Those of you who have tried Shunkodo’s incenses are aware that one of the best parts about buying a box, is that it’s likely to last you a long time. While the company does have some smaller rolls with different fragrances, their central line comes in these boxes with double flaps which generally contain well over 100 sticks. This means if you like a scent, you’ll be set for a long time with any of these boxes, and I’ve found over time that in terms of Japanese incense, the Shunkodo lines from top to bottom are among some of my most commonly burned incenses.
I’ve reviewed both Zuika and Ranjatai in the past, which are two of three highest end Shunkodo incenses currently exported from Japan. The three under review here contain the other of those three high line incenses and two you’d describe as being right in the middle. All three of these have become standards in my home and are extremely affordable for the quality. Yes, in most Shunkodo cases you’re going to be spending some money to get a box (although not all that much in two cases here), but once you do you’ll be glad you did.
The most expensive in the bunch is the Yoshino No Haru, which is Shunkodo’s second most premium incense, at least of those currently exported to the US. I’ve mentioned this incense frequently in top 10 lists because it is an exponent of what appears to be a fairly common high end Japanese aloeswood blend, a green stick whose woody qualities are sublimated for what is generally an incredible oil or spice presence. I’ve mentioned this in context with Kunmeido’s Asuka and Heian Koh blends. Asuka is the normal Japanese incense stick, Heian Koh a thicker, square cut and like these, Yoshino No Haru also comes in both of these formats. In the Kunmeido case and after some deliberation, I’ve come to think of the Asuka as the most premium quality in this style (and the price speaks to that as well), but certainly Yoshino No Haru is the most affordable exponent and a $60 roll will get you at least 110 sticks in the thin form. The thing is, I’ve found the Heian Koh’s thicker stick and more prevalent aromatic delivery to be the one I reach for the most, so i can imagine the thicker stick in this format is likely to be just as satisfying if not more so. The description of the incense with the quote about 30,000 cherry blossoms also hints at the scent here, getting a bit closer to what is a difficult aroma to describe. It’s sweet, rich, powerful and quite user friendly. You might be able to tell by now that I love all of these blends to bits.
Yae No Hana and Haru no Kaori both have one noticeable thing in common, they’re an attempt to harmonize or combine floral scents with woods and spices, sandalwood for Yae No Hana and aloeswood and Chinese medicine spices for Haru no Kaori. I’ve found both of these to be wonderful, relatively inexpensive blends that are both quite user friendly. Yae No Hana is both a purple stick and in a purple box and in some ways it’s sort of an every day style of incense, except the floral notes (rose? violet?) are more on top. Incenses like this often tend to show off notes due to the quality of floral oils used, but in this case Yae No Hana strikes me as a perfectly balanced incense. It’s strange but certain incense scents remind me of being very young and using Crayola crayons and this is one of them. For around $18, you’ll be set for a long time with a big roll of this stuff and quite happy too.
Haru No Kaori may be the most user friendly scent in the line, in fact it’s not all that far from Kyukyodo’s Azusa, except not nearly that distinctive or classic. It just has a bit of aloeswood that kind of quietly sits behind a very friendly, sweet floral smell. It’s not a particularly loud incense and took me maybe 10-15 sticks to really start noticing that it has the same sort of quiet sublimity that Shunkodo’s Zuika has. It’s really a charming part of the line that so many of the positive qualities of these incenses are on such a quiet and finely attuned level. I could really find myself having this particular scent become one of my standards as it does itch some of my high end sympathies while not being quite in that price range.
Overall, all three of these are well worth adding to your incense supply. Not only will they increase your stock significantly, but you’ll find yourself wanting to burn them more frequently as you get used to them. I should also mentioned that both Haru No Kaori and Yoshino No Haru also come in long stick forms via Japan Incense (link on right).