truly extraordinary. So from top to bottom, this line is highly recommended.
Another incense that might almost fit with the aloeswood lines, is Baiedo’s Kunsho Koh, which is the top of their Jinkoya Sakubei line. This is another stick that really doesn’t bowl you over at first, but continues to impress more and more with every stick. It’s quite dry in its own way with most of the depth almost fleeting on the smoke. While it doesn’t come very often in samplers (at least naturally, check your carrier for details), I have to admit being quite happy with having a large stock of something this fine quality, it makes me feel a little more free about burming them. And that’s really my favorite part of the whole Baieido experience, I feel like I grow with the scent and that the mystery isn’t over after a few wafts.
Finally, I also managed to grab a roll of Kai Un Koh, which is unusual for Baieido in that they are square rather than rounded sticks. I get the impression this style allows more smoke to be released, which is a fine thing given that this was a really incredible, rich, woodsy and aromatic blend, almost devilishly complex in its scent combo. In Gnosis terms I’d call this an instant 12, and given the stick’s affordability, this is what I call a very good deal. I only wish Baieido had more to check out, but (and I think I consider this fortunate) they’ve never moved into the modern/perfumed/stylistic blends that Nippon Kodo dominate and Shoyeido have also entered. Of course none of those could possibly compare to the above.
Anyway, that’s about enough for now, I’ll tackle some of the other scents later…
I’m still mighty pleased with Essence of the Ages. You really can’t do much better in terms of ordering incense on line and it seems to get even better the more you order – I was treated incredibly on my last order, which I’m waiting to show up this week. But I won’t say how, it’s half the fun – the first mail order company that made me feel my business was appreciated on a personal level. Thanks!
Time to talk Shoyeido again. While I suspect in the long run, it might be Baieido who turns out to be my favorite Japanese incense manufacturer, due to what seems to be an almost ineffable complexity even down to their affordable lines (the Tokusen Kobunboko continues to impress), Shoyeido is the place I’m more familiar with and certainly their Premium and Horin lines are about as fine as it gets.
There’s something elegant about their higher line aloeswood incenses, something I find difficult to put in words. It’s almost as if each of them has its own characteristics of uniqueness. While none of these are pure woods, some of them give off that vibe as if the incense was manufactured around the central “cause” of the aloeswood, hints and spices only used to bring that part of it out.
The top Horin line, Ten-Pyo is an excellent example of this. There seem to have been some changes in exporting laws that have caused Shoyeido to remove some of the ingredients from their boxes (although not always from the incenses themselves). Previously Ten-Pyo was described as containing kyara, although from reading around, the issue of what is kyara and what is not is more complicated than I had previously thought (different companies = different standards). What Ten-Pyo does have is that quality of aloeswood that resembles their higher lines, black kyara rather than green kyara maybe, but it’s delightful, regal and reminds me of looking at very fine antique furniture in that the piece itself takes on its own characteristics through aging. Ten-Pyo’s kyara-ish wood vibe doesn’t seem particularly complex but it’s a quality of agar relatively rare in my incense stash and just listening to it is a joy. I suspect most of the Horin lines are somewhat more enjoyable in the longer coil form than the 3″ (or less) sticks, the sticks themselves seem to be finished just before the right amount. While overall, I still think the spicy Hori-kawa is the favorite in the line (especially when price is considered), the kyara vibe and black stick (one site out there has a Saturn association to Ten-Pyo rather than the Akasha I’d have given it) give it a rather mysterious and esoteric vibe and it’s always highly enjoyable.
It’s not a bad comparison in some ways to the Premium Line’s Misho blend, except that the Premium Line always strikes me as more complex and rich than the Horins and Misho is no exception. Misho still has that feel of looking at some antique wood except that the complexity and bouquet are much more satisfying, even without any substantial kyara note. Misho is obviously brimming over with fine aloeswood, in fact it’s the first in the Premium line that strikes me more as a pure wood than a blend like the Shun-Yo. I think in a line like the Premium where eyes drift to the highest in the line, Sho-kaku, it’s easy to forget how excellent some of the other blends are. Misho is truly extraordinary, an aloeswood with a green-ish characteristic, like a more deluxe version of the Kyo-jiman line.
In fact, it’s the Kyo-jiman line that is a personal favorite in my book, although I suspect it will continue to be supplanted by the more deluxe scents. If Misho expands the Kyo-jiman palate, it might be said Kyo-jiman does the same for one or two of the daily lines, Kyo-nishiki and Kyo-zakura. It has a hint of the sweet, in a green sort of way with a perfect and alluring spice note. The aloeswood is light and adds a bit of depth. Anyway it’s one I keep a permanent stock on now, maybe as good a non-aloeswood dominated incense as is there is on the market.
I’m not quite sure how Shoyeido classify their Shino-Nome and Miyako-Gusa incenses, both seem to be called Traditional on the boxes, which seem to be part of their Aesthetics line, although unlike the main three incenses in that line, neither of these are smokeless. In fact Shino-Nome looks fairly close to being deleted, the Shoyeido site states “limited quantities” and a few of the sticks in my box had a bit of impurity on them. Which is too bad as it’s quite nice for an inexpensive blend with a notable cinnamon content, like a traditional Mainichi-Koh (every day incense) with a fine spice content. Miyako-Gusa is similar but not quite as spicy, in fact it didn’t quite strike me as being unique this time around.
And further cheers to the Dhooop Factory Tibetan line, this incense is getting under my skin in a big way. The above-mentioned Essence of the Ages has a neat gift set of the whole line that is highly recommended. Despite the complexity and woodiness of the Japanese incenses and the oil and masala power of the Indian incenses, nothing brings the fresh herbal thing home like Alpine, Ganden or Medicine Buddha. Not only are they perfect in the morning, but right before bed too.