Nippon Kodo / Mainichi Koh Sandalwood, Mainichi Koh Kyara Deluxe, Kangetsu Aloeswood, Zuiun Selected Aloeswood

The four incenses in question here are among Nippon Kodo’s most traditional scents, a point well worth underlining given the company’s dominant penchant for modern, perfumed based scents. As such, they’re four of the most affordable traditionals on the market and at least one of these is one of the most best selling incenses in Japan and likely on the international market as well.

In many ways these incenses could be considered ground level, “vanilla” type Japanese incenses and given their affordability aren’t bad places to start in terms of getting a quick idea of what the most traditional and perhaps generic scents are. Basically one of these is the ground zero of the green sandalwood style, while the others are aloeswood based, although I type this with slight reservation. It’s quite possible that the use of aloeswood in these incenses comes from blends or oils, as they’re quite different in many ways from the aloeswood based incenses you’ll find from companies like Baieido and Shunkohdo. They’re generally not as heavy or woody and as such are comparable to similar scents in their other lines like Kayuragi or even Morning Star or Morning Star Gold.

At ground zero, the Mainichi Koh Sandalwood (which also appears to be called Viva Sandalwood in roll format) is actually one of the most picture perfect and friendly versions of the “green” every day sandalwood available. This format is basically wood and oil based and the green in this case comes from the color of the stick rather than referring to an herbal nature. That is, sandalwood, probably mixed in with more inexpensive woods, form a base that is touched over with essential oil to form a very mild and pleasant aroma. It’s a style that just about every company touches in some way, from Baieido’s Junenko to Shoyeido’s Sitting Zen to Gyokushodo’s Eisenko to Tennendo’s Yoshino Hills and probably a dozen others or more that all only vary slightly in style/aroma. Amazingly, given that Nippon Kodo doesn’t always fare so well in comparison due to the use of inexpensive perfumes at the base of their incenses, their version of this standard could be the finest of all of them. There’s something about the combination that does not draw out the bitter notes some of these other incenses exhibit with a slight sweet, mintyness that’s gentle and very friendly. This is an incense I often pass up in my collection due to considering it inexpensive and dull, only to occasionally pull it out and realize how wrong I was. And with the 300 stick box going for so little ($7.50!), an up front purchase goes a long way. It’s amazing to think a standard incense could be so surprising, but Mainichi Koh constantly does. And NK deserve due credit for it.

However there’s something entirely misleading pinning “Kyara Deluxe” to their aloeswood version of Mainichi Koh. There’s no legitimate kyara stick in the known universe that charts out to 300 sticks for $18 (if only were it true) amd even if there is actually kyara in this incense it would be like comparing a needle to a haystack, like finding the electron in an atom. While one might recognize a certain aromatic quality that you can find in Kyara Kongo, Kyara Taikan and even Tokusen Kyara Taikan, it couldn’t be considered part of the base, in fact I’d have a hard time saying it’s part of the “and other spices” fraction of the stick.  Mainichi Koh Kyara Deluxe is an incense I’d probably even have a tough time calling an aloeswood, in fact with any affordable Nippon Kodo with aloeswood on tap, there’s an aroma entirely different (I’d even call it whitewashed) to the resinous, acrid heartwood most will be familliar with, as if they were trying to approximate an oil rather than wood. It gives all of the NK aloeswoods an inauthentic feel to them, although in saying that they’re certainly not bad incenses per se. Like Reiryo Koh and Reiryo Koh Aloeswood, one might find the sandalwood Mainichi Koh a more successful incense. MKKD is fairly harsh in a way, with a strong herbal nature and hints of chocolate at core and a hint of spice. It’s not sweetened up or created to be particularly friendly but in the ladder of aloeswoods it’s hard not to see it as a lower rung. Of course, like the sandalwood version, you get a lot of stick for the price and it’s certainly a more pleasant blend than many of the Morning Star lines.

Overall, Kangetsu Aloeswood might be the incense to start with in this vein given it comes in a roll format and has a cheaper start up cost. It’s only vaguely different in aroma from the Mainichi Koh Kyara Deluxe, a bit smoother but also slightly more bitter or sharp. The big difference is there is hints of a slight, legitimate aloeswood aroma in the mix which adds a bit of complexity to the herb, spice and chocolate mix of the MKKD. But it’s generally not enough to move this up from the lower rungs in the style and retains some of the bitterness and harshness that are endemic to cheaper aloeswoods whether legitimate or not.

Zuiun Selected Aloeswood is entirely different to Kangetsu and MKKD. It’s something like an inexpensive variant of incenses like Tennendo Renzan and Kyukyodo Shiun, with a sweet cherry-like aloeswood aroma at center. Zuiun does not have the presence or complexity of either of those classics, at heart it’s a much thinner and airy incense, but it still remains well within friendly territory, as this style is possibly the most accessible of aloeswood incenses. It’s certainly the last one I’d pull out in the style, given that the other two I named are still roughly in the same price range and are far more robust. But I still can’t imagine anyone who would find Zuiun unpleasant based on its own merits.

I’d certainly recommend a number of aloeswoods over any of the three mentioned here, even if you’re paying a few dollars more. But when it comes to green every day sandalwoods it’s hard to mention many that are better without being noticeably more deluxe (such as the finely oiled based Gyokushodo Toshiwa or Shoyeido’s slightly higher end Evening Zen) than the standard Mainichi Koh. It’s really an amazingly friendly and entirely inexpensive Japanese incense that leads the pack of a very standard and common style.

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10 Comments

  1. Jeff said,

    March 12, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    After receiving a bunch of Gyokushodo fragrances, their basic Kojurin is a very good sandalwood based stick. Sweet and easily accessible and not timid. After burning a stick, I wanted to see how the NK Mainichi Koh sandalwood would stand up to it. The best way I know how to describe these two is the NK is on the cool side and the Kojurin is on the warm side. Both are compelling scents but in very different ways. In fact, they are so different, we could be talking about totally different fragrances save for the sandalwood. Both are deserving for lower cost sandalwoods and represent different spectrums, each very well done. Even in today’s market, the NK Mainichi Koh sandalwood is a real bargain. For $10 on ebay, you can get a box of 300 sticks.

  2. Robin said,

    May 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Hi Mike, After purchasing a box of Mainichikoh for nostalgic reasons and enjoying it for other unknown reasons, I am intrigued that this is a common scent among incense makers. I would love to try some of the others that are of a higher quality. I saw your reviews for Junenko, Sitting Zen, Eisenko, and Yoshino Hills. Can you recommend others of this ilk?

    • Mike said,

      May 27, 2010 at 1:13 pm

      Kyukyodo Ikaruga (maybe the best of the lot) and Shirohato. Gyokushodo Tokiwa (I don’t think Hanabishi and Eisenko are quite as good). Keigado Full Moon is close, but it’s also very ambery and perhaps a bit above its station. Kokando Rangetsu is a bit more floral than usual style but it’s also roughly similar. There’s also Encens du Monde Pine and Orchid and Shunkohdo’s Matsuba Pine, there’s different as the dominant scent is pine rather than sandalwood, but I still think they’re quite close. I think that probably covers most of the ones other than those in your post that are recommendable. Most of these differ in the oils mixed in with the usual base. Honestly this could be one style where NK’s close to tops.

  3. Beverly said,

    March 7, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I picked up a box of Mainichi Koh from a local Japanese import store (300 stick box for $5!!) and the receipt read “Mainichikoh Pine.” I’m not sure why the “Pine” appears on the receipt but nowhere on the box (in English, at least – I wish I could read & understand Japanese!) but after burning the first stick I realized that the freshness of it did smell like pine. Do you catch that note too?

    Thanks to your post for reminding me to get some of this wonderful bargain incense. I used to burn Mainichi Koh as a teenager but haven’t done so since then and burning it now, in my thirties, is a bit nostalgic, as well as a simple delight.

  4. VICTIR CONTRERAS said,

    November 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    SOY DE LA CIUDAD DE MEXICO QUISIERA SABER SI PUDIERAN DECIRME DONDE PUEDO CONSEGUIR EL INCIENSO MAINICHIKOH SANDALWOOD
    SE LOS AGRADECERIA MUCHO. MEXICO DISTRITO FEDERAL C.P 11850

    • Mike said,

      November 17, 2009 at 8:59 am

      Hello, my Spanish is dreadful but from the translator it seems you’re asking for a place to buy Mainichikoh Sandalwood? Do you want a source in Mexico or can you buy from the US? Some of our sources on the left sell internationally.

  5. Kristin said,

    February 20, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks Mike.

    Last night I burned my first stick of the Kangetsu. Apparently I had been laboring under a misconception of what aloeswood smells like (I thought that Morning Star Gold smelled like aloeswood, and now with slightly more experience I think it must be 99.999% benzoin) but even allowing for that I was surprised at the sourness of the Kangetsu. I can get used to it, I think, as it’s kind of a pleasant sourness, but it’s not the soothing scent I’d expected.

    Another question: somewhere or other in comments I saw you and, I think it might have been, Nancy, telling someone that Shoyeido Haka-un was a good stick to get a decent idea of aloeswood’s character. I have this incense and I like it very much (in fact so far I think it’s my favorite) but it has no aloes listed: only “benzoin, sandalwood, clove, Borneo camphor, spices”. Do these notes form a gestalt that resembles aloeswood, or what?

    thanks

    Kristin

    • Mike said,

      February 20, 2009 at 5:32 pm

      The lack of aloeswood in the description of Haku-Un might be part of Shoyeido’s change in ingredient list, I think they’ve taken it off some of their lower ends. There’s talk over why they did this and it’s pretty confusing but I don’t think it means they’ve taken the ingredient out or maybe they’ve switched it with an oil or “smell alike.” I wouldn’t say it’s dominant in Haku Un, but it’s definitely part of the bouquet, a touch in the top notes (which incidentally is what I’d guess is happening in the Kangetsu too).

      Aloeswood does vary a LOT in scent depending on the incense it’s in and depending on the quality. For inexpensive incenses I think you’re likely to find the more authentic notes in Baieido incenses like Tokusen Kobunboku, Kaden Kobunboku, Kai Un Koh or Kokonoe Koe, all of which can be found between $10 and $20 a roll. They’re all blends but the wood is quite noticeable in them and high quality at that.

      And based on about an inch of the MS Gold Aloeswood, I’d say it’s a faint approximation at best. NK get it a little closer with the Kayuragi Aloeswood or the Jinkoh Seiun but even those strike me as perfumes.

  6. Mike said,

    February 20, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Hi Kristin. It’s been a while since I tried the Morningstar Sandalwood but I seem to remember it being quite a bit more modern than the Mainichikoh. I’d guess there may be more synthetic perfume elements in the Morningstar, which is likely what leads to it being more static than the Mainichi Koh (although I’m not totally convinced the latter is purely natural, when I compare it to other scents in the same style). The Mainichi Koh is part of one of the most common blends in Japanese incense so nearly every company has a version and NK’s is a bit sweeter than the others. It is indeed very smooth. I also want to say the Morningstar has a slight touch of floral about it but that could be the Morningstar Gold version I’m thinking of.

  7. Kristin said,

    February 20, 2009 at 1:43 am

    How do you think the Mainichikoh sandalwood compares to Morning Star Basic sandalwood? I burn a lot of the latter because I can get it cheap and local and it’s fairly pleasant or at least inoffensive for everyday use.

    I just got my package of Mainichikoh and as a Japanese-incense novice my initial reaction was that they were very similar or at least they share a distinctive “low-rent sandalwood” scent but I think I might be able to see how the Mainichikoh is a little more changeable and faceted, a little smoother.

    Being as they’re both from NK and around the same price point I wonder whether you have any thoughts on what might make then different from one another.


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