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

As of 3/31/09, this line is discontined in the US.

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.

2 Comments

  1. Mike said,

    April 21, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Hi Marco,

    Thanks for your warm comments and your background on the LISN line, I had no idea it was the phenomenon it is and your explanation continually reminds me just how much we’re missing from Japanese incense culture. Appreciate you sharing your experiences. Your explanation on how aloeswood changed your incense experience is also a lot like my own, I think there’s that point where you look at what you own and realize now you’ve discovered aloeswood that there are old incenses you rarely return to. – Mike

  2. marco said,

    April 19, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    First, thanks for the site. What a great resource. Even better, recognizing that there is a whole bunch of subjective personal preference issues around something like incense, I’m delighted to discover how closely your evaluations of the incenses I’m already familiar with match mine. It really makes me want to sample your recommendations I haven’t yet tried.

    Relative to this post, I’d point out that the brand experience of lisn in the USA is a pale shadow of what it is in Japan. There, the line comprises hundreds of different scents (not all available at once, but typically 100 or so at any one time). New ones are introduced throughout each year associated with that year’s theme and in collaboration with a specific visual artist who creates works that reflect the theme and scents. There are dedicated lisn shops in Aoyama and Kyoto that feature not only the incense, but a selection of beautiful contemporary incense-related design objects. In Japan, lisn is positioned as part of a lifestyle statement that is almost entirely absent from its marketing in the USA.

    About five years ago, when I was just discovering Japanese incense (and before I’d experienced enough of it to know what I liked), I got a lisn sampler a few weeks before I was scheduled to make a business trip to Japan. With a little poking around the web, I discovered that the Aoyama lisn shop was just a few miles from one of my meetings and I managed to convince my hosts to take me there. It was quite a wonderful experience. The shop was really more like a modern art gallery than a shop. Swathed in translucent fabric hangings, transparent counters held a hundred or so different colored incenses, each type in a glass cylinder. There were some prepackaged assortments, but you could also buy by the individual stick to create your own, which could be packaged in a cardboard tube or in one of the glass cylinders. You can get some idea of the entire experience at the Japanese lisn site: http://www.lisn.co.jp/ (click on the central “lisn” and watch the resulting slideshow). I brought quite a selection home (it was a lot less expensive there than in the USA).

    As it happened, shortly after returning I made my first visit to Asakichi in San Francisco’s Japantown and discovered the world of aloeswood. I ended up giving away almost all of the lisn I brought back from Japan (although I still have a beautiful sculptural ceramic incense burner designed for lisn-sized sticks that is perfect for Ten-pyo and Nanzan Frankincense).

    Again, thanks for the site.


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