Kyukyodo / Ikaruga and Shirohato

Kyukyodo is really one of the premier Japanese companies in existence, their profile seemingly overshadowed by Nippon Kodo and Shoyeido. In hoping to try more of their lines in the future, I can say, for the most part, that just about every incense I’ve tried I’d call a great success. In fact I’ve covered several of their incenses in previous entries, which you can access by the Incense Reviews index page above. At the very least I’d say Sho-Ran-Ko, Azusa and Shiun are all musts for the incense appreciator.

I’ve had far more difficulty with the two incenses in question (third and sixth item on page), not because they aren’t good, but because, to my nose these are two green sandalwood incenses that are so close in scent they’re nearly identical. The style is very common among Japanese incense, from the best selling Nippon Kodo Mainichi-Koh to Eisenko, Kinjo Ko and others; however, I’d say these are among the best this inexpensive type of incense has to offer.

First, it’s probably a good idea to delinate the differences, as they’re even more slight than they appear. Ikaruga rolls are approximately 55 6 1/2 inch sticks for about $5. Shirohato rolls are approximately 80 7 inch sticks for about $10. The math brings Ikaruga to about $0.o139 an inch and Shirohato to $0.017 an inch, so even if you’re paying double the Ikaruga roll for Shirohato, the quality level is quite a bit closer.

The base on both of these incenses is sandalwood, but this note is almost completely subsumed on both lines by the top oil note. The effect on Ikaruga is a very sweet and even slightly fruity/floral oil note with some frankincense for depth. It may be the least woody incense of the type and actually seems to be slightly richer than the Shirohato. I think when Shirohato is being referred to as more refined, it’s a bit of a smoother scent, not quite as rich but definitely cleaner and I don’t detect the fruitier note. I’d probably identify one over the other by the strength of the Ikaruga aroma over Shirohato, but it would a tough call. For a first purchase I’d recommend starting with Ikaruga as the differences would probably be more noticeable than they would be reversed.

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9 Comments

  1. September 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

    […] Ikaruga, from Kyukyodo, is a sharp and sweet blend of sandalwood, frankincense and oils.  The frank […]

  2. August 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

    […] As this review will imply, Kyukyodo are perhaps the most underrepresented Japanese incense company in the US market, with a contract that has tied up a number of incenses and prevented them from being sold here, at least to date. It’s particularly a shame, given the numerous, high quality incenses available in Japan and even Europe, that for the time being this will be my last review of Kyukyodo incenses. The previous reviews can be found here and here. […]

  3. Mike said,

    December 17, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Hi Bernd, Thanks for the further information on Kyukyodo incenses. Although you may feel you don’t describe them well enough, you certain describe them well enough for me to get excited about trying them. 🙂 All of them sound very interesting and that’s the one thing about Kyukyodo that fascinates me, the way they create the floral oils that tend to sit on top of many of their incenses, they’re so hard to place and quite magical.

    Right now, I’m very excited about Tennendo incense, they have such an amazingly deep catalog and hopefully I’ll have a write up ready early in the new year. All four of their “roll” aloeswoods – Kuukai, Tensai, Shorin and Renzan – are excellent and very different. Kuukai is the deepest and most complex, featuring an aloeswood similar to Baieido’s hakusui. Tensai is very woody and smooth, with an intense and complex aromatic contour – possibly my favorite of the group. Shorin’s green, dry and woody and Renzan is sweet, thick and cherry-hinted like Kyukyodo’s Shuin. All are intensely aromatic, even on the fresh stick and makes me look forward to the rest of their Karafune Kahin lines.

  4. Bernd Sandner said,

    December 17, 2007 at 2:39 am

    Dear Mike

    Hope You are well!
    Just today I got three more incenses from Kyukyodo. They aggravate my idea of Kyukyodo being my favourite company. Unfortunately I am not able to describe them in a way you could do.
    Also I have burned them only today, and, as you know, it takes some time to know about the secrets of a good incense.
    All three incenses are sandalwood based and in the category of very high quality daily incense, or even above that.
    The first one is called MATSUKAZE. It comes in a green paper roll, a little thicker than Shirohato, and also with more sticks than this one. The translation of the name is „wind of pine“. Smelling the unburned sticks, they remind me of both, Shirohato and Ikaruga. Burning, they reveal the pine, but quite discret and with a slight sweetness.
    BYAKUGOUKO NAMISEI is a coil of green colour. This one, with the first smell, reminded me slightly of the Daitenko, I mentioned to you before. But the feeling of burned wood is very much in the background, and only appears sometimes. It has got a dryness and earthlike feeling, that my mind associates with japanese zen temples (although I have never visited one). I love it.
    The last one is called MIYAGINO. It is a long, green stick. Maybe no more a daily incense. A mixture of dryness and slight floral sweetness, too hard to describe for me. Very refined. I loved it from the beginning.
    I hope Beth Jones will make her plan true, and get more of the Kyukyodo line.
    So you can try these wonderful scents. Maybe I am exaggerating, but at least for me they are wonderful.
    Greetings from grey Berlin! Bernd

  5. Mike said,

    December 4, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Bernd, I thought the description fascinating actually, because such a combination implies a deep and complex incense. I’m also a musician (there’s an Outer Music link on the right that leads to my music writing/projects and such) so I think I understand you and your music teacher’s metaphors (quite Zen!) and totally agree that Ryuhinko and Sho-Ran-Ko are changing from moment to moment, in fact Sho-Ran-Ko is an amazing incense the way it differs slightly from burn to burn. But that’s what makes Kyukyodo incense so great, so organic.

  6. Beth Johns said,

    December 3, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Hello Bernd! I’m SO glad you’re enjoying your incenses.

    Thank you for your recommendations on the Kyukyodo incenses. I have been working for some time to import their entire line so your insights are very valuable! As the incenses of theirs that I do carry are exceptional, I am purchasing the rest of their line, or at least what I can get of it, on good faith that they might ALL be so good. Your comments let me know I have certainly made the right decision. Now I am more determined than ever to obtain their line! 🙂

    Blessings,

    Beth
    Essence of the Ages

  7. Bernd Sandner said,

    December 3, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    You know Mike,
    for me it is difficult to describe scents. That’s why I used the expression “mixture between Ryuhinko and Sho-Ran-Ko”. I just refer to something we both know. But Ryuhinko as well as Sho-Ran-Ko keep changing from moment to moment. On the other hand there is also something typical about them, that allowes us to identify it and call it by it’s name.
    (You know, I am a musician, and one of my teachers often said: The human mind likes tones, because they give the ilusion of permanence. The permanent thing is the frequency. But in reality the tone keeps changing all the time and consists of many particles. The so called overtones.)
    The name we can only give, because we have had the experience before and have the memory of that. Even in the Sho-Ran-Ko sometimes there is a moment of Ryuhinko. Maybe it is not Ryuhinko, but just some ingredient of Ryuhinko, I don’t know. It just remindes me of it. It maybe it’s dryness. Can you detect this in the Sho-Ran-ko also? It will be there only some short moments.
    I hope I am not writing complete nonsense. If so, please forgive me!
    So the same for my nameless incense. It contains a hint of Ryuhinko, but stronger and more often then in the Sho-Ran-Ko. On the other hand, the Sho-Ran-Ko-typical scent there is less strong, and fading out from time to time. So although we may have same components, it is something new and different.
    There is only one thing, to be shure of: These incense makers are real artists!
    Some interesting point: As soon as a name or an ingredient keeps comming to my mind, I am not with the smell anymore, I am just turning words. As my teacher said: As soon as you know something about the musik, you are not in it anymore.
    So maybe, when one day you will get this incense, you might say:” why did he call this a mixture of Ryuhinko and Sho-Ran-Ko? It is something totally different.”
    Bernd

  8. Mike said,

    December 3, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Bernd,

    Thanks so much for describing some of the other Kyukyodo sticks and I’ve had no problem reading and understanding your comments. I’ve been informed that we’ll be seeing some other of their incenses imported into the US in the not too distant future, so I’ll definitely be using your comments as a guide. I’d have to agree that Kyukyodo is my favorite incense company, although I’m fond, for different reasons, of Shoyeido, Baieido and Shunkodo as well, but Kyukyodo’s incenses strike me as very distinctive and unlike any other scent.

    I definitely agree that Ikaruga and Shirohato get better the more you burn them. Right now I’m hooked on the Ryuhinko, which is something I’ll write about when I get my head around it, it’s very unusual and different, kind of dry with a light hint of sweetness. I look forward to checking out the one you said was a mix of this and Sho-Ran-Ko, because you’re right, it is hard to imagine. Thanks again for your comments!

    Mike

  9. Bernd Sandner said,

    December 3, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Dear Mike,
    thanks again for your helpful and insightful words on incense!
    Ikaruga and Shirohato are my favorite daily incense. The more I burn them, the more I like them. I have many in stock. It seems in the US you will not get all of the Kyukyodo incenses. ( Somehow I chose this to be my favorite company. Which does not mean, I forget about the great incenses of other companies )
    There is another floral sandalwood incense from Kyukyodo called Hatsuhana, which is worth a try. It has got the same base note as Ikaruga and Shirohato, but more floral refinement. I would call it the next step.
    Another sandalwoodbased incense is Daitenko. It is very thick and about two feet long. Probably a temple incense. It smells like there is wood and herbs burning nearby. In the beginning it seemed strange to me. I thought, I could just burn wood and have the same effect. But this is not true. After some time it is enchanting. I love it very much.
    If you want to try an extraordinary sandalwood incense, it is Gyokuranko. Almost pure sandalwood with a hint of herbs.
    A wonderful aloeswood incense is Kinbato. This one is leading to to Sho Ran Ko. Exeptional quality.
    I have got another aloeswood incense , that unfortunately I do not know it’s name. There is only the original caligraphy on a nice paper box, like that of Riuhinko. It was given to me from a relative with good friends in Japan. It is a wonderful mixture beween Ryuhinko and Sho Ran Ko. This may be hard to imagine, but when you smell it, you will know it is possible.
    Another floral incense is Hikary. Jasminlike, but the floral perfume is, for me, too much in front. It is in the category of daily incenses, but I burn it quite rarely. It is the same phenomenon with lilies at night. The perfume is wonderful, but too strong.
    With Azusa it is different. They are strong, but overwhelming. I love this incense.
    There are many more incenses from Kyukyodo, which I do not know. But my studies will go on.
    Like your’s! Thanks again and best wishes from Berlin! Bernd

    P.S. I hope, my english is understandable


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