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.



  1. February 22, 2016 at 4:06 am

    […] to create Shoyeido’s Nankun incense sticks, relying in part on a great profile article on Olfactory Rescue Service. He used many of those notes in addition to several elements that, to his nose, seemed to be […]

  2. September 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    […] Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – And almost for a different reason, Nan-Kun is nearly as addictive. I think my appreciation for musk is higher of late due to all the Tibetans and while Nan-Kun gets its muskiness likely from the very high quality and heavy use of spikenard, it still itches that same spot while hitting the aloeswood and spice buttons at the same time. This one is very animal and rich, with an almost poignant sweetness to it. Possibly the best buy for money in the Shoyeido Premium line. To my nose, I enjoy Ga-Ho and Nan-Kun as much as the expensive kyaras in the line. […]

  3. August 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    […] August 25, 2008 at 9:56 am (Aloeswood, Incense, Japan, Kyara, Mike, Sandalwood, Shoyeido, Spice (Cinnamon Clove Nutmeg etc.), Woods) Ga-Ho, Misho, Kyo-jiman, Matsu-no-tomo Nan-Kun, Shun-Yo, Ohjya-Koh […]

  4. Yosh said,

    January 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Nan-Kun has a very masculine vibe to it, but it is very mellow and solid.

    Shun-Yo is also very masculine, but feels like third chakra, enthusiasm energy to me. I feel like I have to consciously chill myself out to enjoy it or I get anxious.

  5. Steve said,

    November 9, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I have spent the last hour slowly working through the Shoyeido premium sampler, using a guest bathroom as a controllable, contained space (boy, does it smell good right now!) I am not through, but 2 comments come to mind:

    1) what Mike says about the jump from Misho to Nankun is dead on. Misho was quite nice, but Nankun ramped things to the next level. For lack of adequate aroma vocabulary, I can only say it seemed to have a water-iness deep quality that is not sweet per se but almost tickles the back of your throat and skull in its amazing depth and intensity. I would certainly spring for this over Misho, and probably even prefer it to the brief sample of Ga-Ho I’ve tried.

    2) There is a grouping of incense I think of as the “Baieido Koh En/Tennendo Enkuu-Horizon” school. The words “green tea” and “slightly sweet” always come to mind. Misho & Nankun are in this school. Ten-Pyo is there, too, as is Ga-Ho (this is as far as I’ve gotten with the premium sampler). I have a very hard time differentiating incense in this school and am not clear what I am picking up on. Is this high-quality aloeswood as the common denominator and underlying aroma? Is this hints of Kyara? It’s frustrating because I realize these samples are nearing the pinnacle of the incense-making art and I feel a bit at a loss to understand what I am smelling. And, of course, these are not incenses to be purchased cavalierly. Some seem a little drier/woodier and some might seem a bit sweeter. But I can’t say I understand yet why Ga-Ho is nearly twice the price of Nankun (and I still can’t reliably tell the difference between Koh-En and Enkuu-Horizon). I wonder if Sho-kaku will be a clear eye-opener or if it, too, will fall somewhere in this school and leave me confused as to what is “best” versus what is “best for me”?! It would be sooooo helpful to have a sampling with others in a group setting where we could share our impressions – but I don’t see me moving to California any time soon 😀

    – Steve

    • Mike said,

      November 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

      Except for Koh En, which I’m not sure about, there’s one ingredient that Misho, Nan-Kun, Ga-Ho and I believe Enkuu have in common and that’s spikenard. I’m not sure if Ten-Pyo has it but it wouldn’t surprise me. I think this would account for what you’re picking up as slightly sweet to some extent but it could be the aloeswood or something else as well. None of the incenses you mentioned have kyara in them, but aloeswood can be sweet without it. I found a one on one sessions between Baieido Ogurayama and Baieido Hakusui woods to be a nice comparison between two different woods, the former having sweet characteristics, the latter more spicy. But then again, these aloeswoods aren’t in any of the incenses you mentioned (well, I’m not totally sure about Koh En).

      But I definitely wouldn’t be too worried about understanding anything right away, in fact both Ross and I use the words “learning curve” for just about all the aloeswood incenses, it’s like the more you use them, the more you learn about them, but it’s also way more about the journey than the destination (there’s a lot of early reviews I could probably rewrite at some point). The way I look at it is the better the aloeswood, the more dense the characteristics of it and the more aspects it has to play off your brain’s sensory mechanics and their way of evoking memory and nostalgia to try and account for what’s often a very new experience.

      As to the expense, I think it’s probably a good idea to take a look at the Shoyeido graded woods (even without trying them I think their price grading is useful just to see). I think the more expensive an incense is, the more the combinations of ingredients use the higher grades of woods. Working from top down Sho-kak-ku’s clearly mostly kyara, it’s so dense that I think you almost need perfect environmental factors to get the most of it. Myo-ho’s about half kyara, half the highest level of aloeswood below that (and I’ll be clear, with Shoyeido, unlike, say, Baieido, you’re also dealing with oud oils of a sort and not just the woods, which is why they’re so fragrant right off the stick). Go-Un uses a fraction of kyara, a fraction of aloeswood as well as a fraction of really high quality sandalwood. After this the kyara’s gone and when you get to Ga-Ho (which is my all time favorite of this whole line btw) you’re still dealing with very high end aloeswood, but I’d guess you’re also dealing with some of the finest spikenard available as well as whatever else is in it. I think Nan-Kun uses the same wood, but it’s not at the same percentage and may use either less wood or maybe it drops down to a different grade. The difference also could be the oil make up between the two, Ga-Ho strikes me as a lot more intense than Nan-Kun does. But then again in public I’ve always found Nan-Kun to be much more attractive to people than Ga-Ho.

      Expense is definitely related to gradings of woods, but that’s only one factor. I think I probably like Baieido’s #3 Kun Sho over their #4 Koh En, for example (course I may very well end up liking Koh Shi Boku the best). I prefer Ga-Ho #4 to the first 3 (although if I had more Myo-ho then I might think differently). But with the Shoyeido’s I very much enjoy Misho and Kyo-Jiman too.

      Anyway I’d take all of what I said with a grain of salt, without really knowing the recipes, I can only guess from comparing and contrasting.

      As far as a group setting there appear to be a few of ya in the North Carolina area 🙂

  6. December 15, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    […] Shoyeido/Premium/Nan-Kun – Somehow the translation of the name (Southern Wind) really comes through in this blend. Never really sweet, but very fresh, like a desert wind through a lush oasis. Of all the non kyaras in the Shoyeido line this one just gets to me the most. There is also a certain similarity to Tennendo’s Enkuu. A side by side comparison is great fun! (Ross) […]

  7. July 29, 2008 at 8:50 am

    […] 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. […]

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