Shoyeido’s Sakaki presentation is as much a work of art as a box of incense. It features eight small coils, two each of four different scents, with a small coil burner in the middle. The inner box’s two flaps closes over this presentation and the box itself is wrapped in paper artwork. The box retails for $19.95, the price mostly reflecting that the coils here are what Shoyeido refer to as “pressed” incense, a proprietary modern technique that has given birth to the Xiang-Do line, among others.
I want to thank Jeff Banach at Shoyeido for tracking down information on this set from the home company. In particular, for a presentation like this, there are cultural concepts behind the presentation that are fairly difficult to “translate” from Japanese to English. Sakaki could be translated as “ripples” and it’s a concept (and chapter title) brought forward from The Tale of Genji. The coils themselves are designed as four whirlpools in four cardinal directions, and the colors of these coils roughly match the Japanese color schematic for the cardinals: west/white (coil is actually a bit more tan), north/purple, east/blue (coil is green – my guess is a blue would have made it aesthetically too close to the purple one), and south/red (the red tilted a bit to pink). The coils have not been described in terms of their aromatic constituents (although they are all likely sandalwood based), nor have names attached to them.
The incenses are all rather superb and strike an aromatic balance between the above mentioned Xiang-Do line and the company’s In-Koh Pressed line like Himenoka, whose fragrances are meant to be used with a heater rather than burned. Himenoka’s scents seem to match up roughly similarly with Sakaki in that there appears to be a stronger wood presence than most of the Xiang-Dos. Unfortunately the aromas here do not appear to be duplicated elsewhere on their own, although the aromas are similar in ways to other Shoyeido pressed incenses. The facts add up to make it a package almost worth keeping rather than using, even after burning part of one coil, it felt like the value had been reduced considerably. That the incense is so good makes this something of a conundrum.
The west/white coil was instantly my favorite of the four. It’s fruity and rich, with a bit of wood and a presence that might be described as a note of chocolate. I suspect there’s a lot of resin at work here. The fact I couldn’t necessarily stock this aroma was a bit frustrating given how good it was. I’d also like to thank Bernd Sandner who pointed out that this coil is reminiscent of Xiang-Do Frankincense and after buying a box of that I’d have to agree. The Xiang-Do Frankincense, however, isn’t quite this rich and the recipes are different, but if it’s a favorite I’d definitely recommend checking this one out.
The north/purple coil may have had the most obvious sandalwood presence. Despite its floral aromatics, the wood stays pretty strong in the background. I get hints of roses or violets in the florals on this one and it reminds me a little of one of the corresponding Himenoka fragrances (it would be difficult to specify which one, as like Sakaki, Himenoka’s fragrances don’t seem to come with names per se). From the first through the second coil I found this fragrance improved for me as I noticed the woodier qualities.
The east/green coil seems to have some rather fruity qualities (even a bit of apple or something) which like its opposite point reminds me of the Xiang-Do line. However it’s not quite similar to that line’s fruitier fragrances as it seems to have hints of green tea or patchouli in it. In fact with only two coils, I wasn’t able to totally absorb this fragrance as it seems to have a number of interesting qualities.
The south/red coil is also reminiscent of fruit with a very cherry-like spice in front (and this is actually more cherry than cherry blossom to my nose). Like its opposite cardinal point, this has a bit of floral to it as well, and besides the wood I sensed a little tobacco or something (think the smell of fresh cherry pipe tobacco). Overall the biggest impression it made, from my childhood, was like smelling a bottle of Flinstone vitamins.
Overall, this set is a success in every way, in fact I’d love to see Shoyeido do something like this with aloeswood. However, Sakaki may be a case where you want to buy two, one to experience the coils and one to experience the presentation an art. As soon as the first tip of the first coil is lit, the eddy of the first whirlpool begins to fade, Sakaki’s ripples growing out of and returning to calm water.