Nippon Kodo / Fragrance Memories / Green Oasis, Happy Valley, Paris Cafe, Santa Fe Breeze, Siesta Siesta, Silk Road Dream, Tequila Sunrise

The Nippon Kodo Fragrance Memories line, which I believe used to be called NK Style, is an admirably ambitious line whose results don’t really live up to the bargain on most occasions. You can think of the line as something of an incense travelogue and the scents concocted for this line span the entire globe. All of the scents are affordable, around $6 for a 20 stick box, and the style on all of the scents is modern and usually user friendly. My experience with nearly all of these is that they were very interesting on an initial burn or two but over time most of them wore out their welcome and often blurred with some of the other scents, making very few of what I sampled distinctive. While this line has many different scents, some of which are switched in and out of the line over the years, I’m just covering the seven fragrances I’ve tried, as it’s likely I won’t be trying anymore in the near future.

Several of the “greener” fragrances all definitely kind of blurred together for me over time. Whether it’s the mangrove in Green Oasis or the cactus in Happy Valley or Santa Fe Breeze, the scent reminds me of something alive and verdant, green and snappy and tends to dominate most of the other notes in the incense. Green Oasis adds starfruit and palm tree to the mangrove but all of the notes seem to wash out in one very crisp green and eventually cloying incense that suffers from having very little personality. The stone pine and lime in Happy Valley might balance it a bit more but mostly what you get is the snappy, green cactus odor and in this case the extra notes make it a bit too citrusy and like the Tequila Sunrise, one is left with the impression of a margarita left a bit too long in the sun. The cranberry and green chili in Santa Fe Breeze give the incense a bit more character than the other two with a similar green-ish sort of scent (and the spice of the chili gives it a bit of zip), but there’s still a dominant plant tone that makes all three of these all too similar in effect. Over time, I’ve grown fairly tired of all of them.

Paris Cafe is a cinnamon, coffee and chocolate blend that’s vaguely similar to the New Morningstar Earth line except this is a much stronger and intense blend that is very evocative of a café, although part of the aroma makes me think of a coffee smell that’s been, perhaps, sitting around too long. I really liked this aroma the first couple of times, but eventually found that it was too intense and stimulating for almost all moods, except when needing a pep up. You’d almost believe you’d get a caffeine dose from the scent itself. Overall the New Morningstar Earth strikes a better balance and isn’t so in your face.

Siesta Siesta is one of the line’s truly distinctive incenses and immediately with the blood orange, tomato and sangria notes you know you’re getting something unique. In fact only the sangria acts as a note in the background, with the blood orange and in this case sort of a vine ripened tomato scents combining in a fairly exotic fashion. It’s an extremely rich blend, maybe too much at times but the scents used are undeniably fascinating and thus you really can’t compare this to any other incense.

Silk Road Dream is probably my favorite in this group, likely due to the presence of jinkoh/aloeswood. While the line is probably synthetic to some extent given that many of these scents aren’t all that easily extractable from their source, at least in this case it adds up to a fairly well balanced blend. The other two ingredients are olibanum and fennel, and it’s particularly this last note that gives the blend a bit of spice pep. I wouldn’t put this in the same league as other natural aloeswood sticks by any means, but it’s perhaps somewhat comparable to the Kayuragi Aloeswood stick, which also seems to be enhanced in some way and has a more surface like rather than complex aloeswood scent.

Tequila Sunrise evokes for me a scent more redolent of long drinking nights rather than anything aromatically pleasant. Its combination of aloe, bergamot and lime probably should have had me include this with the greener incenses early in this post as the aloe (not the wood of course) has a greenish scent, but overall the aroma is a bit mesquite and unfortunately reminds me of what a room might smell like after a tequila party. It has that sort of salty, sickly sweet aroma at times, while at others there’s a slight (and unidentified) woodiness to the incense. I can’t imagine many westerners will find this pleasant.

Overall this is definitely an incense line for the modern market and most of these incenses aren’t likely to appeal to those seeking high end and more traditional scents. I don’t think I could recommend any of them wholeheartedly although I find Silk Road Dream pleasant and Siesta Siesta unique enough to be worth a sample. But the rest of the line doesn’t really encourage me to seek out the other scents, and I think part of this is all of the incenses share a base scent that isn’t quite as succesful as that used by Shoyeido in their Horin, 12 Months and other lines, all of which are comparable to Fragrance memories due to the thickness and short stick size.

With at least another 15 fragrances I haven’t tried, I’d be interested if anyone has any favorites from this line that might be worth trying…

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3 Comments

  1. Claire said,

    January 31, 2009 at 4:44 am

    Green Oasis Incense Sticks – Nippon Kodo, Fragrance Memories

    For those that haven’t seen this, it is a slightly thicker stick than most Japanese incenses due to it having a square rather than a round profile. It burnt a lot more quickly than the few Japanese incenses I have tried to date but having said that, it wasn’t overly smoky.

    The packet says that its key notes are mangrove, star fruit and palm tree. To be honest, I wouldn’t have a clue what mangrove or palm tree smelled like. Personally, I noted a cucumber / water melon undertone which I suppose will let it qualify for the watery part of an oasis. In terms of the main aroma, to me there were two components:

    1. The one that presented itself first reminded me very much of Nippon Kodo’s “New Morning Star Aqua”. That is supposed to have notes of Jasmine, Cyclamen and Tangerine although I have never detected so much as a hint of Jasmine or Tangerine in it, so I always presumed that the over-riding aroma in that was the Cyclamen. So by logical deduction, I assume that what I am picking up in the Green Oasis is also a Japanese version of cyclamen. (Which leads me to agree with Mike that a lot of the Nippon Kodo aromas all just sort of blur into one aroma).

    2. The second to present itself took me by surprise as it was a rich treacle toffee aroma, which is something I would never expect to find in an oasis or alongside cyclamen!

    The aroma very quickly filled the entire room which surprised me for its size. It was a strong aroma too – the room smelled of it for many hours after burning it.

    Overall it was quite synthetic.

  2. Mike said,

    February 21, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Hi Julia thanks for the input. I too have felt the disappointment of a discontinued favorite. The one I remember most was a Mystic Temple stick called Ascendance that lasted about a year, it was one of the best durbars I’d ever had.

    The Great Africa sounds like it was amazing; that sort of balance you speak of sounds just right. Chocolate can be such an amazing scent but to get it right in incense seems a difficult task.

    Mike

  3. Julia said,

    February 20, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Unfortunately, the two scents in this line that I liked – back in the NK Style days – have been discontinued for a couple of years now. They were:

    Great Africa (cacao, clove, frankincense)
    Bees in Love (honey, genet, mimisa)

    Great Africa has been particularly missed. It had a beautiful cacao/chocolatey scent, but with a slightly dark, sharp edge (probably the clove) that kept it from being sickly-sweet. I thought of it as a “comfort food” incense, and never met anyone else who didn’t enjoy it upon trying it. I still have one box of Great Africa, carefully hoarded, which I keep for those times when my nose wants a particularly nummy (non-aloeswood) treat.

    Incidentally, I was told by one incense seller that while Great Africa sold very well in the North American market, Japanese consumers were indifferent to it, which seems to have been the deciding factor in Nippon Kodo’s decision to discontinue that line.

    Bees in Love had a pleasantly warm and honeyed scent. I wasn’t crazy about it in the way that I was about Great Africa, but it was still quite enjoyable on occasion. I was told it was discontinued, although I think it’s still possible to track down the odd box; haven’t bothered to try, as I suspect I might now find it cloying. (In fact I learned recently that Baieido has a new honey incense; now THAT might be worth a go!)

    Both Great Africa and Bees in Love were strongly scented, to my way of thinking at least, and I often found that half a stick was all I ever needed at a single sitting. I did try a few other incenses in the same line (e.g. Spring Leaves), but found that they tended to be somewhat perfume-y and overpowering.


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