Best Incense – March 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above.]

  1. Tennendo / Enkuu-Horizon – Enkuu is the incense that is making me wonder if aloeswood has actual addictive properties. For the time being it’s the one I’d pick as my favorite incense, I just can’t get enough of its complexity or sophistication.
  2. Shoyeido / Horin / Ten-Pyo – There’s a mellowness and smoothness to this kyara-infused Horin classic that initially belies the fact that it is indeed a very involved incense. I notice more and more that the kyara is just one note in a symphony of other spices that all sit comfortably next to each other. This makes me wonder why Shoyeido haven’t offered other incenses in this style that have such a fine class of ingredients other than in the Horin line.
  3. Mandala Trading / Himalayan Herbal Incense (second down) – I was thinking about this incense and its partner recently and realized that to some extent both of the aromas were almost exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to find when I first started becoming interested in incense. I’ve tried lots of minty incenses but I don’t think any of them hold a candle to this one which has a number of other spices and woods that gives the basic evergreen/spearmint the type of breadth that makes it near perfect.
  4. Shoyeido / Premium / Misho – This is one of the best intros to the Shoyeido premium lines. It’s not as expensive as five other premium incenses, yet it has a quality aloeswood presence that makes it very woody, combined with a green sort of spice scent. And like many Shoyeido blends there’s a sophistication or quality to it that I just started noticing, months after I burned my first stick. Next time I order this, I’m going for a luxury bundle as I’d burn it more frequently. Although the regular bundle comes in a very attractive box.
  5. Shoyeido / Horin / Muro-Machi – I’m noticing a quality in common that this incense, Enkuu and an unknown Kyukyodo incense a friend of this blog just sent me have, a very high quality aloeswood presence with a number of complementary spices that give it somewhat of a caramel-like sweetness. At first, particularly with Muro-Machi, I found this element to be a bit cloying, but over time I’ve come to crave it. Here it’s the dominant scent, in Enkuu and the other stick, part of the overall scent.
  6. Kunmeido / Asuka – It seems that every Top Ten list is likely to have Asuka, Heian Koh or Shunkodo’s Yoshino No Haru on it, it’s become a standard around here. Asuka gets the spotlight this time as I’m notice the subtle complexities here that are absent in the other stick, a certain slight mint note that really puts this one over the top.
  7. Baieido / Tokusen Syukohkoku – This is one of my favorite incenses for a clean palate. What I mean by that is after a long day of being nowhere near incense, I tend to be at my highest sensitivity level. This makes it perfect for incenses as subtle as some of Baieido’s higher end sticks. I think this is a triumph for Baieido, it’s about as perfectly balanced an incenses as exists. I love the aloeswood used in this stick.
  8. Kyukyodo / Sho Ran Ko – For some reason I’m not burning this as much lately, but its position down here doesn’t indicate that I feel less about it by any means. I still think this is one of the most clever incenses available.
  9. Shoyeido / Xiang Do / Forest – I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this one much. I started with the one stick Xiang Do sampler and while there were a few I liked quite a bit, Forest is the triumph of this line. I think it’s partially because I think the piney, evergreen qualities here are tailor made for this intense, pressed style of incense. As I burn it it’s like an entire forest of various resins letting loose as if crystals of scent were evaporating. It’s another that friends really go for as well.
  10. Nado Poizokhang / Grade A – I reviewed this one yesterday, so not much more to say other than it’s really grabbed my attention of late.


  1. Mike said,

    April 14, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Hey Ross, appreciate very much you sharing your new favorites. Your description sold me on the Houshou right away, it was one I had on the bubble, but will bump up.

    I like the Kokonoe Koh you described quite a bit and have been sort of circling an article on it. I think (?) it’s another one of their incenses that uses their Hakusui aloeswood. I was trying to see what to link an article to with this one and notice that Baieido actually have this one the same page with their Jinkoya Sakubei line. I’ve got a box of the Kunsho Koh so I may discuss the two of them in tandem. It’s also not terribly far from the Kokonoe aloeswood stick in the wood box.

    I’ve also got the Mermade Magickal Arts incenses in the review queue, I think it’s likely the series of cones will be up first. The blends I’ve had a bit of trouble getting a bead on just on the Shoyeido heater, so I’ll probably have to try them on charcoal as well to get a better idea. But the cones are very nice, with quite a bit of balance between oils and resins. I like the prevalent amber and I’m pretty sure one or two had a pretty strong element of benzion siam which is an element tough to balance in an incense, but which they do rather nicely.

  2. Ross said,

    April 13, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Hello Mike
    Hope this is an OK area to put this.
    Some interesting lower cost rolls have come my way lately. Thought I would share, I love it when I find stuff that is good and does not break the bank :0 )
    From Baieido, Imperial Palace Kokonoe Koh Aloeswood and Sandalwood (kind of a pink/red/white floral motif paper covering). Like this a lot, it is the typical great quality of Baiedo’s incense at $12.00/roll. Everything just seems balanced to me. Each time I burn it different components seem to come out, which is nice and elegant, very much Baiedo’s style. I keep thinking that Baieido is all about refinement to the Nth degree. Many of the blends and lines seem very similar at first smell, then I realize that that is not really the case. I just need to pay more attention to taste the differences. There stuff is great for perfecting focus.

    From Shunkohdo, Sarasojyu (Sandalwood) at $10.00. I have been looking for a good, middle ground sandalwood for awhile, in other words not all spiced or sweet, yet more punch then say Baieido’s Byakudan Kobunboku(white sandalwood). This seems to fit the bill nicely. Just a great Sandalwood taste, not remarkable at first, but it has grown on me with each stick. It’s like one can just light it and be happy with what it is.

    Then there’s Houshou from Shunkohdo at about $19.00 or so. Aloeswood with some spices. This is very interesting, it really makes a difference when you burn this because the taste changes depending on what came before. Like right now there is an almost chocolate feel mixed in with the Aloeswood to it. But there samples from the two kinds above before this. Other times its a hint of Cassia. Great stuff and worth the money.

    Also I just got some incense samples from a maker called Mermade Magickal Arts.
    Just done some quick sampling but it seems really quite good. It is not Japanese style, rather resins and woods and some oils done up in various forms. An electric heater works really well with the stuff ( they sell a heater for $35.00, which is a truly great deal. I just got the killer Shoyeido model but I think I might get one of these as a backup!)
    You can tell all the ingredients are really high quality and put together with a lot of thought and testing. I will send in some specifics later, but if looking for something broaden the pallet, this seems to be a good bet.

    Have a good week:


  3. Ross said,

    April 7, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Thanks Mike. I am really likeing the coils.

  4. Mike said,

    April 7, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Yes – I think coils and sticks are roughly the same with Hori-Kawa. Same with Nijo for that matter.

  5. Ross said,

    April 5, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Has anyone here tried the Hoirn coils of HORI-KAWA – River Path?
    I love the sticks and am curious as to how the coils are going to smell. I keep wondering if they have to change the levels of the ingredients between the two styles.

  6. Mike said,

    April 4, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Hey Ross, Thanks for the comments on the Muro-Machi, I now want coils more than ever as I can see that brilliant blend being even more so with a touch to the wood side.

    Your comments on the Hui-An are interesting. I did buy a box of coils that I thought were “water resin” a while back, but found them to be pretty typical, lower end, straight aloeswood and thus don’t burn them much. But I’m not sure it’s the same one as Hui-an and doubt it in particular because the one I tried wasn’t sweet at all. Thanks for the tip. – Mike

  7. Ross said,

    April 3, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Hey Mike:
    I would agree, at least on the Muro-Machi, it does seem to be a bit more “wood”, less spice then the stick. But it could also be a batch thing. However the Ten-Pyo seems to me, and by no means do I believe I have a great nose anymore, to be pretty even: coils to sticks. And yes, it is really wonderful to not have to get up every 15-20 mins. to light another stick. It works out to about $10.00 per coil. But that 10 bucks equals about 2 hours of nonstop wonderfulness:0 )

    Have you tried the Hui-An Premiun Water Resin at EOTA?
    50 stick “sampler” for $10.75. If a straight up, somewhat sweet aloeswood is what you crave then this has got to be the deal. This is fast becoming one of my favs just because it is so “one flavored”. So burning other stuff after still works.
    I just noticed that EOTA is also selling the Shunkodo kyaras.

  8. Mike said,

    April 3, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Hey Ross,

    Thanks for the report on the Shunkodo kyaras. Definitely going to have to try one of those in the near future, they’re definitely an amazing company. Glad also to hear about those Horin coils. A coil of Ten-Pyo burning for an hour or two sounds like heaven! It seems to me comparing Gen-roku sticks to coils that the woodier qualities are more prevalent in the coils. You think that’s true for Muro-Machi and Ten-Pyo at all?


  9. Ross said,

    April 2, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Went by Japan Incense yesterday ( Tuesday ).The new Kyara’s came in! Look under the Shunkodo pages at the bottom of their page. There are two kinds. The Kyara Seikan
    seems to be a bit “dryer” and a bit less kyara. but still great.
    The Kyara-Aioi no Matsu
    has much more kyara, it is great fun. Got a box of it. Have burned two sticks and am getting ready to light another in a moment, as a matter of fact. Have found it takes at least one stick to “get it”, but once you do the memory goes with you during your day.
    Its differnt then the Shoyeido or Baieido kyara. Less spice then the Shoyeido styles, and maybe a bit sweeter then the Baieido. Course all those are some of my favorit incense’s also. I guess my take is that Shunkodo’s Aioi-no Matsu holds its own. I am finding that I really like Shunkodo’s products, I seem to have aquired most of them.. Ranjatai is so good. For sure the price on the Kyara’s is really reasonable for what you are getting. Its a real kyara hit…great fun, plus one’s wallet does not have to scream in pain.

    Mike…love the Top TenI also picked up the coils of Ten-pyo and Muro-machi. Man they really rock, they seem at least as good as the sticks in a side by side tasting..
    Thanks for the great and ongoing writting, it makes my day when i find new reports.


  10. Mike said,

    March 30, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Ibn – My incense top tens probably reflect my moods as much as anything. I’d still consider the Sho Ran Ko one of my overall top 5 favorites, no matter where it shows up on the list. 🙂

    Kohdude – I agree with you on Haku-un, I think that’s a really solid and relatively inexpensive incense. I used to have a Buddhist Temple Blend mixture from Mystic Temple that smelled almost identical.

    I think the Shunkodo Ranjatai is likely to make my next top 10 list as I’ve been burning it quite a bit of late and am enjoying it more every time. – m

  11. Kohdude said,

    March 29, 2008 at 12:12 am

    I just bought a box of Shoyeido Haku-un at a book store out of curiousity.I am surprised how nice it is. I enjoy it a lot more than most Shoyeido products and more than some of the premium Shoyeido sticks.It reminds me of Sho Ran Ko kind of. I will be putting this on my incense’s to keep getting list. This is a nice daytime type scent.I would not call it a meditation type fragrance.A nice light aloeswood and sandalwood scent, with floral and resin accents.A very nice scent at any price. I burned Shunkodo’s Ranjatai again and every time I like It more.It is super aloeswoodsy and a nice sweet and spice to it.It may be my second favorite now of the newer brands in the U.S. I am getting a box of it and a box of Tennendo’s Enkuu. Enkuu is my number one.I burned some Shoyeido Misho today and it had so much minty like qualities to it I could taste something on my tongue.I think it is probably the camphor in it.The name is perfect because it was all smiles for me.It is a real different kind of scent for the Shoyeido premiums.It would be best bought in the large box not the small silk one because it is about half the price per stick.I am interested to try the Horin Ten-Pyo some time. That is another one that pays off to get the big box.I look forward to more in the Hall of Fame soon. Thank You…….. Kohdude

  12. ibn said,

    March 28, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    i am shocked Mike. you have bumped Sho Ran Ko to 8th. This is one of, if not the, greatest incenses ever. Enku-Horizon is good, i’m burning one now, but bumping Sho Ran Ko … i don’t know !

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