Shoyeido Horin Series

Of all the various Japanese lines and incenses available in the United States, one of the most exciting and interesting is Shoyeido’s five-incense line Horin. Initially created as a series of coils, each of which is named after a certain age/era in Japanese history, the Horin line soon expanded to (short) sticks, available in 20 and 80 stick packages.

There are some interesting descriptions of Horin incense, including these, which match the five sticks up with esoteric elemental concepts. But suffice it to say, all five incenses are triumphs of a melding between traditional and modern incenses, and the two sandalwood and three aloeswood based incenses are all superb, fascinating blends. And like many of Shoyeido’s lines, it is ordered from the relatively inexpensive to the pricy.

The first incense, Nijo (Avenue of the Villa), is blue, watery and described as “reminiscent of a fresh afternoon rain.” This is a heavily scented sandalwood incense with a wood/floral sort of blend that does very much smell like flowers after the rain washes away a lot of off scents. Nijo is the only Horin incense that can be purchased under $10 (via the 20 stick box) and while it’s rather expensive for a sandalwood incense, it’s of a high enough quality to warrant the price. I remember being initially very surprised how good it is.

Hori-kawa (River Path) is the line’s finest sandalwood incense and it may be one of the best (if most expensive) sandalwood-based blends you can buy. Corresponding with the fire element, Hori-Kawa is quite spicy with hints of cinnamon; my two-year old nephew upon smelling this said “toast!” For a spicy blend, this incense has a very earthy balance and is extraordinarily rich and complex, a triumph of the art of incense. In coils this fragrances a room impressively and overall there’s a bit of sweetness, like the whole line, that gives it an almost confectionary-like aroma. In fact of all the incenses discussed on mikesprattle, this is often the most well received by friends.

Gen-roku (Returning Spirit) appears to be missing an elemental correspondance on the above linked page and perhaps demonstrates that the five aromas don’t mesh quite as well with those concepts as you’d hope (none of the five strike me as being particularly airy). Gen-roku may be the Horin equivalent of the premium Misho stick, it’s a very green and woody aloeswood incense with a very penetrating scent. When I first started to sample this incense, it struck me as being somewhat insular in its quality, a bit mysterious, but in restrospect I think that’s more indicative of how the scent can change given the room and other conditions. Overall I’d easily recommend this as a somewhat affordable, while still excellent aloeswood in that it portrays the aromatic wood qualities clearly despite the green, herbaceous overtones.

Muro-machi (City of Culture) was the Horin aroma I initially had the most trouble with, which didn’t initially concern me given the corresponding price hike. Where most of the line seems to be fairly complex blends, Muro-machi works almost like a two-note incense. You get the excellent quality of wood in the background, and a very intense, very caramel-like note that interacts with it. While I’ve grown to the blend over time, at first I found the incense to lack distinction, then later found it to be a bit too intense, so it may not be the one to start with at first. But the quality of the wood in the stick is undeniable.

Ten-Pyo (Peaceful Sky) is Horin’s kyara stick, basically, although that observation is being left off Shoyeido ingredient lists today, despite its obvious presence in the stick. Kyara incense is generally very expensive, but given the aroma here, this is probably one of the more affordable blends with that ingredient. Obviously this is a fantastic stick, with the wood presence sweetened up with a number of spices that remind me of cotton candy and other less identifiable perfumes. Every one of these sticks is an indulgent and incredible and experience, it’s no wonder it crowns such a fine line.

With Horin incenses, you’re going to probably want to start with a sampler (Shoyeido have one stick and (limited edition) four stick versions), but once you get an idea of what you like, go for the 80 stick boxes over the 20 stick as you generally only pay a little over twice the amount of a 20 box stick for four times the incense. That is, of course, if you don’t go for the coils (10 coils price the same as 80 sticks) which are probably the best format for these aromas (I’ve not tried coils for Muro-machi and Ten-pyo, but I can imagine stocking these eventually). But the warning here for samplers is once you try a stick, you’ll likely want more as soon as possible. This could be one of the best lines available in incense, and one of the few that combine traditional and modern styles in perfect balance.

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8 Comments

  1. September 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

    […] ♦ Muro-machi (aka City of Culture) is another offering from Shoyeido, part of its Horin line.  Rich caramel laced with wafts of aloeswood, this is an indulgent aroma.  The short (about 3″) stick burns for 20 minutes or so and is perfect to drift off to sleep by.  I hear the coil version of this (and any of the Horin line) is even more deluxe, though I haven’t tried it yet myself. […]

  2. David said,

    December 31, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    I just received a Horin sampler so I can re-familiarize myself with these beautiful scents. I’ve been burning them for the past hour or so. I started with Muro-machi, then worked myself down the line to Gen-roku (which I prefered), then the Hori-kawa (which I thought was great), and then to the least expensive Nijo ( which is really, really good too! The Ten-Pyo will be up next. These are all amazing. Thrilled that the inexpensive ones are so fantastic! The Muro-machi was the least impressive so far. I know I’ll be trying the coils and 80 count boxes. Shoyeido does it again with Horin. I like them as much as my Nanzan!

    • clairsight said,

      January 1, 2010 at 3:28 am

      The Horin line is one of the greats (IMHO) of the incense world. For sure it uses oils of some type to achieve the intensity of the scents, although in this case I tend to think there area lot of essential oils rather then “fragrance”(read synthetic) oils. Many Japanese art and antique galleries use them to give a distinctive scent to the environment. And yes, for what you are getting they are really well priced. One stick will do up a normal small room for quite awhile. Heck of a deal that smells great.
      -Ross

    • Mike said,

      January 4, 2010 at 10:45 am

      I’ve been burning the coils a lot lately. I almost accidentally discovered something about the Ten-Pyo coils. When my last coil had gotten down to where the center kind of swirls upon itself, I moved it from the coil burner to my ash burner so that it wouldn’t go out. Somehow it got lit on both ends and I noticed it got that very charry sort of smell pure aloeswood gets when it gets too hot on a heater. So I’m absolutely convinced there’s real wood in that and of the best sort. I’m not at all sure that’s a quality you’d get from the Ten-Pyo stick. And I’m glad you pointed out again that the inexpensive ones are good.

      Do stick with the Muromachi though. Like yourself it was the one I didn’t get at first, so I kind of forced myself to get used to it and I think it may be the best of the five now. To me it was sort of getting used to the whole caramel sweet vs aloeswood thing, once I did I never looked back.

  3. Mike said,

    November 24, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I have to mention something as it’s been close to two years since I did this review. Horin incenses are noticeably and appreciably different from coils to sticks. I think in nearly all cases the coils are superior, more dependent on woods than on oils and I think this is more true the higher the Horin level. In particular, the top three are classics in the coil form. It took me a while to get around to buying Ten-Pyo in coils but I’m really glad I did, it’s utterly luxurious, decadent and sublime incense that continually knocks you out and since one of these coils burns for a couple hours at least, you really get a chance to sit with it. So if you’re thinking which form to buy, definitely go for the coils.

    • laraffinee said,

      October 14, 2014 at 10:09 am

      The Horin coils are some of my very favorites in the Shoyeido line! I have not noticed a difference between the coils and the sticks, though. Perhaps it has more to do with the longer burning time and lingering of the scent/smoke? It would be interesting to compare one room with the 20 min burn of the short stick vs another room with the coil burned for 20 min only. It may have more to do with how the scent and smoke unfold in a room over time. Ten-pyo has always been my favorite, but I have come to appreciate, Gen-roku and Hori-kawa. Muro-machi is one that I don’t dislike, but I also find that I don’t choose to burn it much. Maybe now that it is Autumn, I will pull that one out again a try it, Although good old Kyo-nishiki is one of my absolute Autumn favorites!

  4. December 15, 2008 at 10:12 am

    […] Shoyeido/Horin/Muro-Machi – A remarkable full-on herbal immersion from Shoyeido‘s Horin line. High acrid notes and a deep and layered quality of roots, barks, and woods make this incense perfect for contemplative olfaction. Coming in at a diminutive 2.75 inches, this potent stick can easily scent a large room. Truly a masterpiece! Like Jihi below, this is a rare consensus pick for us, earning a top spot on this list. (Nancy) […]

  5. April 16, 2008 at 11:44 am

    […] by Mike on April 16, 2008 If you’re not familiar with Shoyeido’s Horin incense line, it might be a good idea to explore those five incenses first, which in many ways set the stage […]


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