Weekend incense thoughts (2)

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.

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