Nippon Kodo / Free Pure Spirit / Pure, Spirit (All Discontinued)

I’m about to go brutal here, so look away if you’re squeamish. Quite simply, this Nippon Kodo line might be the very template for what can go wrong with mainstream Japanese incense targetted to a modern audience. It’s a line of three incenses that confuse the line name and each incense name by having the latter come from the former, all of which have strange (and somewhat uneven) white boxes that have you trying to figure out which one you’re looking at for a few seconds. But that’s by far the least of the incenses’ problems.

I occasionally walk by people wearing synthetic perfumes. A lot of the times the memory this evokes for me are the strong chemical smells I experienced in organic chemistry labs in UC Davis. In general I find synthetic aromas to flatline very quickly, in general they are rarely incenses that will grow on you, at least positively. With both Pure and Spirit, it wasn’t long before both scents were literally becoming unpleasant to my nose. It’s true, all three scents in the line are meant to be fruity and I’m no appreciator of fruity incenses. However, I don’t think these incenses are even successful with what they’re trying to do. Like the Fragrance Memories line, this is Nippon Kodo working with a combination of three scents for a composite fragrance. In both Pure and Spirit’s case these elements clash miserably.

Pure goes for a red berry, grapefruit and pine needle combination. Even the idea itself doesn’t sound all that great to me. The outcome is basically a bitter,  astringent mess, where the harsh notes of the grapefruit citrus are actually unbalanced even more by the pine needle element. The red berry is almost overwhelmed by both and the whole thing smells like artificially scented soap bars. It’s like a caricature of a good incense and even over several sticks, the experience just got worse and worse. The last stick for this review I ended up putting out, swearing I’d never light one again.

Spirit is better, but not by much. This one goes for green tea, lemon and peppermint and, like in Pure, the former element is drowned out quite a bit with quite a bit of clashing going on. Green Tea itself often has a very subtle quality to it, so pepping it up with lemon and peppermint is like adding fruit syrup to beer, it just ruins a good thing. Even comparing this to, say, the Green Tea cone in the Cafe Time series is unfavorable for this incense. All I get is harsh, synthetic lemon and mint smells that batter the senses into submission. The lemon, at times, seems more like orange or tangerine with a citrus imbalance. It all comes off kind of like diet soda, affected negatively by the aftertaste.

I tend to like to complete series before I review them here, but in this case you couldn’t get me within 100 feet of Free, based on these two incenses. Quite frankly even some of the cheaper lines in the Nippon Kodo catalog are more pleasant than these, including some of the basis Morningstar incenses. And with those you’re paying only a fraction of the price on this line. Overall, I just don’t see the point to incenses such as these when you can get a $12 roll of Baieido Special Kokonoe or Kobunboku for nearly half that.


Best Incense – July 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. Baieido / 350th Anniversary Sandalwood – This is arguably not even the best of the three incenses in this magnificent (and now deleted) anniversary set, but it was the most revelationary one to my nose, in that this is possibly the best sandalwood I’ve ever tried, with a quality of wood so high it’s like it becomes something else. It’s as if the aromatics and/or wood resins are so fine that they’re like an aged liquor. Given the incenses similarities to Baieido’s Kokoh series (at least the Jinko anyway), I wanted the Byukaden Koko right away. Without this entry I might have given the slot (if a bit lower on the list) to Kyukyodo Yumemachi, not quite as deluxe but still an amazing sandalwood.
  2. Baieido / Koh En – An incense I’ve returned to over and over in the last couple months, there’s something just at the edge of comprehension on this one. For one thing I believe this uses the Hakusui Vietnamese incense, a really gentle yet startling aloeswood, but the spices that accentuate the wood really bring it out. It’s like orbiting a new planet, no matter what spot you’re over there’s something new to look at. This line of aloeswoods might be the most sublime out there.
  3. Highland Incense – I’m over the moon with some of the higher end Tibetan sticks these days, and you really have to credit Essence of the Ages whose archaeological skills are unparalleled at bringing us these really legitimate and otherwordly monastery incenses. Highland’s one of the muskiest, most ever-present incenses you can imagine and will set off subconscious impressions for ages even based on the burn of an inch of stick. It’s about as deep and intense as a Japanese incense even if the aloeswood content is mostly a side note. But the musk here will redefine your experience. I hope they were gentle.
  4. Tibetan Medical College / Nectar (TPN) – If Highland really hit me the most the second or third time around, this Nectar hit between the eyes right in the middle of the third one. It’s an electric, intuition-triggering polyherbal blend like you wouldn’t believe. It reminds me a little of the Tashi Lhunpo Shing Kham Kun Khyab with a massive helping of lama juju. It’s clear, red and has a weird kind of kundalini playfulness to it. It made me want to order the entire college’s catalog.
  5. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – A three-way hit of animal depth, spikenard sweetness and aloeswood infinity, it’s the most inexpensive of the Premiums to have this much higher mind impact. Everything above this level refines this sort of sweet musk, but here it’s wild and uninhibited. Starting to become an all-time favorite.
  6. Samye Monastery / Samanthabadra – Soon to be corrected, this is the only high end Tibetan incense I have in stock right now, so the samples of the other high enders have had me returning to this all month. It was my first incense of this level, and found the depth of scent and purity of ingredients to be startling and over time almost addictive. I’m not even sure I could describe this one, except that it’s highly likely the pangolin scales have a real distinct and dimension-adding effect to the overall aroma. Definitely 5x the aroma of most lowest end Tibetans, humming with the essence of the inner planes.
  7. Dzongsar Incense – You get the impression with most Tibetan incense sticks are mostly wood, at least in base and while that’s still true for Dzongsar it’s such a thick and heavy stick one wonders if it’s not made from clay. Aromatically it has similarities to a lot of Tibetan incenses that have difficult (for the Westerner anyway) ingredients (think White Pigeon, the side notes to Mandala Trading Tibetan Monastery, Essence’s Ayurvedic ropes), but in this case they’re refined to the point that it’s a lot easier to see their brilliance. Tangy, rich and definitely multi-dimensional, I think I’ve only barely begun seeing how good this one is.
  8. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – I would feel weird leaving Shunkohdo off of a top 10 list given how much I use their products, many of them are virtual regulars around my place (Yae No Hana in particular nearly makes every monthly list). This kyara blend is always amazing to me due to how penetrating, sharp and sweet the aroma is. Like Baieido, no matter what Shunkohdo do, they never drown out the central wood notes. And I’m finding this one is complex enough to notice different things about it than I did when I first got a box.
  9. Tennendo / Enkuu – If newness wasn’t such a variable factor for these top 10 lists, Enkuu would likely make it every month, it’s quite simply one of my favorite incenses. I’m finding with some of the intense high enders like this that a little goes a very long way and have been finding myself taking out a stick and putting it in a burner and then burning it by thirds. Usually a third of the way down it’s scented the room like most incenses after a full stick. Shoyeido Sho-kaku is also perfect for this and could have interchanged with this selection easily. No doubt that one will be on next month’s again just based on one stick over the last few days.
  10. Lung Ta / Drib Poi – Ever proving the same rule that any incense this complex isn’t revealed in full until at least the fourth stick, I wanted to slip this fantastic, affordable Tibetan (or maybe Brazilian-Tibetan) in here due to its ever-revealing complexity. And it’s the most simple in the line!

Mermade Magickal Arts / Earth Church, Heart Beat, Dark Goddess, Babylon

These are new offerings from Mermade Magickal Arts. They all come in glass veils with cork stoppers sealed with beeswax. There is enough incense in them for  easily 10-12 large burnings( really, you will find you get more then this) except for the Earth Church which has six large “wands”. I am quite sure by this point that these people are very fanatical about the quality of the ingredients and how they are made and there is a lot of R & D involved i each scent. Plus the price for what you are getting is extremely good.

Earth Church
These are thick sticks, about a ¼ inch wide by 2 ½ long. They are composed of finally ground woods and plants that together produce a lot of fairly sweet smelling smoke. Given the thickness of the stick you can count on quite a long burning time. It’s prefect for setting the up the energy or vib in an environment for metaphysical work or perhaps just to clean up the scent in a room. I am reminded of very sweet smelling campfires or of walking into a wood shop where many different types of woods have recently been cut. It’s a very fresh clean scent.

Heart Beat
As the name suggests, this is a very upbeat, vibrant and spicy incense. It is a sort of brick or chunk of material and needs to be heated up slowly, either on coal or in a heater.
It has a whole lot of resins and such: Oman and Hougary Frankincense, Rain Forest Elemi , Copals , Benzoin, Juniper EO, Sweet Grass EO, Cedar EO and wild crafted tips, Opopanax and Pinon Pine resin. It is really very lively and rich and the scent tend to change up as different parts ignite. It is packaged in a glass vial with extra ingredients surrounding the bricks. What this means is that you can heat just the bricks, the extra powders or any combination thereof. It’s great fun to experiment with. All in all, this is a very uplifting and rich incense which I find myself using quite a lot, Also, when used in the heater it does not produce smoke, or very little, which opens up possibilities for more people to enjoy the scent.

Dark Goddess
Another loose incense for coals or heater. The woods in this mix really stand out at first with a fresh forest scent. Then all the resins kick in and the scent gets much deeper and earthy. There are a lot of different aspects to this incense that keep it interesting, a huge play of different smells interacting with each other as well as the environment you are in. One of its ingredients is Salupati which is supposed to have “psychoactive properties”. I have not noticed anything of this nature but experimentation is still in progress 🙂 . Again, like the Heart Beat mentioned above, not much smoke is generated on the heater but quite a lot of great scent is. A small amount ( ¼ teaspoon) will pretty much give a very nice scent to a standard bedroom. This one is woods and earth tones as opposed to the spices and resins in Heart Beat.

A Bakhoor style incense, Quite possibly one of the, if not the best, rose incense ever. I kid you not. This stuff is a light, clean, uplifting rose scent that gets help from the Aloeswood and Sandalwoods in the mix. I believe they help to lift the scent up and give it some exotic overtones. I have not been a big fan of the florals but this one opened up whole new vista’s to me. There are none of the off or synthetic scents that so many of the floral scents seem to come with. Really, it’s just a huge pure river of rose scent that just keeps coming. Plus one bottle will last quite a while; it does not take very much and you will find yourself gravitating back to it for that floral hit. Well, at least I do and I am generally an Aloeswood kind of guy 🙂  !

If you do not yet have a heater you can put these next to a coal on a bit of foil and you are in business!


Les Encens du Monde / Moments of Eternity, Moments of Serenity (Discontinued)

In the Encens du Monde Short Rolls list are a couple of incenses that are actually quite different from the others in the line. For one thing, they’re at least an inch shorter each than the rest of the short rolls and they’re also quite a bit thicker. The thickness of the stick, however, doesn’t really add to the smoke content and both of these incenses are quite smooth and consonant even while made up of a number of ingredients. Like many roll incenses, these two come singly or in boxes of (12) rolls. I’ve also seen gift boxes with rolls of both and a holder, but as far as I know these haven’t been imported yet and could be discontinued.

Moments of Eternity is an earthy, tan colored stick and made from white sandalwood, cinnamon, oak moss and essential oils. Overall it’s actually not a heavily perfumed incense, which is often the case for many brands in the Encens du Monde canon, instead it definitely goes for a strong spice content and as such is reminiscent of gingerbread cookies or graham crackers. While it’s not a particularly startling incense at the beginning, I’ve found myself presently surprised coming back into a room full of the aroma of one that has been burning for a while, it has a mellow consistency to it that’s quite nice, a spicy stick that’s really never overwhelming.

Moments of Serenity is the green stick companion and a far less distinctive incense, created from sandalwood, cinnamon, benzoin, kansho (spikenard), star anise seed and cloves. I could see this ingredients list almost being more appropriate for Moments of Eternity as it implies a high spice content. However Moments of Serenity is far more like a green, every day sandalwood in scent. While there are notes of the ingredients list in the top part of the aroma, they’re very subtle and often lost with fatigue, leaving the stick smelling rather standard after a while. I spent quite a few sticks just trying to suss out further qualities from this one and was left disappointed (nor was I convinced age was a factor in this case). However, it does share the same slick and consonant qualities of Moments of Eternity, even if that particular incense is the most successful of the two.

Overall, I’d recommend Eternity, but would suggest other green sandalwood types with more distinctiveness (for example Kyukyodo Ikaruga or Shoyeido Evening Zen) over Serenity.

Keigado / Full Moon

I find it surprisingly uncommon to run across Japanese incense sticks of any fashion that contain a noticeable amber content. Ross reported on one a few days ago, and while I’m sure that there’s a number that use it as a “spice” in terms of the “secret” parts of the recipe, it’s very rare indeed to find it as a noticeable part of an incense’s base, especially odd when you consider how prevalent it is in Indian and Tibetan styles.

Keigado’s Full Moon is basically in the common, green sandalwood style, except that the strong presence of amber really sets it apart. It reminds me a little of the Gyokushodo blend Hanabishi in that it starts with a slightly sweeter sandalwood base; however, the powdery, almost royal amber base helps to create a very different incense. It adds up to a rather wonderful low end and affordable blend.

Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun, Shun-Yo, Ohjya-Koh

Shoyeido Premium Greens (Ga-Ho, Misho, Kyo-jiman, Matsu-no-tomo)

Nan-Kun, Shun-Yo and Ohjya Koh are the three earthy/yellow-ish sticks in Shoyeido’s premium series. As above, I covered four of the ten Shoyeido premium incenses a few weeks ago and most of the general information and discussion on this series can be found there. The three in question, in terms of the order of the series, go where the commas do in the link above. Nan-Kun is actually quite orange, while the other two are a somewhat earthy yellow tone. But like the four green colored incenses, there are some similarities among these scents.

As mentioned in the previous Premium article, there’s been changes to the Shoyeido ingredients lists for these incenses. While the main changes have been to drop the reference to aloeswood in the lower end premiums, it appears spikenard has also been removed as an ingredient from Nan-Kun, leaving aloeswood, benzoin, and clove. Borneol has also been added to the new ingredients list. The spikenard omission seems fairly startling as this incense seems fairly redolent with the sweet, caramel-like scent that also weaves its way into three of the four green Premium sticks. It’s a top note for the series’ first really dense aloeswood presence. In fact of all the transitions from the low end Matsu-no-tomo through the high-end kyara premiums, the one from Misho to Nan-Kun may be the most profound, in that one goes from an excellent incense to the sort of deep, fathomless wood scents that characterize the very best aloeswood incenses and all of the top five Shoyeido premiums. Nan-Kun is almost animalistic, certainly the most feral incense in the series, the spikenard top oil also seems to have some very strong musky hints to it and like its Horin analog Muro-Machi, the play between the dense wood and sweltery, sweet top note is delightful. Overall, provided one has had the chance to sample the series, Nan-Kun might be the best box to start with as it has most of the high end characteristics while being the most inexpensive of those that does. It has wood you can lose yourself in.

In comparison, the drop to Shun-Yo is quite vast. Gone is the overt and penetrating top oil and one is left with what is virtually a very woody incense, and if it wasn’t for Ohjya Koh itself, one of the most muted and gentle in the range, Shun-Yo might be considered the mellowest of the premiums. Shun-Yo has the requisite (and nearly Misho-like) aloeswood content along with sandalwood, clove, patchouli and other spices. In fact for the new ingredients list, this is the first (or priciest) Shoyeido premium without aloeswood (now) being listed, even if it’s as noticeable a presence as it is in Sei-Fu or even Misho itself. Shun-Yo was actually the first premium box I tried and as such it hasn’t compared quite as favorable to its neighbor Misho, whose green, spicy nature has made it a regular. While Shun-Yo may have similar masala-like qualities in the scent (several of these Shoyeidos almost have a curry-like spice as part of the palate), the patchouli content here tends to keep it more on the mild side.

However, a comparison to Ohjya-Koh, a scent milder bit still very similar to Shun-Yo, does show a considerable difference in aloeswood content and as such Shun-Yo has quite a bit more depth to it. The new ingredients list for Ohjya-Koh switches out the aloeswood for benzoin, but like all the low end premiums, there’s still a pretty noticeable aloeswood presence however its derived. Here, the blend is pretty thorough, with few of the elements really making an independent presence. In fact, it strikes me that this incense and Matsu-No-Tomo might be better categorized under the Premium Daily label along with En-Mei and Sei-Fu, all of which are very affordable, have no aloeswood in the ingredients list, yet still show it as part of the bouquet. However, like neighbors Matsu-no-tomo and Kyo-jiman there’s a noticeable and rather high level sandalwood that compliments the rest of the ingredients nicely and it may be more useful, particularly with the ingredient list differences, to consider these as deluxe sandalwoods rather than low end aloeswoods. It goes to show that the tenor of the entire line changes depending on which vantage point one looks from.

As stated in the previous article, the Shoyeido Premium series is quite simply one of the finest in incense, a ladder with ten rungs where each rung is a significant step up in both price and quality. And in a few weeks or so, I hope to discuss the best and last three, Sho-kaku, Myo-Ho and Go-Un, incenses legendary in both cost and scent.

Drepung Loseling Monastery / Gold Seal, Zin-Poe

Drepung Loseling is a Tibetan monastery based in Karnataka State, South India, established there after the Chinese government forced many monasteries out of Tibet in 1959. Previously it had existed near Lhasa, where it was established in the 15th Century. Among several small cottage industries that support the students of the monastery is a small incense making project that produces these two exports, Gold Seal and Zin-Poe.

Both incenses are made from similar ingredients, over 40 different substances that include saffron, white and red sandalwood, juniper, cedar, fragrant arborescent and medicinal plants, ground conch and musk. Like many Tibetan incenses, the use of faunal ingredients may clash with Western ecological philosophies, although in the case of the Drepung Loseling incenses, the ingredients do tend to be leavened by the woody bases of the incense, meaning that the overt aromas these elements bring are quite mild. Despite the $16 price on the boxes, both contain enough sticks of incense to last you for a long time – in fact I’d say nearly every corner of each box was full with the reddish tones of the incenses.

Like other Tibetan incenses with grades, one gets the impression that the Gold Seal incense is Drepung Loseling’s A grade. The color of the stick is a darker, burgundy-ish red and the sticks are definitely quite thin. The aroma is more concentrated, tarter, crisper and more on the cherry or berry side. It’s a surprisingly gentle incense for a Tibetan high ender, definitely pleasant but not replete with the types of complex notes high enders often have. It’s even difficult with the ingredients list to call which notes are more in evidence.

On the other hand, Zin-Poe almost seems like a more leavened version of the same incense. It seems clear there’s a greater content of cedar and/or juniper wood along with the rest of the ingredients, not only are the sticks thicker but the color is definitely pinker and not quite as dense. The aroma is definitely quite a bit lighter and not terribly distinctive, although the red berry notes are still the dominant scent. In particular, the black ash left ofter does seem rather typical of incenses that have high quantities of cedar. However there are some interesting notes that comes out, including slight tobacco/herbaceous hints and a little bit of caramel (spikenard?). Overall it seems a bit watered down (I’d suggest starting with the Gold Seal) but it’s quite sweet and pleasant and not at all a difficult incense.

Tibetan incenses do generally become quite impressive when the prices start closing in on the $20 mark, however the price here also seems to reflect the quantity of incense in the box, which is quite considerable. For example Zin-Poe contains 50 10″ sticks, but it’s likely that is the count on the unbroken sticks; you’re as likely to get a number of extra sticks or fragments as well, given how full the boxes are.

Awaji-Baikundo / Jihi

Jihi from Awaji-Baikundo uses hydrangea tea as one of the main components of this incense. It seems to me that it adds a rather clear and bright quality to the scent. There are three kinds to choose from. SHOUJOU, which I believe may be just the hydrangea tea and some spice, Byakudan, which adds Sandalwood and the one I ended up getting, Jihi, which has a major Amber note to it. There is also a big Borneol Camphor presence ( you can really tell when you open the box ). Taken all together this combination makes for a very unique and interesting incense. This is not the regular sultry Indian Amber I was expecting, it has a much lighter, cleaner almost fresher scent then any other Amber based, well anything, then I have experienced before. I find myself really liking this one. It is the sort of thing I would burn for special moments or to set a certain mood or vibration in a room (or me for that matter). It’s not inexpensive, yet because I find that I really enjoy the particular style of Amber that it presents it will be something that I keep a stock of. It has the unique factor in spades.
Most likely I will find myself ordering the other two because the hydrangea tea aspect intrigues me no end. So much so that I am checking out my neighbor’s plants and am contemplating a raid :0 )

Shoyeido / Xiang-Do / Rose, Palo Santo, Vanilla, Mixed Fruits, Citrus, Marine, Lavender, Violet

Shoyeido’s Xiang-Do series is created by what the company calls their exclusive pressed incense process, a process that for most of us on the outside will be somewhat obscure. What we can tell from the product is that these incenses concentrate the aromatics to a degree rarely found in the natural world and, most importantly, do so very successfully. To my nose, Shoyeido is responsible for many of the best modern incense styles on the planet and their pressed incense is generally extraordinary.

Like Shoyeido’s LISN series, one is aware by the numbers on the boxes that we only see a small part of this line here, what would amount to 16 incenses, with three of them labelled as Xiang-Do Fresh (Green Tea, Tea, Coffee). Xiang-Do not only provides a small sampler for the Fresh trio, but a 12 stick/12 aroma sampler as well. It looks like the larger 30 stick/10 aroma sampler has been deleted at the Shoyeido site, but may be available for a little while longer if you look around. The price of the 20 stick boxes is rather close to $15 and with the short 2 3/4 inch length, these incenses can generally be considered pricy, as is all of the incenses that use the pressed incense process (I know I’d like to see bigger (60 stick) boxes). I’ll be covering half of the line in this article, the other half will be forthcoming (including my two favorites in the entire line – Forest and Peppermint).

Xiang Do’s Rose is easily one of the better Rose incenses I’ve been able to sample, perhaps not quite at the level of the Floral World/Royal Rose, but certainly more affordable. Like all of the line’s incenses the floral oil is very concentrated, starting with a sweet garden-like rose aroma and ending in a surprisingly dry finish. Rose incenses aren’t generally my favorite, but the style and rich base make this quite attractive.

Palo Santo comes from an Andean tree and while it’s a rather extraordinary scent whether natural or in this pressed style, it’s one you rarely see in Japanese incense, which makes this somewhat unusual. I think of it as a somewhat orangey aromatic wood, with hints of mango and apricot and a bit of talcum. Quite pleasant and definitely unique, it’s likely to be friendly to most noses.

Vanilla is about what you’d expect, although the intensity of the aroma brings out sides to the scent rather uncommon to most vanilla incenses. It’s both slightly sweet and spicy, but not at all like vanilla in the ice cream or confectionary sense, a little closer to the tonka bean sort of aroma, almost as if it had fruitlike qualities. This is one I’ve slowly grown to over time and I’d probably put it in the second tier after Forest and Peppermint.

Mixed Fruits never strikes me as a good idea for incense, and while this is decent the overall mix of apple, citrus, banana and grape kind of renders the overall aroma somewhat banal. I can imagine specific fruits would probably work better under such a style and can imagine the Japanese line must have them. Here there’s a surprising lack of aromatic concentration and distinction. However fruit incense lovers might see this a bit different.

Citrus has similar issues, although in many ways this is fairly close to Forest and Peppermint in style. The previously mentioned 30 stick sampler was displayed sort of like a rainbow of colors and while it does help to make it look like a pretty box, there may also be some similarities in style with scents similar in color. The end note on this one has a grapefruit-like citrus aroma that for my nose doesn’t finish quite so well.

Marine is another one that may seem bizarre to the western nose. It’s that attempt to capture the aromas of being at sea or on a beach. Nippon Kodo have an incense called Aqua that captures that sort of wet/watery sort of scent. Marine itself is more of a saltwater vibe, a bit of brine that doesn’t seem to work so well with the general base of this incense. Fortunately it’s dry, but this will be one you’d want to try in a sampler first.

The last two are probably my favorite in this specific group. Lavender surprised me in not being very typical of incenses with French lavender oil, which is a good thing given their prevalence. The aromatics are intense enough to give the incense an almost liquor-like lavender scent, dense, perfumed and sweltery. It does have similarities to the lavender you might find in hair products, however the Xiang-Do base helps to balance this proclivity and keep it a little on the sweeter side.

Violet‘s my favorite of the Xiang-Do floral scents, not terribly far from the natural aroma, although the base adds sweetness and balance to the oil. I got a little purple valentine candy in there as well, it’s a really delightful scent, one of the few florals I can really get behind.

Other than the Fresh trio I mentioned earlier, the remaining Xiang Do incenses (exported to the US) are Forest, Peppermint, Sandalwood, Frankincense and Agarwood, all of which I hope to cover in the future once I managed to “complete the series.” Despite that I’ve been fairly critical on this first eight, I’d still recommend giving the sampler a try as depending on one’s personal tastes you might well find that you enjoy certain blends more than I do. I tend to find Shoyeido pressed incenses to be among the finest treats in incense and very complimentary to woody, spicy and more natural styles.

Shunkohdo / Zuika Koh

I have had a box of Zuika Koh from Shunkohdo for about 5 months. I got it, used a little, and then got caught up in some other incenses and only recently started burning it again. Really, I think I had to grow up into it.

Mike reviewed it last November and in recently going back to look at the review (because, yes, he was and is one of my main sources for what is worth getting :0 )), I sort of rediscovered it. So I realized that it had gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle and decided to bring it back out to play.

The ingredients list on the websites seemed a little lacking to me so I wrote to Kotaro at Japan Incense asking for a little more input. He wrote to Shunkohdo and they wrote back: “Ross, I got mail from Shunkohdo. It is a company secret recipe. However, he mentioned to me that Zuika Koh contains some of following ingredients such as: aloeswood, sandalwood, clove, cinnamon, star anise, spikenard, patchouli, benzoin, and borneol.”

Which are pretty much the standards of the Japanese incense world. Of course there is the “secret” part that makes up the difference and adds that certain something of uniqueness. One thing that I am now noticing about this incense is the quality of the materials. The aloeswood is really nice, and given the price of the stuff of late, that can become a deciding factor in scent and cost.

Also Zuika Koh straddles that fine line between spice and floral where neither one is out front and the wood element can still play such a big part. Actually in this incense they all sort of trade places through out the burn. This is a really pleasant and captivating grouping of scents. It is great for the reflective moment or perhaps study. It’s calming, not overpowering, yet at the same time can really get your attention once you start to discover all the subtle nuances it has. As Mike said it’s better to burn this one early on if you are going to be using more then one incense, then you can really enjoy it.

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