[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 $30 and $40), regular boxes and long stick boxes (around $60 for Kongo, $80 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.