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

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7 Comments

  1. Mike said,

    April 15, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I’m really digging the Tokusen of late. It’s definitely perfumed, like you’d expect from NK, but it’s a very elegant perfume that polishes up on some of the aspects I didn’t like in the regular Kyara Taikan, that’s perhaps a bit too sweet or syrupy. This is the first in the line where the kyara doesn’t seem as much like an affectation, but a real part of the bouquet. I agree with Ross’s view that it’s uncommonly strong when burned, which I assume can be chalked up to the high oil content, after half a stick I’m usually satisfied. of course the biggest problem with this incense is it’s extremely brittle and packed so tightly that it’s nearly impossible to get sticks out without removing the bundle from the roll, which in turn makes it very difficult to get the bundle back in the roll. I think I must have broken the first 5-6 sticks before enough room was made that I could get full sticks out safely.

    • Ross Urrere said,

      April 15, 2010 at 11:37 pm

      I recently got a full box of the Gokuhin Kyara Taikan(Japan Incense). It is such an interesting play between the woods(kyara) and the perfume/essential oils. Elegant, refined and classy all come to mind when it is lit. Sort of along the lines of the Tokusen with even more refinement. I think it is time to do a compariso between all their kyaras. I would really like to try the next oe up, but there are(as yet) no samplers to be had. Not to mention the ones that do not make it over here at $2000 per roll. What if you got really stuck on something like that?
      Oddly enough I also managed to break a stick, they really are pretty fragile, makes me think they have kept the amount of tabu(binder) down to a minimum.

      • Mike said,

        April 20, 2010 at 11:55 am

        I definitely want to get a box of Gokuhin myself, a fair priority now.

  2. February 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    […] 19, 2009 at 2:45 pm (Incense, Japan, Nippon Kodo) Aside from the kyara ladder which Ross reviewed in part a little while back, I’m probably not the biggest appreciator nor perhaps the true end user of Nippon Kodo […]

  3. November 26, 2008 at 12:46 am

    […] 26, 2008 at 12:46 am (Incense, Incense Top 10 Lists) 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 […]

  4. clairsight said,

    November 8, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    I have not smelled the other Bernd, but given the price difference and what i have read about it(from Mike) I am pretty sure they are differnt
    Ross

  5. Bernd Sandner said,

    November 8, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks Ross
    for your description of these two sticks.
    I have been thinking about them for a long time.
    I was not too much pleased with the Kyara Taikan.
    For me it was too sweet. On the other hand I could understand, because of this Kyara Taikan, that Nippon Kodo is able to produce high class incense. Maybe it just did not fit my personal taste. That’s how I thought.
    Now, after reading your report, I will give them a chance, and try them.

    Hope you are well! Best to you! Bernd


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