Kyukyodo / Shiun, Yumemachi (Discontinued), Ryuhinko

[Kyukyodo have discontinued Shiun & Yumemachi; Ryuhinko no longer is imported]

As this review will imply, Kyukyodo are perhaps the most underrepresented Japanese incense company in the US market, with a contract that has tied up a number of incenses and prevented them from being sold here, at least to date. It’s particularly a shame, given the numerous, high quality incenses available in Japan and even Europe, that for the time being this will be my last review of Kyukyodo incenses. The previous reviews can be found here and here.

The incenses in question here include two brands that come in large boxes, 400 sticks for Shiun and 550 for Yumemachi. While the quantity does put both incenses in a higher price bracket, many incenses suppliers break these boxes down into smaller bundles that make them quite affordable, although given the quality of both incenses, it’s possible one will immediately wish one had gone for the full boxes.

In particular, Shiun is an extremely good buy for the money, even at a slightly raised per-stick price for a smaller bundle from the box. It’s an incense that could almost fit into the Baieido catalog, its combination of aloeswood and other spices creating a very natural blend. Like many premium incenses, even the slightest aromatic fatigue is likely to cut off the more sublime notes in this incense that give it a slight richness at the top, but even without that crescendo, Shiun works well as a friendly, slighty sweet and even cherry-like aloeswood, a tradition that has similarities in Tennendo Renzan, Nippon Kodo Zuiun and Baieido’s Kobunboku series. I’ve found Shiun to be fairly unusual and quite mutable like many Kyukyodo incenses in that one still learns about them with continued use. And it’s really nothing at all like Kyukoyodos many green stick incenses that all seem to bear a certain Kyukyodo trademark.

Like Shiun, Yumemachi is also quite different compared to the rest of the Kyukyodo line, one which actually has a number of subtly different sandalwood-based incenses. Yumemachi is going for a higher class, old-mountain style sandalwood, except that it’s a bit more than that, with spices and perhaps oil that really lean the central sandalwood aroma in a different direction. I liked this one immediately on first stick due to its balance and quality wood. It actually reminds me a little of a Corona with lime, the incense has a noticeable citrus element and is quite smooth overall. Undoubtedly this is an excellent incense to start with if you want a purer sandalwood, it’s free from the slight, sharp notes you find in, say, Tennendo Kohrokan Sandalwood. In some ways it’s not far off some of the lower end Korean sandalwoods.

Where Shiun and Yumemachi diverge from the Kyukyodo playbook, Ryuhinko might be the best example of it. It’s possibly the driest aloeswood available, like the Cabernet Sauvignon of incense. Like Sho-Ran-Koh and Shiun, Ryuhinko has a lot of mutable qualities that make it difficult to pin down. There is some mint and other greenish spice notes that operate at a very subtle level, while never impinging on the incense’s dry qualities. The aloeswood is almost equally subtle and due to the restraint of all the ingredients, it keeps the overall impact on a very sublime level, one perhaps not possible to pick up with every stick and which tends to fade quickly with fatigue. I’ve had sticks that were lost on me and others that made me full to the brim with hyperbole, as if I can never make up my mind about it. It’s also quite the contrast to the sweet, floral Azusa while being in the same price range. Overall, perhaps another “expert” stick in terms of its longevity and learning curve and certainly a gem, hinting at some of the sticks that haven’t managed to enter the US market yet.

As you can imagine, I await the day we see more of this company’s amazing incenses on these shores, they’re too fine to ever give up hope on.

Advertisements

20 Comments

  1. ted said,

    January 15, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    A friend of mine send me a half roll of Ryuhinko that I’ve been taking notes on the past few months. The three or four previous times I burned it were unremarkable, but tonight my mind has been blown! It was just beautiful, just perfect.
    Then I found out it was affordable, but unavailable! I’ve wrapped the remaining in foil and put them aside for special occasions. I don’t know if it was just that stick or what, but it was an incredible experience.

  2. the company said,

    June 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    you can buy kyukyodo in new york at kinokuniya on 6th ave near bryant park

  3. koinu7 said,

    July 31, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Unfotrunately, according to the store in Japan where I buy Kyukyodo (as of now, there doesn’t seem to be any distributors in the US anymore — don’t even try unless you have a strong grasp of basic Japanese [esp writing system]), Shiun and and Yumemachi have been discontinued. There is another incense in this class that is a aloeswood/sandalwood blend, but I have yet to try it. Those two were my introduction in to Kyukyodo, so I will miss them.

    • Mike said,

      August 2, 2010 at 8:05 am

      Wow, yeah that’s a real pity. The Kyukyodo distribution thing seems to be a real mess, as I understand it the company over here with the rights has dropped the ball but not enough where someone else could pick it up and run with it.

      • koinu7 said,

        August 5, 2010 at 8:56 pm

        It’s too bad that the distribution is in such a mess. It seems there was just a huge breakdown. It’s a shame, as they have some wonderful incense. Now people over here will have a very difficult time procuring Kyukyodo. I am hoping against hope that these issues get resolved.

  4. Tio said,

    March 23, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    As a plant biologist with some field experience, I recognized the grape top note in Shiun as a natural floral scent found in the nectar of a widespread assemblage of taxonomically disparate plant species. After a bit of searching online, I believe the specific flower species interpreted in Shiun can be identified.

    Shiun has a prominent herbal component as well, a rich, sweet scent like curing leaves. Cinnamon is prominent as well. The combined effect is simultaneously familiar and wldly exotic, like the scent of a flower among the many organic scents in a forest or garden.

    A clue to the floral side of Shiun is its English translation “Purple Cloud” and its purple box, suggestive of a purple flower. This eliminated my original conjecture, Sophora spp., which has no purple-flowered Asian species.

    A common grape-scented, purple-flowered, Japanese-native plant is wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Japanese wisteria grows to truly massive dimensions in the wild, easily covering a house-sized object with masses of hanging, foot-long clusters of purple flower.

    Might this look like a “Purple Cloud”? When I did a Google search for a relationship between Japan, wisteria, and “Purple Cloud”(http://bit.ly/dnmWI8), the result was — poetry.

    From 10th century Japan:

    “Sprays of wisteria
    Seeming indeed
    A purple cloud-
    What may be the dwelling
    This omen foretells?”

    -poem from “Kagayaku Fujitsubo”, ca. 996
    by Fujiwara no Kinto
    (http://bit.ly/cN29mp)

    (A footnote says Kinto uses both
    meanings of purple cloud: an
    “auspicious cloud”, and the Japanese Empress.)

    From 13th century Japan:

    “In spring the wisteria flowers tremble in the wind,
    so many blooming in the west that it seemed
    like the coming of Amida Buddha
    riding on purple clouds.”

    -“Hojoki”, ca. 1212
    by Kamo no Chome
    http://bit.ly/bYAGcW

    “Purple Cloud” as a wisteria metaphor appears in common use in Japanese culture since the 10th century, in the context of the Japanese Empress and Buddhism.

    All of which leads me to believe Shiun is wood, wisteria, sweet herbs and spices.

    • Mike said,

      March 24, 2010 at 7:35 am

      Tio that’s just stellar research, I really appreciate you sharing what you found here. I do occasionally come across wisteria incenses from Japan, so it’s certainly not unheard of. I’m definitely going to have to pull this one out again soon.

    • Steve said,

      March 24, 2010 at 9:42 am

      Cool info, Tio – thanks! Not being Japanese, I know there must be soooo much I’m missing in terms of cultural associations and traditions and this purple cloud-wisteria connection is just one example…

    • March 29, 2012 at 10:55 am

      It is said in Mayayana Pure Land Buddhism that when one dies those taken to Amitabha Buddha’s paradise are whisked away on a purple cloud leaving a trail of heavenly fragrance behind them. I believe this ties directly into the poetry that Tio references and is the source for for the Shiun name.

  5. January 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    […] you love sandalwood, then do yourself a favor and pick up a roll of Yumemachi by Kyukyodo.  Everything these folks do is superlative and reasonably priced and Yumemachi is no […]

  6. December 15, 2008 at 10:14 am

    […] Kyukyodo/Yumemachi – A new favorite of mine from a company that predates the better known Shoyeido and Baieido. Blending sandalwood with orange peel in a most delightful confection. Yum! Very nice as a daily incense and a bargain at just under $10 per roll. (Nancy) […]

  7. clairsight said,

    November 26, 2008 at 12:53 am

    Hello Koinu7
    Yes, Kyukyodo really is an amazing company. They also have a huge line up in Japan that we only get to see a bit of here. Check out this months Top 10 for a brief look at one of them. Sho Ran Ko is pretty tough to beat considering price and the shear quality of the scent, really amazing.
    Thanks for dropping in and please come back often, comments are a wonderful addition to the site.
    -Ross

  8. koinu7 said,

    November 24, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    I’ve always been a big Baieido fan, but lately I’ve been falling in love with Kyukyodo. I think Sho Ran Ko is my favorite all time incense. It’s just so wonderful and complex. It surpasses my ability to do it justice and provide an accurate, complete description. Shiun and Ryuhinko are also on my list of permanent restock. It’s too bad that we don’t see more of Kyukyodo in the States. I look forward to that day with great anticipation. Absolutely sublime and delicious!

  9. Mike said,

    October 14, 2008 at 11:53 am

    I was just explaining to a friend what a great deal the Sho Ran Ko is. It’s the best incense for the money at the top tier, although you do have to plunk down some overhead. Definitely check out the Shiun or Azusa for your next Kyukyodo, if you haven’t.

  10. C.J. said,

    October 13, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Hello Mike,

    I have to admit that after the exitement of the first stick of Ryuhinko, I burned another the next day. This time, I sniffed it as one might smell a wine–I don’t know the correct term, but it involves initially inhaling slowly and slightly, and holding the scent for a moment behind or in the sinua cavity. NOW I could clearly smell the aloeswood. Thereafter, it became more apparent as the rest of the stick sat, burning down and filling the room with its unique aroma. I should have been more patient the first time!

    I must agree with your comments about “dry aloeswood”. It’s really magnificent, a treat for the nose. I tried Sho Ran Ko too–it is very complex! The box was also a lot larger than I expected it to be. I feel I got my money’s worth for both. I can’t wait to see what else Kyukyodo has to offer in this line!

    CJ

  11. Mike said,

    October 7, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Hi CJ, Ryuhinko’s a difficult stick to break down. I’d guess there’s some spikenard in this one as well as a combo of oils. I have more difficulty picking up the aloeswood with Azusa, but this one is also pretty tough. I think it probably has as much sandalwood in it.

  12. C.J. said,

    October 7, 2008 at 10:41 am

    I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what is behind that dry, hint-of-spice note in Ryuhinko. I’m on my first stick and so far have yet to catch the aloeswood note. What I do smell is a dry amber, most unusual in Japanese incense. I will keep a nostril open for agarwood….

    CJ

  13. Steve said,

    August 25, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Sho Ran Ko, Azusa, Ryuhinko, Shiun and Ikaruga are all wonderful and are all on my permanent restock list. They are each unique. Ikaruga is a favorite, bright frankincense-laden scent. Shiun reminds me of Christmas, perhaps a cinnamon note. Azusa is the first floral I’ve ever truly enjoyed. At one point I thought Ryuhinko was similar to Kunmeido’s Rei-ryoko, though I haven’t A/B compared them in some time. Haven’t gotten to Yumemachi yet, but will. Love this company and their reasonable pricing!

    Steve

  14. clairsight said,

    August 20, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Hello Chamekke
    Yes indeed, Kyukyodo has some really great offering. You might look into getting a “sampler” pack from one of the retail stores(Essences of Ages has a great one) That way you can even try out the high end SHO-RAN-KO, which is just so wonderful. In general they make greta incenses at a great price.

    Ross

  15. chamekke said,

    August 20, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Shiun is the only incense of Kyukyodo’s that I’ve tried so far, but I am quite fond of it and try to keep it always on hand. Sounds like it’s time to try the other two…!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: