Shoyeido / Sitting Zen, Morning Zen, Evening Zen

Shoyeido’s Zen series features three different long stick, sandalwood-based incenses that are nearly perfect for meditation. Not only are the sticks 13″ long, but they’re two or three times as thick. One must conclude that these sticks are very good value for money, after all, consider breaking them into 60 6 1/2 inch sticks and then multiply times three to account for the relative thickness and you’re getting considerable value for your money, whether it’s the $7.95 Sitting, the $9.95 Morning or the $11.95 Evening Zen. However, on all accounts the Zen series is going for subtlety, which means it’s possible that the one (shorter) stick sampler Shoyeido offers is unlikely to give one the time to really explore how truly sublime this series is. Like the inspiration, many of the Zen series best qualities will just seem out of reach, ineffable and difficult to describe, all qualities perfect for aiding one’s meditation sessions. With time, these continue to impress and I’m starting to consider them among the best sandalwood-based incenses you can buy.

The most inexpensive in the series, Sitting Zen, is perhaps the most ineffable of the series. Every time I burn this stick it’s as if it’s asking a question. What is it just outside of this aroma? It’s as if the sandalwood, clove and cinnamon act just as the vessel for the scent, providing a sublime, slighty resinous sandalwood aroma that seems to be part of a combined experience between meditator and atmosphere. When this aroma clicked for me, I was amazed to see something so incredibly crafted for this price. At one point I didn’t think I’d stock it at all, but it creeps up past all your defenses.

The Morning Zen is quite a bit more active in terms of aroma and is the only stick in this series that isn’t green. Aromatically this is not far off of the Shoyeido Large Coil Goku-hin in that it’s centrally a sandalwood incense that accentuates the ingredient’s buttery and woody natures, with the spice moving around the outside. Overall it’s a little richer and more polished than Goku-hin, but it’s likely to scratch the same itch. As with Sitting Zen, there does seem to be something just out of reach here as well, although it’s something more in the spice than in the overall stick, as the basis here seems to share between cinnamon and sandalwood.

The series’ triumph is the Evening Zen. While the ingredients here are largely sandalwood, clove, patchouli and benzoin, there’s a very noticeable top oil note that’s quite floral, although not overwhelmingly so. The benzoin really comes through in this incense, which gives it the same sort of resiny notes you tend to get in the Kyukyodo low-ends, something almost perfectly complementary to the wood. Where the former two incenses seem to describe ineffable qualities by what they don’t say, Evening Zen navigates the mysteries by its complexity, the top oil notes and rather involves wood base constantly resolving unity out of duality.

Among the most brilliant and affordable low end incenses, Shoyeido’s Zen series is one to explore thoroughly as the brilliance of the craft reveals itself with consistent use. I went from exploring the sampler, not really picking up much, and then needing a second sampler to realize that there was really a lot to these incenses. Now I’d probably want all three in stock, especially for sessions where you need a stick that will go for two hours.

11 Comments

  1. glennjf said,

    July 3, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Is anyone able to explain whether there is any definable experiential difference between Sitting Zen and the Sitting Zen, Classic other than for the packaging? Shoyeido,com shows both versions. There’s a similar situation around Morning and Evening Zens?

    • Mike said,

      July 6, 2010 at 8:08 am

      I didn’t know there were two different kinds, but if there’s anything you can count on with Shoyeido it’s difference in recipes sometimes even with the same incense.

      • glennjf said,

        July 7, 2010 at 11:35 pm

        Seems I might have uncovered another Shoyeido mystery! First the different versions of the Daily incenses and now the Zens!

        Only the traditional packaged Evening Zen is available here in Australia though I’ve not found it for sale locally, yet. Incense of the world wholesale it under the name “Sora / Sky”. I think it is Evening Zen though from the tiny photo they have on their website it looks like it.

        Anne has alerted to an Australian retailer… website, http://www.lilitu.com.au/japan.htm They have “Sora / Sky” listed, they also sell to overseas.

        I don’t know why Incense of the World who wholesales this incense and some others has not included the company names with the incenses they sell. Nor why they have called many of those incenses by slightly different names to what they’re generally known by in the western hemisphere. I imagine whoever did the work to bring their offering of Japanese incenses into Australia did their own translations of the incense names but somehow forgot to include the company names. Could also be they did not know that there were some good online resources available that they could refer to for more clarification. I have of course long since alerted Incense of the World to the existence of the OFS.

        I have been sent a sample stick of each of the three modern looking boxed versions, by Beverly 🙂 I decided quickly that I l would love t have all the Zens, and that from the sampling of just a single stick of each! I did find I had to light the morning zen in the morning to really “get it”. I read somewhere (probably was here) that if lighting Morning Zen at other times of day it just wouldn’t do it’s thing properly, whoever wrote that was right.

        Unless someone posts they have tried the traditional packaged as well as the modern packaged versions and can state with certainty that there is any notable difference I will keep my wish list configured to the modern packaged versions since I am happy with those ones.

    • glennjf said,

      July 20, 2010 at 6:21 am

      Shoyeido revamped their website (July 2010) therefore the links in my post (above) are no longer working. Good news is the revamped Shoyeido website has a page that’s showing both examples of the Sitting Zens, together, on the same page.

      I’m hedging my bets that there is no discernible difference between them other than for packaging.

      • glennjf said,

        July 25, 2010 at 1:47 am

        Well now, things have a way of sorting themselves sometimes don’t they. I wasn’t looking for the answer so it showed itself to me 🙂

        Assuming the quoted is correct then the mystery is solved unless someone has something else to offer.

        Zen Classic style contains exactly the same incense as the regular Zen product but it is elegantly wrapped in traditional Japanese wrapping paper and comes in a hand-pasted rice paper box- incensewarehouse.com (Evening Zen page)

        • Janet said,

          July 28, 2010 at 11:48 am

          I’m sorry I haven’t been attentive enough lately…
          I should have answered your question sooner – but your research led you in the right direction, Glenn.
          I have tried both versions, and they are the same.

          • glennjf said,

            July 30, 2010 at 2:56 am

            Thanks for the confirmation Janet. It’s great to know someone has experienced both to be able to compare.

  2. Mike said,

    July 3, 2008 at 11:45 am

    One thing I’m noticing with my personal incense habits is that my experience tends to shift and change over a bundle and you can’t really get that unless your sampler has at least 4-5 sticks. And even then I think there’s that possibility that one might not be so fond of an aroma once one’s really experienced it, particularly in the context of other incenses.

    For example, my “arc” with my Ryuhinko bundle is berzerk. One day I find it utterly sublime, the next there’s something that bothers me about it. I’ve yet to resolve exactly how I feel about it, even though I’d call it a brilliant even hall of fame incense half the time.

  3. Steve said,

    July 2, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Hey Mike – yeah, I’ve had strange experiences with samplers. As a general rule, they just don’t offer enough air time to “get” and if I buy the full roll anyway, it’s usually a much different olfactory experience. I know you’ve mentioned this phenomena in the past. I blew through a ton of samplers over the past couple of months and usually was unimpressed as I proceeded. Too much, too fast I guess. And yes, I felt like I ran through a bunch of Shoyeido lines and had mediocre reviews of them based on samples alone. I took the plunge on the Zen and Moon series because 1) you’ve made the occasional hopeful comment about them 2) they are cheap and I’m always excited to find the next Reiryo Koh bargain and 3) the names are just too cool sounding 😀 Glad I did. None of these are showstopper must-haves, especially for the “Dry Wood Crowd” (like you and I seem to be) but both Zen and Moon series are highly affordable, highly enjoyable changes-of-pace. I forget which of the 3 Moons I prefer – they’re all nice – and I basically use them in rotation as I do the 3 Zens. But none of the Moons remind me of amusement park attractions 🙂

    Steve

  4. Mike said,

    July 2, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Thanks Steve, love the Haunted House memory! I kind of think my nose wasn’t ready for a lot of Shoyeido scents when I first went through many of their samplers. Another revisit for down the line is their Kyoto Moon series, which I’d guess as being one lost on me a year ago. I kind of think that being introduced to their high ends kinda masks how good the low ends can be as well.

  5. Steve said,

    July 2, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Mike – glad to see this series reviewed by you! I picked up full boxes of each after trying the sampler a few weeks ago and have been enjoying them immensely. As you mention, these are baseball bat size sticks and are really affordable (only 2 or 3 cents per inch). It’s nice to switch between the three to keep things new, but I too ended up loving the Evening Zen. At times I thought of apple pie with Sitting Zen. And I swear – Evening Zen reminded me of the smell when you first walk into the foyer of the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World! How’s that for deja vu?! I swear it’s true – and being my favorite attraction there, you know I’ll be keeping Evening Zen stocked 😀

    Steve


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