Tennendo / Scent of Kyoto, Yoshino Hills, Kohrokan Sandalwood, Karafune

Tennendo incenses are among the best price for the quality, perhaps throughout the line. For instance one can buy a roll of Renzan, an aloeswood blend, for about $6, perhaps one of the best deals in Japanese incense. Even the highest end stick in the same line, Kuukai, goes for just over $20 a roll, and it must be said that even at over $100, Tennendo’s magnificent Enkuu is a bargain for its quality. So it’s no particular surprise that the company’s lower end incenses are also rather good for their prices. The four incenses in question here include the two in the same range as Renzan and Kuukai that I hadn’t covered and two other lower end incenses that come in boxes, Scent of Kyoto and Yoshino Hills. It could be said that all four of these incenses represent Tennendo’s versions of four traditional scents. Scent of Kyoto is basically a cherry blossom incense. Yoshino Hills an every day sandalwood. Kohrokan Sandalwood aims for a more high end, old mountain level of quality pure sandalwood. And Karafune goes for a spice blend. All can be easily purchased for under $10. 

Scent of Kyoto is actually a rather excellent cherry blossom incense, featuring Tennendo’s usual hallmarks of grace, freshness and gentility. The obvious comparison is to Shoyeido’s Kyo-Zakura, what could be considered the standard for this sort of incense, however there’s something even smoother about Tennendo’s version, something that resonates with the rest of the line. While a box of this, due to the increased number of sticks, is likely to cost you more than one unit of Renzan, it seems to be a good buy. While the Shoyeido Daily bases aren’t always perfect for me, I really like the base of Scent of Kyoto. It speaks to the silence surrounding an orchard of these trees on a beautiful spring day.

Yoshino Hills is Tennendo’s analog to Nippon Kodo’s big yellow box of sandalwood incense, the prevalent “every day” style that nearly every Japanese company has a version of. While I really do like NK’s version and prefer, overall, Kyukyodo’s many variations on this theme, there’s something a bit bitter at the edges of this one. Over time it’s possible I may come to see this as a plus, but at the moment, I tend to like the sweeter aftertastes with this style – the bitterness seems like it might be more of a binder issue.

Kohrokan Sandalwood appears to be the company’s pure/high quality sandalwood entry. Think Kyukyodo Yumemachi, Baieidio Byakudan Kobunboku, or Shunkodo Sarasoju as incenses with similar concentration on top quality sandalwood. Like most of these incenses there’s a tiny bit of spice here, not enough to resemble Minorien’s sandalwood, but a little in that direction. Like the Yoshino Hills this too has a bit of sharpness to it that makes me think it’s an intentional note I haven’t gotten quite used to.

Karafune is probably the most low end incense Tennendo exports here, a spicy blend that combines sandalwood, clove, cinnamon and fennel. It’s actually fairly similar to some of the lower end Baieido blends like Syukohkoku or the Kobunboko series in that it’s all about wood and spice. The closest analog is probably Shunkodo’s Chinsoku Koh, except that the ingredients that make up the mosaic that are these sticks are more consonant as a unity in Karafune. In fact where getting used to low end incenses often means one gets a bit bored with them, I’ve found with Karafune that it improves with use, particularly as one gets used to it as an overall scent. It’s definitely less a sandalwood blend than a spice blend and it’s got a nice light smoothness to it that speaks of restraint and taste. One could imagine such a scent browsing Zanzibar spice markets, in fact clove might be the top note here, if there is one.

Again, if you already have incenses that are similar to the various styles on display here there would really be no need to duplicate by adding a box of something various similar. Yet on the other hand, the Yoshino Hill and Karafune in particular would make excellent new entries into the style, although I must say that with the green everyday sandalwood, the NK version makes a good base for comparison, and with the old mountain style I’d say it’s almost about even among brands.



  1. Alex said,

    February 20, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I think that the Karafune really is very nice. I wasn’t too keen on it at first, being a fan of more woody scents, but I really warmed up to it.
    As far as Kohrokan, it is my favorite straight-up sandalwood incense. It’s not quite as sweet as Minorien’s (and Kohrokan’s sweetness seems more airy, compared to Minorien’s more saturated smell), but it isn’t as spicy on the whole as, say, Sarasoju.

  2. janet said,

    December 27, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Just wanted to comment further on these lower-end Tennendos, which – with the exception of Yoshino Hills, which I have yet to warm to – I really enjoy a lot. I honestly would love to see Karafune, at least, in the Hall of Fame, as I think it is an amazing incense for the price. As the review says, it bears some similarity to the lower-end Baieidos, and to me slots neatly in a niche they don’t really cover, being a a wonderful dry woody scent with hints of spice and even a tinge of muskiness, but no floral and no aloeswood. Scent of Kyoto continues to be a favorite, to me, it shares a similar intense woody base, but with the lightest of herbal/blossom scents drifting at the top…and even though a box is twice as much as Karafune, it also has almost twice as many sticks, so also is a terrific bargain. I enjoy the Kohrokan Sandalwood for the potency of the sandalwood scent and the light spice blend – it may be slightly duplicative, but for old-mountain fans, it – again – seems to fill a place between drier wood-only sandalwoods, and the sweeter intensity of the Minorien. Great stuff, perfect for guilt-free mass burning!

    • janet said,

      December 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm

      You know, I think SofK would be on my Hall of Fame for sure, because it is so evocative of just what Mike said…it truly does really capture the feeling of cherry trees on a cool spring day.

  3. Janet said,

    October 11, 2009 at 11:05 am

    I didn’t try Scent of Kyoto right away, because I was focusing less on scents that had any kind of floral element, but when I did,I have to say I found it to be pretty outstanding. Much like Mike said about Karafune, it seems to me to reveal different things at different times and seems pretty nuanced for a low-ender.
    I’m a Shoyeido fan, but I have to say that I think this incense leaves Kyo-Zakura, both versions, in the dust.

  4. Claire said,

    January 31, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Scent of Kyoto Incense Sticks – Tennendo

    If this contains any synthetics they are far less obvious than in the Nippon Kodo incenses that I have just been testing (Pure & Spirit from the Free Pure Spirit range and Green Oasis from the Fragrance Memories range). This is in a totally different league to all of those and I MUCH prefer it.

    It reminds me very much lot of Baieido’s Kobunboku and I notice that it is only slightly more expensive to buy than the Kobunboku. It is very relaxing and mellow. To me, it is lovely blend of sandalwood, vanilla and blossom, although I have no idea what the actual components are.

    Karafune Incense Sticks – Tennendo

    Again this reminds me of Baieido’s Kobunboku, but with a slightly stronger “kick”, which I guess means that I am starting to get an idea of what traditional Japanese incense smells like. So much nicer than blends that heavily use synthetic oils.

    What I notice is the aroma of vanilla, sandalwood and a light blossom (although perhaps not plum blossom as per the Kobunboku). There’s also a complimentary scent that I can’t quite describe but it tingles the inside of my nose. I suspect this may be the fennel or cinnamon as clove doesn’t usually have that affect on me. Personally I can’t really detect the clove as that normally smells a bit like oatmeal cookies to me.

  5. Robert said,

    May 19, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I will let to know about the Hana when I get it. Yes, florals can be tricky. After sampling high end Japanese incense, the Indian agarbattis can smell crude and overpowering. The Japanese incense seems so much more refined, delicate and – like fine food or wine – takes time to aquire the taste and appreciate the subtlties. I am heading to Vanoouver this week where one can get a lot of incense that is not available – except by post – to the rest of Canada.
    I plan on buying some Baieido, Shoyeido and Lisn.

    Best Wishes,

    Rob M.

  6. Mike said,

    May 19, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Thanks Rob. The thing about florals, I think, is that they’re kind of risky if you gravitate to wood and spice. I think after years of Indian masalas and synthetic perfumes, it can be difficult to find a floral that presses the right buttons. The Shoyeido Floral World series has done a great job with its high end florals, the Star series in particular. I just got the Royal and it’s quite nice as well, but there’s a notable drop off in quality between Royal and Star. So that’s kind of why splurging for some of the various companies’ floral sets has me a little wary, but at the same time there have to be some good surprises out there and I can imagine that Hana set might be one of them. – Mike

  7. Robert said,

    May 19, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Mike –

    I haven’t tried the Hana – but maybe my next purchase.
    I don’t know a lot about the supplies of sandalwood for incense, but I do know that the supply of Mysore Sandal for perfumery is virtually a thing of the past. All of the great fragrance which incorporated large amounts of sandal – which used to be very inexpensive – have had to be reformulated with disasterous results: there is no satisfactory substitute for real sandal oil.
    I have found a company based in the UK you might find interesting: http://www.pure-incense.com. I have placed two orders with them and have found their service to be excellent. I am particularly taken with their Blue Lotus and Pink Sayli – both very rich, sweet and heavy florals. All of their scents are of good quality and some of the woodier fragrances might be more to your liking. The Agarwood smells nothing like the Japanese or Arabic scent – a good fragrance but not the real deal.

    Best Wishes,

    Rob M.

  8. Mike said,

    May 19, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Interesting that there are so many rumors about both aloeswood and sandalwood supplies dwinding. The next couple years should likely be interesting in terms of where the prices go.

    I have not tried the Hana set yet, but it’s on my list as the only Tennendo in the US I don’t know yet. Have you tried it and if so what did you think?

    Thanks for your comments…. Mike

  9. Robert said,

    May 18, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Mike –

    I, too, have been enjoying the offerings of Tennendo. Their Frankincense is epitome of this type of scent – so rich, spicy and refined! This is by far the best frankincense I have ever smelled. In my opinion, this leaves the Minorien in the dust. However Minorien has the best Sandalwood sticks. They remind me a little of Black Sandalwood which I used to get from the Incense Works in Hawaii. The Black Sandalwood was supposedly made of unadulterated sandalwood oil – oil in which all the impurities were retained. Sandalwood oil is usually rendered into a product suitable for use in perfumery so lot of the more intense characteristics were removed.
    Incidently, I would be hording incense based on sandalwood: the forests in India are fast disappearing and the government has placed restictions on the harvesting of this crop. The price is going to go up – WAY UP….
    Back to Tennendo… I just ordered more of their products based on the samples I received. I especially am fond of the Karafune and the Kuukai is so rich and deep.
    Mike, have you tried their Hana set? I know you are not a big lover of floral scents but I thought this might be worth pursuing.
    I am enjoying your site as well as the incense you have recommened. Please keep posting!

    Best Wishes,

    Rob M.

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