Best Incense – June 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – Was a real close call between the one and the two this month, but I’ll give newness an edge. The quality of wood in this stick is really impressive, an occasionally green or menthol edge to the kyara. It’s a thin stick and kind of delicate, but the aroma, as the blurb says, is quite sharp. This one’s been a real addiction this month, I have to exercise discipline not to keep going in the box.
  2. Shoyeido / Ga-Ho – This could be my favorite overall incense of the moment, it has the deluxe nature of all the high end Shoyeidos but without the sweeter notes you get in the top three. It may be the driest incense around and the way the floral and spice notes come out is continually impressive.
  3. Baieido / Jinko Kokoh – The very nature of the Baieido Kokoh series makes them pretty special, definitely for only certain occasions unless you can deal with half an inch at a time. The Jinko is the middle of the three and it’s a very complex incense and not only that but very different from any other line. This has a nice helping of camphor or borneol in the middle, but other than the strong wood hints, I get scents like cola, caramel or even cider in this one. The Kyara Kokoh just beggars the imagination with this as a promise.
  4. Encens du Monde / Kunjudo / Karin / Swallows in Flight – This has a such a strong musk scent to it that I’ve been pulling it out more and more, as I don’t have too many incenses that go in this sort of direction. I’d suspect there’s a lot of oil in this as it packs a punch, but it also has that interesting Kunjudo side note that I liken to hazelnut or something. Golden Waves also has this same note, in fact the two incenses aren’t all that far apart.
  5. Shoyeido / Premium – Sho-Kaku – Being the second most expensive incense in the Japanese Incense/American market means I’m continually playing with how I’d rate this. For most moods there are few other more perfect incenses and it’s one to stop your guests in their tracks (I love watching a table of people’s eyes start to light up when the aroma starts to spread out). Tastewise (and pocketbookwise) I prefer something like Ga-Ho most of the time, but when you start paying attention to how black the resin is on this one, how heavy the kyara is, it’s a hard incense to beat. Such a treasure this one…
  6. Baieido / Kobunboku – I’m still really hooked on this incense, it’s one of the most startling of the low enders in that even though it doesn’t have any aloeswood, it still seems so high quality. I’m curious about the Byakudan version of this because for an incense I’ve never been happier with the sandalwood content than I am with this one. No other plum blossom even comes close. I like it so much I have trouble even getting a bead on the Tokusen and Kaden versions.
  7. Tashi Lhunpo / Shin Kham Kun Khyab – I could have almost put Samye Monastery’s Samathabadhra here as my Tibetan of the month and maybe a few others, but this one is pretty fresh and new to my nose, and not only that but it’s quite high quality and very affordable. It has a really wet, almost cherry floral sort of scent that reminds me of some of the redder Indian durbars. Some really nice edges I’m still exploring as well.
  8. Shoyeido / Nan-Kun – Another Shoyeido aloeswood with a healthy spikenard note. If Misho matches up (roughly) to Horin’s Gen-Roku then Nan-Kun matches up to Muro-Machi. It’s got a lot of caramel and a very strong aloeswood presence. The sweetest of the earthy toned sticks in this series.
  9. Shunkodo / Haru No Kaori – My appreciation for Shunkodo continues to appreciate. 😀 In all of their incenses there’s a real quiet and subtle presence that gives them all long learning curves and even with their low enders they just seem to improve with experience. This one is probably the lowest end incense that uses aloeswood, but it’s sweet, evergreeny and very pleasant and I keep going back to it over and over. If this sold in smaller boxes over here Haru no Kaori would qualify for the hall of fame here easily.
  10. Encens du Monde / Kunjudo / Meditation / Guiding Light – Terribly addictive because there’s so much going on. I’m not always a long stick person, but it works the best for this aroma so that the cumulative effect of all the woods and oils. Quite the mosaic stick.

Your picks this month?



  1. Mike said,

    June 24, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Agreed! The main difference I notice between the Baieidos and Shoyeidos is that with Shoyeido the smell is stronger on the fresh stick, which tells me (however possibly wrong I may be) that Shoyeido works more with oils. That’s what’s so impressive with Baieido’s traditional blends is that all the magic seems to be done with the woods. Of course without knowing exactly what goes into the incenses, it’s such a different thing to call in the end. I think with Shoyeido, since they changed their ingredients lists at one time on their premiums, there may be a little less confidence there, but in their last Scentinel I really thought they were stressing how natural their products are. One thing’s for sure, both of these companies have wizards on staff.

  2. Mumon said,

    June 24, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    No problem.

    The Baiedo jinko kokoh is an amazing thing. It’s got the nobility of fine aloeswood and a restraint that’s just not present in the Shoyeido comparables.

    (Not that they’re bad – Shoyeido incense is one the singular things I am proud to have experienced as a human being; it’s in the same league as rafting through the Grand Canyon).

  3. Mike said,

    June 24, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks Mumon!

    Ross, I can only imagine an aloeswood bonfire but it must have been beautiful!

  4. Ross Urrere said,

    June 24, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    You know the storyof how Aloeswood came to be “discovered” in Japan? Piece washes up on the beach around 560 AD and fishermen burn some, were so impressed they took the remainder to the Emperior and thus a new fad was born 🙂


  5. Mumon said,

    June 24, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    The Minorien Byakudan. That scent – immediately transports you to the temple.

    It is nearly a perfect expression of sandalwood.

  6. Mike said,

    June 24, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Weird California thought that doesn’t really deserve it’s own post. Right now because of 100s of fires, the valley’s blanketed in smoke and debris (enough where it makes the light refract pretty strangely). For a second I wondered what the smell would be like if the fires were affecting aloeswood and sandalwood trees rather than redwoods, pines and manzanita…

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