[NOTE 2/2/10: These reviews reflect only the long box versions of the Daily incenses. Please note comments below as short rolls are different if slightly similar aromas]
I have this old memory that many years ago I sampled a few of Shoyeido’s Daily incenses, years before I had any strong interest in Japanese incense. While it could be said in the US market that Shoyeido’s Angelic and Jewel series might have a higher profile, the Daily series seems to be the company’s standard line of traditional incenses.
If you add the Premium and Premium Daily Series to the subject at hand, you can see a general arc starting with the high line Premium Sho-kaku and getting more and more inexpensive all the way down to what at first seems like the line’s most inexpensive blend, Daigen-koh. For the most part the whole Daily line includes 35 sticks in a standard package, but Daigen Koh stops at 30 making it per stick the second least expensive incense in the line.
Daigen-koh/Great Origin is basically a standard rosewood incense, a slightly floral sandalwood incense that doesn’t strike me as having much of its own character. This could just be because I’ve never gravitated much to rosewood incenses, but also because in comparison to other Shoyeido incenses this has very little complexity and depth. But given the way Shoyeido potray these series as arcing from the inexpensive to the deluxe, it’s easy to understand why they put it first rather than second.
Hoyei-Koh/Eternal Treasure is also sandalwood dominant. One thing that becomes quickly apparently about the Daily line is how difficult it can be to put the listed ingredients in context with what you’re expecting. With clove and cinnamon involved you’d expect a very spicy sandalwood blend, but with Hoyei-Koh I get more of a slight citrus hint, making the spice back this quality up rather than dominating it. And like Daigen-Koh, this is a very subtle and quiet scent, one that doesn’t really stand out among others.
Nokiba/Moss Garden is a bit spicier and at times reminds me of some of the spicy Indian sandalwoods. It’s the first in the line that doesn’t have me straining to detect a scent, or perhaps it’s some sort of distinctive quality that may be lacking. While it can be difficult lining up the ingredients listed with what you’re experiencing, you really can detect the hints of patchouli and benzoin in the mix, although the benzoin seems to mix with the sandalwood at the base, while the patchouli comes more out in the spice or oil. Strangely enough, Nokiba starts at $3.50 making it more expensive than the next scent in the line.
Kyo-Nishiki/Kyoto Autumn Leaves is the first incense in the Daily series that really raises the game and is a rather unique incense in that it’s very difficult to detect specific ingredients. I do often wonder whether the hint of the fragrance defines the name or if the name just brings out an impression of the incense, as Kyo-Nishiki definitely strikes me as having a very autumnal quality. It also has cinnamon at base, which makes me think that this is what keeps the price lower than Nokiba. Shoyeido claim this as one of their best sellers, and it’s easy to see why as it’s the first incense in this line that has true distinction, I can’t think of another scent by any company that reminds me of this one.
As if the’re just adding a new ingredient to each line, Kin-kaku/Golden Pavilion takes the sandalwood, benzoin, patchouli and cinnamon base of the previous line and adds clove. To my nose, Kin-Kaku is the first incense in the Daily line that is truly impressive. Certain Shoyeido incenses really impress me with what I’d call the oil fragrance, the part of the scent above the wood base (for example, Ai-Shin really excels on this part of the stick) and Kin-kaku is definitely one of them, an elegant blend of various spices and woods with a distinctive top fragrance that is a tad sweet and very “bright” for lack of a better word. It’s not a bad place to start in this series.
Kyo-zakura/Kyoto Cherry Blossom is a particularly interesting incense in that it resembles, if not imitates much more expensive cherry-scented aloeswood incenses such as Kyukyodo’s Shiun or Nippon Kodo’s Zuiun, but with a sandalwood base. This is a very nice and inexpensive stick even at a dollar more expensive (or more) than previous Daily incenses, it’s clean, dry and sweet with a sandalwood base and plenty of cherry fragrance in the oil topnote. The sandalwood base gives it a more immediate feel, if lacking the depth any incense with good aloeswood will have. It may be the most user-friendly incense in the Daily series.
The last two incenses in the Daily series come with corresponding hikes in the price of a 35 stick box. Go-zan/Five Hills is a very spicy sandalwood with a strong spice hint, the clove and patchouli a bit more dominant than in previous Daily incenses. Unfortunately Go-zan doesn’t strike me as being particularly distinctive, it’s taken me probably a dozen sticks or more just to be able to describe it. It’s definitely a bit richer and denser than, say, the Hoyei-Koh, but like most of the line, it lacks a bit of depth.
The crown jewel of the Daily series is Haku-un/White Cloud, which is twice as expensive as most of the others. It should be noted that a few years ago, Shoyeido changed their ingredients list on many incenses, probably due to changes in CITES aloeswood regulations, the result of which is that some of the incenses with lower quality aloeswood lost that from the ingredients list. Haku-Un is one of those incenses, perhaps the only one in this line where you can detect a possible hint of aloeswood. Haku-un has musky and woody qualities and amazing depth for its price. Years ago I had a woodchip blend by a different company called Buddhist Temple Blend that is almost identical in scent to the Haku-un and had the same ingredients, a strong Benzoin base (which always gives me the impression of something aged), sandalwood, clove and Borneo camphor. Overall Haku-un is a fantastic blend and one of the best incenses per price you’re likely to get from Shoyeido.
While the Daily series certainly doesn’t compare in quality to finer lines even in Shoyeido’s catalog, they do provide a few rather excellent incenses for the price and importantly give one a few affordable options for frequent use. If you’re new to the line, I’d probably give Kin-kaku or Kyo-zakura a try first before moving up the line or if you want to examine the whole lot, Shoyeido provides samplers. Or you could do what I did and grab the whole lot at a slight discount (at the bottom of the page) here.