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.