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).