Shoyeido / Genji / Otome, Momiji-Noga, Mio-Tsukushi

Shoyeido announced their new Genji series (at least in the United States) in June 2008, incorporating within several incense sets already available, including two of the sets in this review. The Genji series, as mentioned in my previous review in the series, Sakaki, is based around the classic Japanese literary work “Tales of the Genji,” a book whose influence on these incenses is likely to be obscure for the Western incense appreciator. Part of this is that the multi-aroma incense sets often do not provide specific names or scent types for the incense styles, rather they are often based on a concept from the book. This leaves it almost entirely up to our noses in order to appraise some of the Genji series. The three sets here are all labelled as limited editions, although they don’t appear to be selling particularly fast and all seem to be available as of the time of this writing.

The Otome (Maiden) set is a good example of this sort of presentation. Like Sakaki, the four scents seem to roughly line up to the colors assigned to the points of the compass, although in this case they are not presented in this way. The set itself is almost like a fancy picture frame, with a surprisingly solid wooden frame around the set that likely contributes to the terrifically high cost. Within are five triangular pieces each of four different scents, a style sort of like a flattened cone. These triangles burn on top of a flat holder provided with the set and they burn fast at 9 minutes per piece. Even aside from the aromas themselves, this is a very expensive gift set, with much of the cost part of the aesthetic presentation.

The incenses themselves seem to strike some fairly safe ground, with none of the four evincing particularly high ingredient quality. The purple triangle is an aloeswood incense very similar to the Xiang-Do style in terms of the wood quality (as woody and bitter as it is resinous), however it is overlaid with some unusual floral hints that remind me a bit of violet. The spiciness and sweetness give it a pleasant balance, but overall it’s not likely to impress anyone on either side of the aloeswood divide. The red triangle is particularly user friendly and seems to be something of a cherry blossom incense. It’s quite pleasant but muted, attempting to target an audience that likes a combination of floral and fruity scents. The tan triangle returns to a far more woodier arena, although I only started picking up the aloeswood notes in the second and third triangles I burned. There seems to be quite a bit of sandalwood and benzoin in this one, and it has a slight bitterness I found appropriate, giving it an earthy almost gravelly sort of aroma. Just a bit of sweetness prevents it from being too harsh. The green triangle seems fairly typical of Shoyeido sets in that it’s the sort of aroma that evokes both patchouli and green tea. I found this triangle to be the most perfumed of the four, sweet and strong with slight hints of mint. Overall it reminded me of Horin Gen-roku without the aloeswood or the green shapes in the Himenoka pressed set.

Both Momiji-Noga and Mio-Tsukushi have been in Shoyeido’s catalog since I’ve been paying attention to it. Momiji-Noga in particular comes in a very striking and unique set whose artistic beauty and creative cleverness is apparent just from the presentation. Momiji-Noga (Autumn Colors) is incense shaped as slight arching clouds that, like Otome, sit on a flat burner. The incense itself sits on two bases with the opposite tips available to light. Momiji-Noga could be the toughest incense to light in the Shoyeido stable, the incense seeming to be a little more dense than usual. It’s fortunate that it’s a very pleasant scent, one I found to noticeably improve with each piece I tried. The cloud pieces are mustard yellow flecked with red (reflecting the autumnal motif) and give off a combination of aloeswood, sandalwood and spices that seem insular and hard to parse at first but give way to some very subtle impressions as the burn intensifies in smoke due to the format. The aloeswood isn’t high end as usual, but in this case those top bitter notes are well balanced by the spice. The sandalwood is the much stronger presence, almost poignant here. While overall, you’re still paying quite a bit of money for the presentation, the incense appreciator will likely not be terribly disappointed by the scent, which in a way is almost like a variant of the Daily Haku-Un, with a bit of muskiness in the background. I like this one the more I experience it.

Mio-Tsukushi seems to be the remaining set on Shoyeido that comes in small, flat packages, the incense accessed by opening the flap (there used to be 2 or 3 more sets in this vein). The sticks are even shorter than those in the Horin ranges, with a stylized shape to the stick that’s not entirely cylindrical. The color is a bit greyer in person than it is in the photo in the previous link (probably a matter of lighting). The 15 minutes per stick seems to be an outlier from my experience, I’d say the burn length is a few minutes shorter. The scent isn’t terribly far from Momija-Noga, a little bit closer to Haku-Un in the muskiness but with more spice notes, an earthiness that seems akin to either patchouli or vetivert. Like the brown triangle in the Otome set, it took a couple pieces to start noticing that there is something of an aloeswood note with this one, but of all the incenses in this review with one, this is its faintest presence. The cinnamon and clove notes are probably more noticeable and all of these ingredients make it a fairly busy incense whose combinations imply something a bit more ineffable. It’s the kind of scent that probably needs a bit more burn time to be successful, each stick finishing its burning before I could really detect the subtler notes. I’d be on the fence with this one if it weren’t so pricy.

Genji sets are probably only worth the cost if one considers the aethetic presentations part of the price (Otome and Momiji-Noga retail at a whopping $35, Mio-tsukushi at $25). While most of these scents still reflect the quality of Shoyeido’s work, it’s clear from the incenses that they’re using lower quality ingredients than you might find buying a box of Shoyeido at a similar price that’s not a gift set. For example, you’d be getting a much better deal for your money buying the $30 box of Kyo-jiman, a far better incense than any of these. With all sets such as this, the danger is falling in love with one of the scents, only to realize it’s an expensive restock. With the massive increase in pricing that follows the trip across the Pacific, these incenses are generally well below what would be their natural price range. But like Encens du Monde’s Prince of Awaji, while one might be deterred by the expense, it’s nearly impossible not to admit you’re still dealing with very good incense, just not cost-effective incense.


  1. Mike said,

    November 14, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Hi Bernd, I’ve never read it, but it sounds good. I have a “to read” list that could fill a book up in its own right and am unfortunately realizing some of them will have to wait until the next life. 🙂

  2. Bernd Sandner said,

    November 14, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Dear Mike,
    sorry to write almost two weeks after you posted this.
    Did you read the Genji Monogatari?
    It is a wonderful book. To me it seemed like a book written in our times, not, almost, 1000 years ago. I was enchanted.
    Best! Bernd

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