Kyukyodo / Daitenko, Hatsuhana, Miyagino, Matsukaze, Gyokurankoh, Hikari, Kinbato, Seigetsu

[9/1/21 NOTE: Please note that this review was written before most Kyukyodo imports were imported by Japan Incense and even so, only Gyokurankoh, Kinbato and Seigetsu are currently available from them (links added). I’ve left the language in the review unchanged nonetheless. Please note that the review of Gyokurankoh, does not corrrespond with current stock and there will be a new review on 9/4. However, I did not want to use discontinued notices on any of these as they may still be available in Japan.]

I’ve heard rumors that the US should be seeing more Kyukyodo incenses exported here in the near future, but it’s a rumor I heard more around January and so far it doesn’t seem like anything new has shown up in shops. It’s particularly unfortunate as Kyukyodo has a much bigger profile in Japan than it does here. It’s not that that isn’t true for all the companies, but you would think Kyukyodo ought to have a profile at least on par with Shoyeido or Nippon Kodo here.

What this means is you won’t be able to find any of the incenses in this article in US shops at least yet. Most of them may be locatable at certain European outlets, but given the poor state of the US dollar, importing them yourselves may be cost prohibitive. I will say up front, however, that in certain cases I can see why certain scents have not been imported yet, as a few of these seem to be closely related to (currently imported) Kyukyodo favorites such as Ryunhinko and Asuza. On the other hand there are a couple I only wish were currently imported, as they represent higher end blends that are different enough from Sho-Ran-Ko and the like. I’d like to thank Bernd Sandner, who graciously provided me generous samples of the incenses being reviewed here (as well as comments that influenced my impressions). Thanks also to Kotaro Sugimoto at Japan Incense for translating the unknown, unexported and quite fantastic blend Seigetsu.

I’ll be guessing in terms of ingredients for most of these so my ordering of the incenses in question are assumed to go from the inexpensive, every day blends to the higher end ones. I may very well get some of these wrong (for example I think I’d have moved Gyokuranko up a notch), so comments and impressions are welcomed as always.

The first one up is the very thick stick, every day blend called Daitenko. In many ways this could be considered an every day sandalwood or even less. It’s almost entirely wood and seems to have as much binder presence as sandalwood. It’s possibly one of the thickest sticks I’ve seen come out of Japan and seems tailor made, like coils, for outside and larger spaces. Bernd mentioned to me that the subtler notes come out as you get used to the blend, which is something I think is safe to say about most Kyukyodo incenses. I’d also agree that this has a sort of campfire feel to it, but there are some very subtle notes that I haven’t quite absorbed yet. It’s strength is that it’s not all that reminiscent of generic sandalwood incenses.

Hatsuhana is not far off and seems to be the company’s equivalent to the traditional or “byakudan” green sandalwoods. I think of the Nippon Kodo blend, the style’s most popular form, as the standard here and really Hatsuhana isn’t too far off, a little more natural and woody. For those who are familiar with Ikaruga and Shirohato, you could almost think of Hatsuhana as similar, but missing those overt top oil notes. It’s really no surprise we don’t see this in the US as it’s not a distinctive blend like the aforementioned incenses, but as with Daitenko, I’m holding out that I may have missed something a bit subtler about it.

Miyagino starts to move in the Ikaruga and Shirohato direction by enhancing the typical sandalwood base with oil and spice notes. While it’s not as intense as the currently imported blends, it has a slighter, more evergreen/citrusy sort of note on top that I found to be rather unique. With such a notable spice presence, it’s easier to evince more subtleties in play, and I found with this one that it has a really nice bright energy to it, almost happy and playful. Which means, of course, that it’s one I’d like to see imported here as it would be quite inexpensive and would sit rather prominently in a group of low end spiced sandalwood sticks.

I’ve been working on a review of the Sakaki coils by Shoyeido, which has been interesting because it features unnamed coils that are part of a concept related to The Tale of Genjii. In researching the linked Wikipedia page, I noticed as one of Genjii’s chapters, Matsukaze, which means “Wind in the Pines.” As the name of a Kyukyodo incense, it captures the scent rather nicely. It’s a scent not far off in style from Miyagino, except the top notes are definitely Japanese pine, a scent quite a bit milder and refined than your typical west coast pitch. Even with this sort of mild top note, the pine overwhelms the wood a bit, but to be honest I don’t think I could name a better, more balanced pine incense as with use I see the wood peaking through a little more.

Gyokurankoh takes us, if not out of the sandalwood category, at least to a scent bordering on that area where slight and (perhaps) low quality aloeswood is used to give depth to higher end sandalwood scents. I’m not sure that’s quite the case here, but Gyokurankoh’s similarity to Ryuhinko in terms of its stately dryness makes me wonder a little. I detect more of a sandalwood base to this one, but the dry, oil note on top is very reminiscent of Ryuhinko’s own and considering this one of Kyukyodo’s real strengths, I can’t help but hope to see this one imported. I think we can assume by the incense’s picture in a fine wood box (see above link), that this is likely considered a premium.

Hikari moves the scent into a similar realm with the well-known floral incense Asuza. Hikari is very close in style and as such, it’s somewhat understandable it hasn’t been imported yet. But its similarity to Azusa also accentuates the differences between the two. Where Azusa is quite sweet, Hikari is definitely drier, with some slight and exotic Pacific floral notes (I was thinking tropical, but not fruit). It’s a lovely and gentle blend that furthers my opinion that this is one of the better companies when it comes to florals. I couldn’t say that this has much of an aloeswood presence to it, but I feel the same way about Azusa in that the oil sublimates the wood to a note rather than a background presence.

However, Kinbato definitively takes Kyukyodo into noticeable aloeswood-laced incense blends and while so much could be said about how great Kyukyodo is in working on very affordable, high quality incenses, only Sho-Ran-Ko and Ryuhinko give much of the western world a hint at how great the company is at the high enders. Kinbato has all the Kyukyodo strengths, sublimity, gentleness and dryness. It’s a slightly floral blend with what seems like a play between sandalwood and aloeswood. In a way it’s almost like a minor form of Sho-Ran-Ko as it approaches that complexity without quite moving into that type of mutable brilliance (even as recent as last night, I was impressed how many new impressions I still get from Sho-Ran-ko).

Of course, I’ve saved the best for last, a incense that appears only to be available in Japan and one Kotaro helped Bernd and I translate: Seigetsu (Clear Moon). This seems to be quite the high end aloeswood blend, an extaordinarily incense with a great deal of complexity. It has Ryuhinko’s dryness, a slight floral characteristic and the type of sweet and caramel-like wood play you see in Enkuu or Muro-machi. In fact this is actually one of the more complex incenses available and in no way have I come close to really getting underneath the depth of this one. Like all the best incenses, its complexity will always be stimulating.

Kyukuyodo incense is highly valued among enthusiasts for both its high end and affordable incenses and it can be seen here that there are some other parts of the scent spectrum that are not as widely available but in many cases should be. Like many US incense users, I keep up the hope we’ll see many of these in the near future.


Nippon Kodo / No. 4 (Notes on another Nippon Kodo discontinuation)

I didn’t notice before, but along with the Ka-Fuh Bamboo and half of the entire New Morning Star line, the NK No. series has also been discontinued. I’d only tried the No. 4 before, which was the “Tree” set, Aloeswood, Sandalwood and Bamboo. I always thought of them as NK’s version of Shoyeido’s Incense Road series. Although they weren’t in the same league as Incense Road, I thought these were among the more pleasant NK incenses (at least from a more traditional incense-minded perspective). I would have eventually tried No.s 5 and 6, but knowing I won’t be able to restock for too long, it won’t be happening.

Anyway, the following are my notes for No. 6. In looking at them I realized I had never matched up the color with the wood, but can do so thanks to Japan Incense. The orange Aloeswood stick/coil didn’t strike me as being aloeswood like in most ways, instead it was spicy and sweet, with cinnamon in the background. It reminded me a little of the old Mermade Dragon Fire incense. The green Bamboo stick/coil, also sweet and powdery, struck me as very green tea and was probably the least impressive of the three. The red Sandalwood stick/coil might have been the best, also spicy and sweet, but with a smooth unobtrusive woodiness.

I doubt this is a series that will have anyone running for restock (the discontinuation also supports this), but as a once over, it’s pleasant, if maybe a bit too user friendly for the scents involved. I’d be curious if anyone’s tried Nos. 5 or 6.

Best Incense – April 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above. I’ve also added a category for these posts which you can click on if you want to see them all.]

  1. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho – I’ve pulled out a couple comments from a different thread based on this incense: “I’d say that Myo-ho reminds me of a cross between Sho-kaku and Jinko Yomei. The top oil is so strong, by far one of the most intense, decadent, mirage-like perfumes I’ve encountered in incense. The kyara’s not as strong as it is in Sho-kaku, but it hums beautifully as a base behind this oil. Sho-kaku’s strength is definitely the wood scent, which is definitely electric at that quality, but Myo-ho is just as impressive at the perfume level. I’d say Kyukyodo Sho-Ran-Ko, Tennendo Kuukai and Yomei are the only incenses in its league with this sort of dreamtime-like depth to the oil. Some incenses smell good, others, like these, seem to almost have an effect on one’s consciousness.” And, I’ve been “marvelling at the ocean trench-like depth of the aroma, complex oil marrying complex wood and continually playing off of each other in what seems like infinitely variant ways.” Need I say more? One of the very best Japanese incenses on the US market and could become an addiction.
  2. Tennendo / Enkuu-Horizon – Another of the world’s most fantastic and multi-faceted aloeswood incenses, a marvel of sophistication and complexity.
  3. Kyukyodo / Sho Ran Ko – The ultimate mercuric incense, one of the most organic, astonishing, clever and vibrant scents available. The most truly “yellow” incense there is.
  4. Tennendo / Kuukai – I’m sort of surprised to find this one as high in this list as it is, but I’ve really started warming to this one lately. There’s something really subtle about the spice content to it, as if the wood part is the build up to the spice climax. Kind of like Tensei with a bit of oomph to it. And like all the best incenses, I’m constantly getting hints of this just from memory.
  5. Shoyeido / Floral World / Star / Violet – This has surpasses Kyukyodo Azusa as my top floral incense, the quality and complexity of the oil seems to be unparalleled. I’d love to see a 60 stick box of this a la Incense Road. Few nonaloeswood incenses have this sort of depth.
  6. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – Ga-Ho appears to be the most premium Shoyeido aloeswood incense that does not contain kyara in it and coming after the line’s three kyara incenses it seems easily forgotten. Part of that is the ineffability of the scent. At first it hits you with it’s dry wood notes and hints of cumin or dill in the background, but with more use, the floral nature and massive complexity of the scent start to unfold, hinting that this is more than just a deluxe version of Misho, but something entirely of its own kin. I still feel like I haven’t come close to unfolding this scent and it continues to make me feel that the one-stick premium sampler isn’t enough to reveal just how truly great these incenses are.
  7. Shunkodo / Ranjatai – Regular readers will note a small consistency of opinion on this high end Shunkodo incense in that it improves with use and familiarity, opening up like the very best scents. It’s not as immediately apparent for some reason, maybe because it’s a skinny stick and thus doesn’t overwhelm one with aroma at first. The wood comes out right away, but all the little things are what makes this so impressive, qualities that seem like they’re shared between memory and scent. Over time this one is just getting better and better, a true hall of famer.
  8. Shoyeido / Premium / Misho – I am now fully stocked up on this wonderful favorite, almost the primary example of a green aloeswood. Lots of spice, almost masala-like in quality, overlays the medium quality aloeswood, making it easy to return to over and over. I am starting to notice, however, that in burning Ga-Ho, Misho and Kyoji-man that they all roughly hit the same spots and while they vary quite a bit in impact and scent that I wouldn’t recommend buying any two or more of the three at once. But they’re definitely all my sorts of scents.
  9. Shoyeido / Horin / Muro-machi – This one’s really sticking to the head a lot lately because of the really fabulous wood contour behind it. I’m hoping this is as much the oil as the wood, so this doesn’t follow the Premium prices up to the stratosphere with the May 1st increases.
  10. Shoyeido / Premium / Kyo-jiman – Probably more an early April favorite than a late one, it’s one I hope to stock in full later as it doesn’t seem to be an incense affected by the price increases, perhaps because aloeswood only plays a very small part. But this was probably the first Shoyeido I took to immediately and it has a minty freshness to it that is always quite pleasant.

NOTE: I may be changing the format of this list next month as the WordPress tool for composing is making it very difficult to work with, the editing screens flip flopping back and forth from large to small with every move of the cursor.

Shoyeido/12 Months (Kaze no kaori) July-December (Part 2) (Discontinued Line)

For an introduction to Shoyeido’s 12 Months range please see Part 1.

Tanabata/July (sandalwood, clove and spices) is one of the greenest incenses in the series scent-wise, although the stick is more of a blue-green. With this scent it starts with a sweeter wood and adds what seem like patchouli and mint hints to it. Unquestionably a summer incense, I found this to be one of the most pleasant in the series even if it’s not quite as complex or unique as some of the other blends. It reminded me a little of the old Dream Snake Mermade blend at times and it’s not the only month in this line that reminds me of an incense gone by.

Tsukimi/August (sandalwood and spices) could have almost fit right into the Horin line. I think of this almost like an equation – take Muro-machi, remove the aloeswood, add sandalwood and a bit of floral scent and you basically have Tsukimi in the mustard color stick. I could easily get used to thinking of this as an inexpensive alternative to Muro-Machi and like many of the incenses in this line it reminds me of how clever and pleasant some of the top oils are in this range. If Tanabata was the greener, first part of summer, August would almost be like the peak of summer, close to harvest time.

Momiji/September (sandalwood, clove and spices) changes the mood a great deal from the previous incenses. As this my birthday month, I figured I’d probably like this one right away, but generally this is a rather mellow floral incense, like a spicy rose and floral mix, with what smells like a bit of grape scent to it or something. It does stand out a bit in the line as being different, but I found it kind of safe overall.

Shigureru/October (sandalwood and spices), surprisingly, seemed not very far off from the July blend. I started thinking of this blend almost like it was a greener Horin/Nijo, except with much more noticeable green tea or patchouli hints to it. And like with July this is just the sort of blend I like, with hints of sweetness, except that it’s overall a bit cooler here. Like July this is probably one of my favorites in the series.

Shimofuru/November (sandalwood, clove and spices) definitely starts to get the winter mood. I thought this was a rather Scorpio-esque sort of incense, a dark almost violet-like floral perfume with lots of musk to it. I was actually reminded a little of those moldavite incense sticks you see in new age stores in terms of the perfume. It’s a bit mellower than most of the 12 Months line, but has quite a bit of play under that. In fact in writing about it, I’m reminded of how good it was when I didn’t originally think of it as one of the better in  the series. But it may very well be.

Haramatsu/December (sandalwood, cinnamon, clove and spices) ends the series on a spicy, holiday-like note. I mentioned earlier that Tanabata reminded me some of the old Mermade Dream Snake blend, this one reminds me of the same line’s Dragon Fire. Hot and spicy with an underlying sweetness, it’s also possibly the most overtly woody incense in the series.

I think in getting to the end of the group, I started forgetting about these last two incenses, even though they’re both rather distinctive in the line. It overall pressed the point that the 12 Months are generally quite excellent throughout the line, especially when you consider how similar the base materials are through all 12. There’s a great deal of variation, much of which reminded me of a lot of different incenses both inside and outside Shoyeido. But to break it down, I’d say almost all of these are strong incenses and the difference between my least and most favorites is actually not very large.

Now here’s the quick guide:

  • If you have and like the Incense Road sandalwood, January isn’t a necessary buy.
  • February is one of the best in the line, maybe the best place to start.
  • March and December are both spicy and cinnamon like enough to just start with one or the other.
  • April is a nice alternative to Horin/Nijo but I’d try the latter first (Nijo is also less expensive).
  • Likewise May and August have enough similarities to Muro-machi (and Ten-Pyo in the former case) to make the Horins worth trying first, but I can imagine appreciators will find these two a lot of fun after checking the Horins out.
  • June’s the brightest in the series but the one I may have liked the least.
  • July and October have enough similarities to be worth trying one or the other first.
  • September might be one of the most distinctive incenses in the line, but it’s also one of the ones I liked the least (relatively).

Nippon Kodo / Kyara Kongo and Kyara Taikan

[NOTES: I didn’t get to finish the second half of the 12 Months series over the weekend (have one stick left to go over), so I thought I’d take an unexpected detour here.]

Having spend a bit of time with Shoyeido’s classic kyara incense Myo-Ho over the weekend, it has turned my attention to all things kyara. Kyara is basically the most stupendously resinated quality aloeswood available, a substance not only rarer than gold but getting rarer. It’s now so rare that rumors abound over just how much real kyara is in incenses with the ingredient in the list and perhaps Nippon Kodo may have helped to blur the issue a little. There’s a Cho-Cho-San cone called Kyara and their very lowest end aloeswood incense is often followed around by the name “Kyara Deluxe.” And both of these incenses are extremely inexpensive and not anywhere near something like Kyara Kongo, let alone Myo-Ho in expense or quality.

What we’re basically establishing here is the idea of kyara as perfume or scent rather than wood. Because other than the rarely exported and likely true Nippon Kodo kyara incenses like Tokusen Kyara Kayo, Gokuhin Kyara Taikan and Tokusen Kyara Taikan, the mid priced aloeswood incenses in question here, Kyara Kongo (Diamond Kyara) & Kyara Taikan (Great Prospects Kyara) are priced too low for the actual kyara content to be more than a note in an overall incense. While one can immediately detect an approximation of kyara in both of these incenses, the very lack of depth to the scents and the lack of true wood quality make me think of these as accentuated or perfumed incenses. They may not be natural in an overall sense but it certainly doesn’t mean they’re unpleasant by any means – quite the contrary. But when it comes to the deluxe kyara experience, the sensation of depth is missing here.

Kyara Kongo and Kyara Taikan, other than the above-mentioned rarer lines, more or less crown the Nippon Kodo line in the US and are generally the company’s most expensive incenses. They come in Pawlonia gift boxes with very short sticks (both between $35 and $45), regular boxes and long stick boxes (around $80 for Kongo, $100 for Taikan). The gift boxes are a very nice way to introduce yourself to these scents, even with the boxes, although I must say that having had boxes like this for a while, the look and presentation far outweigh their practical use (lots of broken sticks, a book-like format that never closes quite properly etc.)

Kyara Kongo, while being the less inexpensive of the two incenses here, is actually the best of the two overall (they can easily be lined up as Kongo/dry, and Taikan/sweet). With both of these incenses the overall kyara oil note is way up front, except in Kongo’s case it doesn’t drown out the background notes quite as much. The oil note is kyara in a perfume sense and in combination with what is probably a sandalwood or mixed sandal/aloeswood base you do get the sort of anise or licorice qualities that always seems to be a feature of good kyara. While the incense is a bit one note overall, it does strike a rather nice balance, with the overall impression being dry enough to return to. Overall it’s actually one of Nippon Kodo’s very best (exported) incenses.

Kyara Taikan is the more deluxe of the two but the oil note is thicker, sweeter and while the incense does give the impression there was some expense in its creation, whatever wood base is being used here is almost drowned out completely by the nature of the perfume. It’s almost like a digital imitation of an analog sound the way a certain angle of the kyara scent is snapshot here, and the very lack of woody qualities in this incense upsets the balance a little. That’s not to complain about the oil itself, which does have an alluring richness, but over time the extreme sweetness of this blend starts to cloy, and I’ve found myself preferring the Kongo over the Taikan.

It must be said that in some ways these aren’t terrible introductions to kyara but they are missing the entire experience of that very fine and rare wood. It’s a plus that they’re much more affordable than Shoyeido or Baieido kyara incenses, but in that comparison they don’t feel quite as authentic either, more approximations than true kyara incenses. But in approaching this sort of scent it’s hard to knock either scent in that they do both evoke the sort of wonder involved with the apex of incense materials. In fact if one hasn’t tried the higher end kyaras at all, I’d suggest starting here and working your way up, with the caveat that it’s hard to go back once you’ve stepped foot on this path.

Shoyeido/12 Months (Kaze no kaori) January-June (Part 1) (Discontinued Line)

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 for the 12 Months incenses. Like Horin (and Incense Road/Gourmet and Floral World), 12 Months incenses are 2 3/4 inches long, a little thicker than the usual traditional incense and have bases that are as much about spice content as they are about the wood. They’re rich, indulgent, amazing experiences across the line and as I discovered these incenses after becoming familiar with the Horin line, my experiences with the 12 Months constantly have me comparing these incenses to Horins. The difference between these incenses and the Horin lines is they only come in 20 stick packages (unfortunately no 80 stick budget boxes), there are no incenses that use aloeswood as an ingredient (unless they’re very minute amounts), and subsequently all 20 stick boxes cost $14.75 retail. This basically puts them in an identical price range to the Xiang-Do line. While it would be easy to say that the 12 Months are almost like a range between Horin Nijo and Horin Hori-kawa, they actually use quite a few fragrances that will remind you of the other three Horin aloeswood incenses as well.

Hatsuharu/January (sandalwood, cinnamon, clove and spices) starts the series out with an incense with a very earthy feel and a scent a bit too sweltery for me to think of as wintery, except for a touch of mint in the background. It struck me as being extremely close to the Gourmet/Incense Road Sandalwood, the same color (olive green-ish) stick and a very musky, slightly floral blend of spices that perhaps tips a bit to the floral side in comparison with its Gourmet cousin. It’s a very nice incense but in this case you’d probably only need one or the other.

Umemi/February (sandalwood, clove, patchouli and spices) actually struck me as a bit of a cooler incense and while it took a bit longer for me to adjust (almost said warm!) to this one, I think it might be one of the strongest in its line. Its blue stick holds a surprising panoply of spices that’s brash, fairly complex and hard to compare to other sticks of this type. I thought I might have picked up a bit of green tea along with the sandalwood, which is something I occasionally detect when patchouli is involved in a Japanese incense. The clove definitely keeps this one pretty rich and spicy too.

Hanasaku/March (sandalwood, clove and spices) really reflects the firey nature of the sign of Aries that starts later on in the month. It’s a red, spicy stick that has a surprisingly cinnamon-like flavor, given its absence in the ingredients list. It’s also very floral and as someone who often likes the intersection of heavy spice with a bit of floral, I found it really nice and it was the first one in the line that made me want to stock up on. A very nicely tuned blend here.

Unohana/April (sandalwood and spices) is a very wet incense and unlike the previous blend, Unohana makes me think of spring showers rather than an astrological correspondance.  It’s deep blue color and wet smell reminded me immediately of Horin Nijo, except this seemed to have the same (if lighter) caramel note that Muro-machi has blended in. The top oil is like a sultry perfume, very floral with a touch of amber in there as well. Like Umemi, this one seems to have an attractive complexity to it.

Sanae/May (sandalwood, clove and spices) is another incense that evokes the Horin incenses. While both Muro-machi and Ten-pyo have aloeswood content that really inflates the price, Sanae seems to work with the spice/top oil of both, mixes them up and combines them with a rather distinct jasmine note. It’s as if the sort of darker sweetness of Ten-Pyo and the caramel highlights of Muro-Machi are blended together in a more floral sort of incense. If you value these two Horins as much as I do, I can imagine you’d find this a rather fun and relatively inexpensive alternative to mix in occasionally.

The sun definitely comes out in Ryobo/June (sandalwood, clove and spices) and nearly ends a series of what I’d call more introspective scents. June is bright, sunny with hints of orange spice and a typical floral quality to the mix. Where I found most of this line up to this point fairly intricate in composition, June just comes out and gets the job done, bringing with it a bit of bright summer energy.

Part 2 covering the year’s waning months is coming soon, but suffice it to say there isn’t a bad or even fair one in this batch. Strong plusses for February, March and May with the remainder not far behind.

Incense News/Shoyeido Price Increases

Japan Incense, at the bottom of their home page, has the full list of affected incenses, all of which are high end (Shun-Yo or higher) aloeswood incenses or aloeswood and sandalwood chips. As you might have read in the comment threads earlier, these prices are required of all US sellers across the line, so this is probably your last chance to get any of the incenses at current prices through the end of the month. Shoyeido’s home page also has not reflected these changes yet, but it is assumed that prices will be normalized

Sampler Notes: Shoyeido / LISN (Part 2: Music, Direction)

[NOTE 9/29/2021: The Shoyeido-based LISN incense line is no longer imported in the US; however, it appears to be a popular line in Japan and does seem to available through overseas orders. Please check this site and catalog for availability.]

Part 1 of this article.

The introduction to the LISN line can be found in the above link, but in summary LISN is a modern line via Shoyeido in a vein similar to that of the Floral World series. To date this incense has five subseries, the first two of which can be found in part 1, and the fifth of which (Visible) I have not taken a look (or sniff) at.

The subseries I was at least most initially interested in was the Music group, as the intersection of sound and scent is one of great interest and not really explored all that much from either side. So I was quite surprised to find that this was actually the subgroup I liked the least, with one exception. It might be said that in these four aromas are the lightest and most perfume-like in the series – very “pretty” florals. For example, Swing Your Heart (can’t say these titles are particularly effective in English either) is a rather uninspiring and pale floral, with a bit of honey sweetness to it. Overall it didn’t leave me with any particular impressions of distinctiveness, something even more pronounced in evaluating a very similar line of incenses. Sound on a Wave was also perhaps a bit too user friendly and in comparison to some of the other lines, a bit washed out between floral and fruity elements. It reminded me a little of some Indian jasmine sticks rather than the more high end Japanese florals with jasmine oil content. Catch Her Beat, perhaps another casualty of translation, ups the spice content in the blend, but still remains remarkably bland (especially for an incense described as “Sweet/Sour fruity floral scents (Lily, Bell Flower)”. I was asking myself at this point, during both sticks, if the goal here was to create incense closer to more well known perfumes and scents as even for LISN, thus was rather generic – perhaps too much going on at once. Fortunately, the final Music incense, Hit My Soul, had a lot more presence, with a very nice balance among spicy, musky and floral qualities. In fact I was at the point of thinking I had experienced some aromatic fatigue before getting to this one and was surprised to find its presence so much louder than the previous three in the series. Of course it’s description “Aromatic Wood with herbs from Premium incense” might be telling in why I liked it the most in this series, even if I didn’t detect much in the way of wood or premium herbs.

Although these comments are mitigated by not having tried any of the LISN Visible range, I thought the first incense in the Direction range might have been the best LISN incense I tried through all the ranges. Evening Moon has a lot of the sultry and somewhat erotic/exotic qualities you often get with night themed incenses, a powerful floral incense with qualities of honey and jasmine that swelters a little bit. I don’t detect the spicy evergreen or the aromatic wood in the description so much, but like with Hit My Soul, it should be no secret why I like this one. Likely my first revisit beyond the LISN sampler would be this one as it approaches the better (non-aloeswood) incenses in the Horin, 12 Months and Floral World lines. Scarlet Waltz isn’t quite as complex, but may be the most overtly floral incense in the whole line, like a boquet of roses and carnations with a little spice. It’s a terribly powerful incense overall, but doesn’t carry much of an end note. It may be because the next two were the last two LISN incenses in the sampler, but I found them to be a bit weaker. Samba Emerald actually reminded of a modern Nippon Kodo incense like Thai Memory, it’s quite a bit more mellow than most other LISN incenses and has that sort of floral/fruity combo that I find tends to work against its own potential for distinctiveness. It also reminded me a little of Primo incense, which may or may not be a bit of patchouli in the mix. And finally, Mystic Nostalgia. I was surprised I liked this one as little as I did given the “spicy evergreen with camphor” description, I thought this would have my name on the stick (and indeed there was room). It is one of the least overtly floral incenses in the series, kind of like a sweltery musky sandalwood. Unfortuately no tremendously overt camphor or evergreen notes, but given it was the last stick in the sampler, perhaps my nose had given up the ghost by the end.

Overall, I’d say the best sticks in the full range are probably Evening Moon, followed by Hit My Soul, Morning Breeze, Passing By a Lady, Crystal Winter and on the very outside Scarlet Waltz. However, I’d recommend going through the Horin series first and then going onto Floral World or 12 Months before checking out the LISN range, particularly if you’re looking for woodier, spicier and less floral scents. If you dig the floral, I’d start with Floral World first and then come here. I’d say overall LISN is even more modern or targetted at the nontraditional incense than most Shoyeido lines and may be the closest to similar ranges in the Nippon Kodo catalogue (like Yume no Yume, Free Pure Spirit, East Meets West, No. series etc.) It could be gateway incense so to speak and consequently less of interest to those looking for wood/spice/less sweet/drier scents, but the better incenses in the line do have some rather unique and finely crafted floral top notes that are impressive in their own right.

Coming up…

Here’s a list of some articles I’ve been working on over the weeks and in some cases months. I hope to have the Shoyeido/LISN Part 2 up today at some point. If there’s anything on this list you’d like to see sooner than later, by all means let me know.

Coming soon:

  • Shoyeido 12 Months (two parts – these are really really good)
  • Shoyeido Sakaki
  • Korean Incense (Bo Rim, Ja Keum, and a few others)
  • Mermade Magickal Arts cones
  • Kyukyodo (incenses exported to Europe)
  • Encense du Monde/Kunjodo (incenses exported to Europe)
  • Keiunko

Coming later:

  • Shoyeido Shino-nome/Miyako-Gusa
  • Tennendo/Karafune, Kohrokan Sandalwood, Yoshino Hills, Scent of Kyoto
  • Baieido/Jinkoya Sakubei/Kokonoe Koh, Kunsho Koh
  • Kunmeido/various
  • Nippon Kodo/ two daily incenses
  • Losel Monastery/two blends
  • Joyoko/Ranshuko temple blends


  • Shoyeido Premium/Misho through Matsu-no-tomo (won’t be too long)
  • Shoyeido Premium/Sho-kaku through Nan-kun (might be a while still)
  • Shoyeido Heart/Ai-Shin, Do-Shin, En-Shin
  • Shunkodo/Chinsoku-Koh, Shun Koh Sen
  • Baieido

If you’d like to see something else on this list, please check out the Reviews Information page above.

Review Information page added

I’ve added another page to this blog, all of which are tabbed under the blog name at the top of the page. The Review Information page I added as a guide to how I approach reviewing incense, including instructions to those who would like to send incense for evaluation here. Please let me know if any of it’s vague or if there’s anything else I can address in that page. You should be able to comment both here and under that page.

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