Scents of Japan to reopen a new retail outlet.

Scents of Japan, whose previous retail store, Japan Incense, closed some months ago will reopen in the Japan Center in San Francisco.
The new store is called KOHSHI which means ‘Scents of the Master”.
Expect the store to formally open around early December 2008.
Its address is:

1737 Post Street, Suite 335
San Francisco, CA 94115

Scents of Japan is responsible for introducing into the US a huge amount of previously unavailable incenses.

Say tuned for more!
-Ross

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Essence of the Ages 12 Days of Christmas Sale

Starting the day after Thanksgiving is the Essence of the Ages 12 Days of Christmas Sale. Each day there are new and different items for sale from 15-30% off. This is a really fun sale and a great resource and well worth getting in on. Here’s the fine print from Beth:
Fine print: We are happy to hold your order(s) until the last sale day, which is Dec. 9th at 8:00pm CST. That way you can shop everyday and take advantage of our incredible offers. Your orders are then totaled together, shipped together … and there’s only one shipping charge! Better yet, your combined orders could total over $85, which would mean FREE shipping!
 
YOU MUST COMPLETE THE CHECK-OUT PROCESS! DO NOT LEAVE ITEMS IN YOUR CART AS THEY WILL DISAPPEAR! PLACE AN ORDER AS YOU NORMALLY WOULD. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT WE WILL HAPPILY HOLD YOUR ORDERS UNTIL THE END OF THE SALE!!
 
Note: All held orders can only ship to one address! Shipments to 2 or more addresses need to be on separate orders, and will/may incur separate shipping charges.
 
Hold your order? Send your order? We’re happy to do either. But you MUST let us know either way. IF YOU DO NOT LET US KNOW TO HOLD YOUR ORDER, YOUR ORDER WILL BE SHIPPED IMMEDIATELY. YOU MUST LET US KNOW IF WE ARE TO HOLD YOUR ORDER.
 
At the end of the sale, if we have been holding your order, we will automatically send your order and bill your credit card.
 
Paying by PayPal? No problem. We’ll still add your orders together to save you shipping costs and ship your order when you tell us to.
 
What could be easier?
 
Please note that we are expecting a TREMENDOUS response to our sale items. If we run out of something we will do everything we can to be certain that your order arrives before Christmas. We are stocked ‘to the gills’ on everything but we could still run out. …Just so you know.
 
The sales start Thursday, Nov. 27th … Thanksgiving night at 8:00 CST.

November Top Ten – from Ross

1. Nippon Kodo Tokusen Kyara Taikan Aloeswood
The more I use this the more I like it, not to mention that it gets rave reviews from many people that come through where I live. The combination of oils, spices and Kyara is wonderfully smooth and elegant. Quite additive.
2. Tennendo Enkuu
This is pretty much always on my top ten lists and for good reason. High quality Aloeswood and a somewhat dry and captivating blend of spices and herbs. If you have not tried this at least get a sampler, If you like incense you owe it to yourself to try this one, its that good.
3. Kyukyodo Spring
I lucked out and got a box of this, its not sold in the US (but there’s always hope that the US distributors for Kyukyodo might get gutsy and expand the line up here  😮 ) )
It is along the lines of the ever wonderful Sho-Ran-Ko, but (I’m going over the top here boys, cover me) more refined and cleaner, not to mention a lot more money for fewer sticks. Quite an amazing scent with an oh so smooth delivery. Look for a longer review in early 09.
4. Baieido Kokonoe (Imperial Palace)
I use this a lot, it has a great wood scent using Indonesian Aloeswood’s with just a touch of floral (real faint, almost like an illusion) plus camphor, it also costs less then the others in this series. It’s a great combination and like so many of the incenses that Baieido puts out it’s a great deal as well having a very long enjoyment (learning) curve built in. A bit ore approachable then the more expensive ones in this line.
5. Baieido Bikou Kobunboku (Third Down)
This is pretty much what I burn most mornings when I wake up. I love the play of the Sandalwood, Aloeswood and cinnamon plus all the other spices. It is perhaps a little lighter then some of the others in the Kobunboku line. For around $20.00 you get a 90 gram box which seems to have around 200 sticks, maybe more. There is even a smokeless version, you can’t go wrong here.
6. Awaji-Baikundo Wabi-Sabi
Let me just say God (which ever one you like 😮 )  ) bless the guys at Japan Incense for bringing this company over here! There is a review coming soon on this one from Nancy, ( no pressure ) so all I am going to say is that it’s really very good, plus a bit unusual. Well ok, to me, it rocks.
7. Shoyeido EN-MEI
From Shoyeido’s Daily Premium line. Sandalwood and spices in the way that Shoyeido does so well. I find the scent wakes me up yet at the same time is centering. The ingredients list has patchouli and clove listed but there is a whole lot more going on then that. Shoyeido can be so coy about these things.
8. Nu Essence Nuit
A stunning combination of woods, resins, jasmine and rose in a loose incense form. There is also a touch of camphor that just sends it all over the top. A little goes a long way, perfect for electric heaters or charcoal. Based on esoteric teachings and writings and quite a treat for anyone right now. Nu Essence uses very high quality ingredients to blend up some very timeless and potent incense.
9. Mermade Magickal Arts Spirit Temple
If you like Frankincense you will love this one. It’s made with Hougary Frankincense and lots of other very high grade aromatics in a sort of flat cone shape. It is very strong in all the right ways. Perfect for the high holy days coming up. Mermade goes to great lengths to use the best and it shows.
10. Mermade Magickal Arts Wild Wood
Made from many different woods and resins in a loose incense format. When gently heated it smells just like a cool forest at sunrise. Really quite nice at the end of the day as a restorative. Wonderful stuff.

Shoyeido / Genji Series / Enishi (by Nancy)

The Tale of Genji is a 1,000 page book written in 11th century Japan by a Heian court lady known as Murasaki Shikibu. It is considered to be the oldest Japanese novel and a national treasure, chronicling the life of Genji, or Shining Prince. For Genji life is a bittersweet mix of aristocratic privilege and leisure, coupled with the frustration of multiple failed romances and a forbidden love affair with his stepmother. The novel is notable for its consistency, containing a remarkable four hundred characters that all age in step and maintain accurate relationships throughout all 54 chapters. It is studied extensively today not only for its literary value, but because of its description of Japanese court life, with over 80 current editions in print in a multitude of languages. 2008 marks the 1,000-year anniversary of this book.

So what on earth does all of this have to do with incense? Well, the chapter entitled “A Branch of Plum” describes kneaded incense, an ancient variety in which plum pulp is spiced with honey and herbs and left to mature underground in ceramic vessels for three to five years. This traditional incense is still produced today in small batches, especially for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. It is not burned like incense sticks, but rolled into small balls that are warmed over charcoal or in a wood chip heater. There is also a contest in this chapter judging different incense blends, including some that Genji himself has made, which is found to be the finest of all. Later on in history these contests became more like guessing games. In one, now affectionately called “Genji-ko” (Genji Incense), participants attempt to figure out which of a handful of incenses are similar or different. They then write their answers secretly on pieces of paper, using symbols called Genji-man (Genji Crests), which correspond with symbols from the book’s chapter headings, to denote their findings.

Tamakazura (pink) is named after Genji’s adoptive daughter. In Japanese culture pink symbolizes purity and childhood innocence, two characteristics embodied by this young girl. This is a delicious fruit bowl of an incense. It is not citrusy like oranges, lemons, or grapefruits, which all have a bitterness to them, but more like cherries, apples, or apricots. There is a bit of sweet wood that comes out in the top note, and I also detect a touch of floral or fine dusting powder, reminiscent of the Floral World series. Just scrumptious! If you like “Mixed Fruits” from Shoyeido’s Xiang Do line, then you will certainly love this one.

Hotarunomiya (purple) is named after Genji’s half-brother. Hotarunomiya is the eldest son of the emperor and next in line for the throne so he is associated with the color of royalty. This stick has a fresh aloeswood-cinnamon aroma with a bitter earthy finish like barks and roots. For me it conjures up images of ancient courtly ceremonies. Masculine and regal in scent, as befits a prince.  Definitely a blend that has the power to transport me back in time!

Kashiwagi (yellow) is named after Genji’s nephew, one of Tamakazura‘s suitors. He also has an affair with Genji‘s third wife, attributing the color of dishonesty and deceit to these sticks. This one has a distinct aloeswood flavor blended with a scent like lemongrass. There is a dark wood note at the base with a bit of the bitterness of lemon peel coming through as well. I’m not sure if the color of the sticks is just influencing my nose, but for me this one evokes lemon bars, those delicious little treats with the shortbread crust.

Kurohige (green) is named after a Royal Army General. This General pursues and kidnaps Tamakazura, earning these sticks the color of envy and jealousy. This formula is very complex: bitter, sweet, pungent, sour, and herbal all at once, with a hint of black pepper. The predominant scent is elusive, and the closest analog I can think of to describe it is the flavor of key-lime. It reminds me a great deal of Ten-pyo (Peaceful Sky), the most expensive and elegant of the offerings from Shoyeido’s Horin line.

It is in honor of The Tale of Genji and its 1,000-year anniversary that Shoyeido has created this series. These are totally new formulas, specially designed, not just familiar incenses repackaged. It has been a long time since Shoyeido has come out with a new high-end line, especially in the US, so this is a real treat! These are all fine, high quality blends, very complex and meant to be savored for sure. The four scents represent a very interesting mix of incense styles which I would compare overall to the Horin line, one of my favorites from Shoyeido. I am very excited that Shoyeido has developed a new line that is so exquisite. Based on my samplings in Enishi (Proposals) I look forward to trying more from the Genji series!

Shunkodo / Jinsoku (Chinsoku) Koh, Shun Koh Sen, Houshou

If ever there was a newly imported Japanese incense company who’s name ought to have the same profile in the US as Shoyeido, Baieido and Nippon Kodo, it’s the venerable Shunkodo who have introduced about as deep a line from top to bottom as is available in the US. Like Baieido, Shunkodo only sparingly use perfume and essential oils, leaving their incense sticks fairly mild on the stick and also like Baieido, the results are extremely sophisticated, incenses so subtle and amazing that only with experience does one learn how great they are. We’ve covered their high ends, their not so high ends, and some mid to high ends in the past. Like with Baieido, if I was to review some of these today, my experiences would be even more positive.

One thing I’m noticing lately (I’m also working on Baieido’s Kobunboku line) is that although incenses without (a lot of) oils don’t cut through the air as much as the natural ones do, the trade off is the sophistication and sublimity one might notice by repetition of use. For this reason almost every Baieido traditional has an incredible learning curve, one so long that I often don’t believe my nose at first. Shunkodo’s incenses are very similar in this way. However the differences are largely in their bases. Baieido incenses tend to vary around similar aloeswoods and the use of cinnamon, clove, sandalwood and borneol. Shunkodos are less spicy in the latter sense, with a larger use of Chinese traditional ingredients that give them a slightly tangier scent across most of their line. And unlike Baieido, Shunkodo crosses into Kunmeido and Shoyeido territory with their use of green, herbal woods. The three incenses in question here are among the most affordable in Shunkodo’s catalog.

At first appraisal, it snuck into my head that Shunkodo’s Chinsoku-Koh was the line’s most inexpensive incense, something comparable to Tennendo Karafune, so when I went back to research this scent I was surprised to find out that it’s actually more of a mid line scent; it’s just that with a smaller box size, it actually seems to be a little more affordable (in fact this smaller size box actually exists for most of the Shunkodo line, they’re just not exported for sale in the US) than the rest of the boxes. Perhaps it shows the effects of perception on one’s appraisal as, I’ve never highly rated this incense and had long forgotten it contained aloeswood, as it doesn’t seem to give off that sort of smell. For the most part it strikes me as a standard low end incense, as I mentioned before, like the Tennendo Karafune stick, multi spice and quite a bit of sandalwood. It’s reminiscent of some of the Baieido dailys with a high content of cassia/cinnamon, but doesn’t seem to have the depth to it that makes so many Baieido low ends classics. To my nose it’s almost like too many cooks in the kitchen and the overall effect seems to fall below the ingredients and price range, and turns out to really be the only Shunkodo stick that does so.

Shun Koh Sen is cheaper per stick, lacks aloeswood of any appreciable quality but is overall a far superior incense. My first stick instantly reminded me of a different take on Kunmeido’s Reiryo-Koh, with the the abundance of Chinese medicine materials and that tangy and somewhat earthy scent they bring with it. Shun Koh Sen is not as peppery and invigorating as Reiryo Koh itself, but it’s not as muted as the aloeswood version. Of all the Shunkodos this one may have the deepest oil, which really adds a nice bit of complexity to it in the background. The major difference that sets it apart is that this is a green stick, with those typical and often hard to place notes that range between evergreens and patchouli or vetivert. Such a combination with the Reiryo direction makes this a really interesting and pleasant stick, a definite recommendation for those who want to check out a new take on combining unique herbal notes with standard traditional Japanese scents. It’s also testament to the skill of Shunkodo’s creators that a scent this good could still be so affordable.

While most Shunkodo incenses come in boxes with flaps (which while handsome make them a bit problematic storage-wise), Houshou is one of the company’s “roll” brands. It’s basically a sort of low to mid end aloeswood/sandalwood blend that is indeed a side step from the company’s “flap” line. This is sort of a dark, rich, almost chocolate (and occasionally mocha-like) incense whose aloeswood and sandalwood tendencies both blend so that neither is dominant, acting more as a base for the rest of the materials. The typical Shunkodo medicinal herb mix is still part of the incense but fairly subdued. It many ways it reminds me of lower end aloeswoods in the NK line (both Kangetsu and the big daily yellow and very misleading “Kyara deluxe” blend) but where those scent curves die pretty early in the burn, Shunkodo’s definitely rich throughout. It’s not terribly far off from the Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu blend, but this is less about spice and more about earth and musk. The wood powder, however, is the strongest, almost wood shop like at times. I think if one comes across this less in looking for an aloeswood and more for a darker sidestep, it’ll hit a different spot than any other incense.

It’s difficult to go wrong with Shunkodo incense, despite my criticism of Chinsoku Koh. In many ways they may be one of the most affordable for the quality brands available in the US market and are responsible for some of best incenses available, including Ranjatai, Kyara Seikan, Kyara Aioi No Matsu, Yae No Hana and others. It’s hard not to recommend that you check them all out over time, not only the time needed to purchase some of the high enders, but the time it takes to really grow with these scents, as they have a similar learning curve to Baieido, with the most incredible subtleties coming out when you expect them the least.

Highland Incense Powder

Highland incense sticks were one of my most exciting incense discoveries this year, so trying out their powder was virtually an imperative. The sticks are among the muskiest, richest and most powerful of the Tibetan sticks, almost a given due to the creator’s Tibetan Medical College training. And unsurprisingly, the powder disappoints not a bit, a creation that while not quite as musky as the stick, makes up for it with an amazing complexity that differs both by using heater or charcoal.

I got the impression after several uses that this incense might have real ambergris in it, as there’s a salty but very rich presence to this incense I’ve never noticed anywhere else, one with the same sort of power and energy as natural musk or pangolin scales but also reminiscent of the natural amber resins prevalent all over the incense world. The center of the powder contains a lot of woods and is similar to sticks like the Medicine Kings by having some similarities to corn or other grains. The spice goes very deep, extremely rich and pleasant, mixed with all sorts of earthy smells like leather, manure, the barnyard-ish tinge from musk and even cigar tobacco. Heating the incense helps to not volatize the oils and musk in the incense quite as fast as it does on charcoal, but at the same time the charcoal burn gives it a unique smokiness that brings out the middle anymore. So like most incenses, the two different methods provide different faces.

For such a complex incense, it’s really that unusual spice/musk mix that makes it work. It gives the powder a more lively feel to it than the stick, whose musky presence is bolstered more by an herbal richness than the cinnamon and clove scent here. Like most incenses that originated from Tibetan Medical College training, there appear to be a lot of powerful and very attractive extracts or oils in the mix. There’s also a slight agarwood bite to it in the background and the saffron works very nicely as well, just a touch to add to the intricacy of the scent. Overall it’s well worth the purchase and up to the usual standards of the high end of Tibetan incense, one that could easily fall into the overall top 10 of incenses from the region.

Shoyeido / Floral World / Echo (by Nancy)

There are four sets in Shoyeido’s Floral World series. They are available as short sticks or cones and range in price from $20 to $60. Mike has reviewed Star here, which is the most expensive of the four, and Royal here, the second most expensive. Echo is next, with Gold as the least expensive. The sticks are packaged 20 of each variety, in a tray that slides out of the box and includes a biodegradable burner. The cones are available in three packaging configurations, the newest being an affordable box of 8, each wrapped in colored paper folded like petals and arranged beautifully to resemble a crepe paper blossom. A lovely presentation for gift giving and the perfect amount for sampling.

The three scents in the Echo set include Lavender, Violet, and Sandalwood. What’s confusing about the Floral World series is that many of the scents overlap. Three of the sets include Jasmine, three include Violet, and three include Sandalwood. The sticks are colored differently depending on the set, presumably indicating a difference in quality. Furthermore, I am not sure how this grading system applies to the single-scent boxes of cones, with only one version of each scent available in this form.

The Lavender definitely has a floral scent, though I wouldn’t say that it distinctly reminds me of this plant. Lavender is in the lamiaceae (mint) family which includes basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano. Like its cousins, it has a distinct pungency, even bitterness, that I do not detect in this incense. Not to detract from this fine creation, but it seems to focus more on the sweet top notes of the plant. To me is smells less like lavender and more like a combination of rose and fine dusting powder. The Violet, again, has that note of dusting powder and resembles the actual scent of the plant much more accurately. Restrained and elegant, cool like the plant, and with a hint of what I can only describe as green. (Can a smell be a color?)* The final scent in the set is Sandalwood, a perplexing inclusion in a floral set for sure. However, this wood is the base of so many incenses, a testament to its ability to combine so well with a amazing range of other aromatic plants. Here it is combined with a floral scent, bringing out the sweetness of the wood, though the floral note is the predominant one. I would say of the three that this is the most interesting and complex, and the one I am having the most difficulty describing. The aroma is more like a bouquet or a mix of different flowers than like any one specific flower. Either way, the smell is quite enticing and long-lasting, continuing to scent the room hours after it finished burning.

These are certainly some of the best florals I have ever encountered. If you like the dipped charcoal perfume incenses then I guarantee that you will enjoy these! Really just lovely and a totally different experience than most other florals I have tried. Very fine and feminine and obviously of the highest quality.  Kudos to Shoyeido for creating a range of florals that are elegant and well-balanced.

*12/3/08  Well, turns out smells can be green!  Apparently it’s the hexenes that smell like cut grass, referred to as “green notes” in the science of scent.  Thanks to Steve Schaffer for the link to Luca Turin’s TED talk on this and how smell is more about the vibration of the molecule than the shape.  Interesting!

Nippo Kodo Tokusen Kyara Taikan and Gokuhin Kyara Taikan -Ross

Nippon Kodo is considered the number one seller of incense in Japan. Its Morning Star line has been around for ages and may well be what most people in the US consider the standard of Japanese incense just because it is so prevalent. For me personally, most of their lines just don’t do it for me, not sure why, but that’s how it is.
However, they also happen to have a very large selection of Kyara’s including what is considered the most expensive incense stick in the world; Agilawood Superb富嶽, at 210,000 yen ( around $2100.00, tax included! )( why yes, that does amount to a house payment). The Kyara line up starts at the “lower end” with TOKUSEN KYARA TAIKAN Superior and GOKUHIN KYARA TAIKAN Superior. ( 3rd down ) For a long time I have wondered what any of these were like but there were never any samples available and having been burned once in an attempt to get the Gokuhin ( a very bad and dishonest store) I had become a little gun shy about this line.
Then in September Mike put up an announcement from N. K. that there were, for a very limited time, samples. I spent at least 10 seconds of terribly agonizing soul searching before placing an order 🙂 .
The samples came and I tried one of each. The sample sticks are around three inches long and there are eight in a pack, this comes out to about two full sized sticks. They were very different from what I was expecting in a Kyara blend. At the time I thought they were OK but not mind bending. Took about 5 weeks to come back to them and in the last week or so I have gone through many more sticks and also compared them to other Kyara’s and higher end Aloes.
Like most people here at ORS I started in on the world of Kyara with the Shoyeido high end sampler and for quite awhile, in my mind, I assumed that that was how Kyara was supposed to be. These are not along the Shoyeido style at all; in fact if anything, they tend to be more towards the Shunkodo or Kyukyodo high ends scent combinations.
In the full roll there are 55 sticks at 8.5 inches long and they are very thin (then again I have yet to see a thick Kyara stick, which would, of course, hammer your wallet into oblivion, but, oh my, the smell).
The Tokusen Kyara Taikan might best be described as something along the scent lines of Kyyukyodo’s Sho-Ran-Ko, possibly a little sweeter, with Kyara notes coming up from the background. I am also reminded of similarities to the Shunkodo Kyara’s. The stick, when burning, smells much stronger then when unlit, almost surprisingly so, makes me wonder how they can generate all the scent without a huge amount of oil/spice smell in the unlit stick. It is a very clean and, to me, pure oil and spice mix with the Kyara sweet/sour notes drifting through it all. The Kyara notes are not super strong, but they are certainly there. I find it very pleasant and a nice change from the Shoyeido style. Don’t get me wrong here, I love Myo-Ho and Go-Un and such, but this is very nice and also a lot less money. It is not “in your face” Kyara, it also took me many sittings to start to get it, I liked it enough to order a box.
The Gokuhin Kyara Taikan has a lot more wood scents going for it then the Tokusen. It also has oils and spices but they play a much smaller roll in the blend. It seems to be a deeper, woodier take on the theme set up in the Tokusen. It is $100 more expensive and the cost difference is probably in the amount ( or grade ) of Kyara used. I find it to be a more grounded and meditative scent. I do not yet have a box of this one yet but it is on my “to buy soon” list. ( I keep telling myself that that list needs to be a bit more “sane” or restrained but it never seems to happen 🙂  )
Both of these will require some time to sort out, there are, like in any good high end incense, many different levels going on. Aromatic fatigue plays a big factor here and if you got the samples keeping that in mind will get you more for your money.
One thing these incenses have taught me was to evaluate each one on its own merits. Sure, there are some things you are going to expect at certain price ranges or if it says there is Kyara in it, yet the final call comes down to how much you like it by itself, as itself.

-Ross

Tashi Lhunpo / Shing Kham Kun Khyab, Mount Everest, Himalayan Healing – Agar 31, Lha Yak, Local

In early June I made a small post on Tashi Lhunpo monastery, when some friends of ORS sent me a box of Shing Kham Kun Khyab almost simultaneously with the monastery’s incenses coming into Essence of the Ages. Soon after this post, Ross gave us his thoughts on the monastery’s high end Himalayan Healing-Agar 31 blend. In this article, I’ll discuss all five incenses currently exported to the United States. Tashi Lhunpo, an exiled Tibetan monastery now based in South India, creates four very affordable incenses and one agarwood blend that is surprisingly high end for a Tibetan-turned-Indian monastery. What’s particularly interesting about these incenses is, except for the Agar 31, Tashi Lhunpo’s four remaining incenses are all remarkably similar.

After spending a lot of time sampling a number of various Tibetan incenses, various styles and commonalities become clearer. One of the most common styles of Tibetan incenses is what I’m currently referring to as the “red stick.” While not all of these incenses actually have a red color, including one of the Tashi Lhunpos, the red coloring seems to go hand in hand with what I’d consider a very berry-like aroma that’s generally very soft and friendly. I’d probably make the leap to say that this is a quality of the juniper berry, but while juniper does seem to be an ingredient in these blends, the harshness that it often brings with it tends to be missing. Most of these have dozens of ingredients to them, belying what are basically simple and smooth aromas.

Shing Kham Kun Khyab is probably the best of these incenses in the Tashi Lhunpo category. It’s the one incense in the catalog that improves on this generic berry aroma, featuring a much deeper and even damper aroma. Like most “red sticks” there’s a middle that implies an herbal mix that gives the incense some depth and in SKKK’s case the contour of the scent is almost dead perfect. The folks who introduced me to this incense said it reminded them of a morning after a rain and it’s an image impossible to shake when burning this incense, due to the damp aroma that really does have that “after the rain” sort of fresh smell to it. This richness is almost reminiscent of cherry kool-aid powder, although never getting too sweet.

Mount Everest also works thematically around this berry-like aroma, although as with most incenses named after Everest and the Himalayans, there’s a concentration on high-altitude evergreen woods. Mount Everest loses the red color, but not necessary the smell, although it moves well away from the distinctiveness apparent in SKKK. The incense, as a result, loses quite a bit of power to it, while the berry center keeps the evergreens from getting too much of that tire/burnt rubber smell. Overall it’s a bit of a wash and perhaps the roughest incense in the catalog.

Himalayan Healing – Agar 31 is not only unusually priced, but is aromatically a totally different incense from the other four. It’s among the highest priced incenses sourced from India, likely due to a substantial agarwood content. However, unlike Japanese agarwood incenses, there doesn’t appear to be a particularly high quality level of wood here and the effects are quite a bit different. The wood, which does exude something of a resinous quality to it, a true rarity among Tibetan aloeswoods, is quite upfront, but it’s what’s happening in the middle that gives it a slightly distinctive edge over other incenses with healing or agar 31 in the name. There’s a mysterious tangy and even minty note that occasionally gives of hints of anise and combined with the dark woods and black stick give it a mysterious and unique aroma. It’s also relatively low smoke and its subtlety hints at a possibly long learning curve. The saffron also comes through in a similar but slightly different way to Medicine King’s Saffron Medicinal Incense.

Local and Lha Yak returns to the standard red color and berry aroma and are the line’s two long sticks. Both are so similar it’s difficult to tell them apart. Local may be the most standard of the red sticks with lots of berry and herb, and a slight hint of tobacco or sage as part of the scentscape. Overall it’s a very inexpensive incense and also fairly thin and indistinctive, but certainly pleasant and benefitting from the herbal edge. Lha Yak is like a fusion of the Local stick and Mount Everest, still at heart a berry/red stick but with a much woodier and heartier middle. In particular the cherry/strawberry patch-like smells come out there, possibly due to it having the spiciest presence of the five Tashi Lhunpo incenses. Neither of these two incenses really compete all that well next to the SKKK, which I’d definitely pick as the one to start with in this catalog.

There’s a freshness and quality to the ingredients in the line, best expressed by the Shing Kham Kun Khyab incense. However other than this incense and the Agar 31, the rest of the line lacks quite a bit of distinctiveness. While the incenses are terribly friendly and unlikely to put anyone off, the lack of danger or an edge in most of these also makes them standard and unnecessary if your incense stock already has a red stick or two. Of course, the very low prices on all of them also mean they’re not a bad place to start in the style, although if you’re like me you won’t see any improvements on the SKKK, which is something of a minor classic.

Four Florals: Shoyeido’s Ranka and Baika-ju, Baieido’s Kokonoe Floral and Izumi (by Nancy)

There is a long tradition of floral scents in Japanese incense making, especially variations on Plum Blossom. Like the crane and the fan, the plum blossom is one of the most important symbols identified with asian cultures and is considered to be auspicious for many reasons. Being very frost-hearty, the plum is one of the only plants that will bloom even in severe winter snowstorms, usually flowering in January-February, in the earliest part of Spring. Because of this, the plum is a metaphor for rebirth as well as resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. It is also a protective charm against evil and misfortune. Click here for more information on some of the other associations.

Shoyeido / Baika-ju (Plum Blossom) This is the floral incense that I burn most regularity. It is akin to one of my top 10 favorites, Shino-nome (First Light) from Shoyeido’s Aesthetic Series. Like Shino-nome it is definitely a sandalwood base. There is a distinctive floral note but it is very light, not overpowering or synthetic smelling at all. The aroma is delicate and airy, just like the beautiful plum blossom, and reminds me of a combination of hyacinth and cinnamon. Very nice! This is a totally different experience than your typical florals, most of which are charcoal dipped in synthetic oils and come with unpleasant side-effects like headaches, a testament to their chemical origins. Baika-ju is a fantastic deal, coming in at under $12 for a box of 150 sticks! It is also available as a gift set, in an gold organza pouch accompanied by a cute ceramic boat-shaped celadon burner. This is one of the lightest florals I know of, with a proportionate balance of sandalwood, making it a great introduction into this category for those who favor the herbals or woods.

Shoyeido / Ranka (Orchid) Compared to Baika-ju, Ranka has a more pungent floral aroma. The sticks are a beautiful shade of antique rose and come in a gorgeous watercolor box. They are thinner than average, presumably due to their potency. The smell is stunning, like a combination of jasmine and lilac, with undertones of sandalwood. At under $6 for 300 sticks, this incense is definitely a deal! It will satisfy your craving for floral incense without being too thick or cloying. A fine example of Shoyeido’s mastery of perfume.

Baieido / Kokonoe Floral (Imperial Palace Floral) Stated as a combination of aloeswood and flowers from Indonesia. Definitely more woodsy compared to the Shoyeido florals, thought I find this to be true when comparing these two lines in general. The aroma of this incense is more like rose, typically captured in Indian incenses, making this an unusual floral for a Japanese company. There is also a sharp note in the last second of the inhalation that hits me in the back of my throat that has almost a soapy taste. I do not detect the aloeswood. I think it must get lost beneath the perfume, which is kind of incredible considering how potent aloeswood can be even in small amounts. I actually had to put this stick out in the midst of writing this review because I was starting to get a frontal headache. I usually prefer herbal- or wood-predominant incenses anyway, and this floral seems a bit too strong for me.

Baieido / Izumi (Garden Springs) Described as the essence of many flowers blowing in the spring wind. Such a description conjures for me an image of a blooming meadow in full sun. The smell of even this unburned stick, however, inspires associations with detergent soap. After lighting the stick it is no different. I am afraid that this incense is just not for me. I truly love Baieido’s traditional blends and admit a personal preference against florals, but this one is by far one of the most synthetic florals I have sampled. I couldn’t even burn a whole stick. My sincere apologies, Baieido.

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