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!

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5 Comments

  1. February 11, 2010 at 8:14 am

    […] February 11, 2010 at 8:14 am (Incense, Japan, Shoyeido) Genji / Otome, Momiji-Noga, Mio-Tsukushi Genji / Enishi […]

  2. May 7, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    […] For You resembles the Genji scent Kurohige found in the Enishi set (and if I’m not mistaken there’s a green stick in the Utataka set, […]

  3. Mike said,

    January 8, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Aloeswood fans don’t want to miss out on this set, it’s really quite wonderful. The Kurohige (hats off to Nancy for the research gone into the names of these incenses, not initially provided with the set) is worth the price of the set alone, it’s really unique. The Hotarunomiya is similar to the purple incense in the Otome set. Kashiwagi is also quite unique and the aroma is actually quite deceitful, it has that same sort of mirage like quality that Sho Ran Koh has. moving from aloeswood to that lemon bar scent Nancy mentioned – nicely captured! Most if not all of these would be highly welcome in their own boxes.

  4. Nancy said,

    November 19, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I say go for it!

  5. Mike said,

    November 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Mmmm more Shoyeido aloeswoods, definitely will have to check this one out for sure. 🙂 I’ve been revisiting the Horins quite a bit lately and remembering how great they are, so Enishi sounds like a must!


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