Gyokushodo / Hanabishi, Eisenko, Tokiwa (all Discontinued); Koin, Kojurin, Jinko Kojurin, Keiun Koh, Jinko Hoen + Jinko Yomei (Revisit)

[NOTE 7/5/21: While the first three incenses may be available in Japan still, they are no longer imported to the US market.]

Perhaps the original distributor of the Gyokushodo line in the United States thought the company name might be a bit of a mouthful for the English speaking audience, as, until recently, it was largely unknown in the US which company created these incenses. Thanks goes to Kotaro Sugimoto over at Japan Incense for providing us with this information. This means that at most incense dealers, you’re likely to find most of these in the various or miscellaneous sections, without a company name. They seem to have been part of a distribution deal from Japan that came over with the Kyukyodo line and others miscellaneous incenses, a deal that seems to have unfortunately kept a great deal of information fairly obscure and a number of others incenses from these companies (Kyukyodo in particular) from coming to these shores.

Gyokushodo’s incenses may be somewhat obscure, but once you know where they’re from, a certain consonance appears and like Shoyeido, Baieido, Kyukyodo and many others, you start to get a feel for the personality of these incenses. Like Shoyeido, Nippon Kodo and Tennendo, Gyokushodo creates incenses with a strong oil on top, particularly with Tokiwa and Jinko Yomei whose top oils are quite memorable. As of today, nine Gyokushodo incenses are exported to the US, one of these I covered a while back. Two of these incenses are in the green “every day” sandalwood style, three are slightly more deluxe sandalwood blends and four are aloeswood incenses.

Like Kyukyodo, Gyokushodo appears to have a number of “green” sandalwood blends. These are basically incenses with a small or inexpensive sandalwood content blended with other woods and usually containing a mild top oil of some kind. Hanabishi is one of two very inexpensive incenses in this style, both of which come in rolls sold separately or in bulk in larger boxes. Hanabishi is fairly standard, with a citrus-like oil on top that reminds me of some of Kyukyodo’s unimported low end blends, but not really as smooth or considered. It’s a rough and ready incense with some off notes typical of cheaper woods and a bit of spice, all mild aspects that clash slightly with the oil.

Eisenko gets the balance a bit better, a somewhat sweet green sandalwood not unlike Nippon Kodo’s Mainichi Koh. The presence of oil is fairly muted and there’s a bit more spice at work leaving the results fairly standard. This is a very inexpensive incense, although one you can probably pass on if you’re already well stocked in this style. On the other hand it’s not a bad place to start if you’re not.

Tokiwa is the most deluxe of the three green sandalwoods with a far more intense and notable oil on top. It’s also quite a bit more expensive, the cost of the roll charting well into the teens. It’s somewhat similar to the Shunkohdo Haru no Kaori blend (although without the aloeswood content) in that it’s decadently sweet and spicy. The difference is that the oil has something of a limelike citrus note to it, as well as a touch of pine and like many more deluxe, green incenses a somewhat herbal note like sweet patchouli. It’s a very aromatic stick at the top of the sandalwood heap and well worth checking out. Of all the sandalwood blends in the Gyokushodo stable, it’s the most perfumed.

Koin moves to a blend style with a flatter box. It’s something of a hybrid, traditional due to its use of herbs and spices (although fairly light on both), but modern given a somewhat perfumed, floral aroma in the mix, a certain jasmine-like tinge that makes the scent somewhat reminiscent of Nippon Kodo work. Perhaps its closest analog would be the Encens du Monde/Karin blend Moonlit Night. Overall something of an unusual stick and not particularly impressive given that it seems to try to do too much at once.

Kojurin comes in a similar size box and also has an Encens du Monde/Karin analog, in this case the Forest of Flowers stick aka the one sold as Karin in the US. That is, it has a very pink, almost amber-like scent to it that will be considered quite friendly by most, except in this case there’s more of a sandalwood base (it seems unlikely it would have daphne wood like Forest of Flowers). Overall Kojurin is also slightly more floral and drier than Karin/Forest of Flowers, but it’s overall somewhat duplicative, so it’s recommended to start with one or the other. And given the choice I’d probably go with Karin by a hair.

Jinko Kojurin takes the Gyokushodo line into the aloeswood range, and isn’t anything like its sandalwood namesake. My immediate first impression was that it was very similar to the Shoyeido Haku-Un blend (which reminds me of a Buddhist Temple granulated Matchless gifts used to and may still offer), with a cloudy, musky under scents combining aloeswood, sandalwood and a nice heaping of benzoin. In the case of Jinko Kojurin, the aloeswood and muskiness are quite a bit more prominent, which only enhances the type of scent here. Overall it’s very sultry and mysterious with a nice, quality wood center and a light bit of cinnamon spice to liven things up. And it’s quite a bit different from the rest of the Gyokushodo line in its own right by not having an overt oil or perfume mix on top.

Keiun Koh is a pale green stick with a color I’ve never really encountered before and is one of the mildest aloeswood blends on the US market. It has slight green minty tones across an even lighter aloeswood (and likely sandalwood) blend. Like  a lot of green sticks, comparisons with patchouli or green tea are inevitable but even though the work of this incense is done with oils, they’re quite faint. A stick of this level of mellowness isn’t likely to offend anyone but at the same time it’s just as unlikely to impress. [NOTE 7/5/21: This may have been formulated since review.]

Jinko Hoen could be the woodiest of Gyokushodo’s aloeswoods, at least in the classic sense and shares some characteristics with the company’s US top line, Jinko Yomei. Those familiar with Yomei will recognize some of the same unique oils on the top, but where with Yomei they’re highly perfumed and quite strong, with Hoen they fade into the woods rather perfectly. Hoen’s a difficult stick to get at first, coming across somewhat mild, but with time one will notice all sorts of notes, like burnt toffee, turpentine, cinnamon and clove. There’s also quite a bit of muskiness in the middle, although in a different manner to Jinko Kojurin. A previous reader also mentioned its similarity in parts to the way books smell, a sort of library like paper aroma, to which I’d agree fully. A great stick overall, with a Baieido-like learning curve.

I reported on Jinko Yomei well over a year ago here and it’s certainly improved even more with use. It has a very distinct oil at the strength that you’ll find in some of Shoyeido’s high end blends, in fact I’d even propose that it acts as a sort of lower level analog to Myo-Ho or Sho-kaku. Jinko Yomei is not nearly as high quality or woody as either of those classics but the perfume is really nice on this one, tangy, decadent and distinctive against anything outside of the Gyokushodo line (only Hoen is remotely similar). The only warning I’d give is for what is advertised as a high end aloeswood, it’s not woody, acrid or hoary like you’d expect with a fine quality of wood, but fortunately the price reflects this difference. For a roll in the mid-30s you get a really good deal for the price. In fact it’s a great enough incense to have it on the Hall of Fame for its cost range. Those looking for totally unique incenses will find one here.

One wonders if Gyokushodo’s other treasures are wrapped up via contract like the Kyokushodos as the aloeswood>kyara levels found in most companies seem to be absent here. Overall the company does some fine work and compared to several other companies nearly all of these incenses are very affordable for what they do. Sandalwood fans are advised to give Tokiwa (and if you haven’t tried Karin, Kojurin) a try, aloeswood fans will likely find success with all of the blends, perhaps other than Keiunko (which is quite pleasant in its own right).

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8 Comments

  1. Jeff said,

    March 15, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    The Kojurin is good, but the Jinko Kojurin is very good! 🙂

  2. greg said,

    September 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    kojurin is definitely an incredible rendition of the traditional sandalwood with a sweetness and roundness of scent that will gently fill a room with a shadowy fragrance. it’s a real bargain for a substantial box. for a time our local los angeles dealer could not get this blend.

  3. Jeff Bret said,

    December 30, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Gyokushodo – Kojurin: My brother lives in Kyoto, Japan and visits the US each year. He brings me different Japanese incenses to try each time he visits. The Gyokushodo – Kojurin is, by far, my favorite of all the Japanese incense…so far. It’s mild and sweet and calming with a very smooth sandelwood scent. This smells like Japan to me.

  4. June 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    […] Keiunko is also listed in this grouping, it has also be around longer then the others and you can see Mikes review of it here. […]

  5. June 9, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    […] grouped as to a style. Their woods and oils lie have been here the longest and you can see our reviews on them here. The new group to come in seems to be centered on the use of traditional woods and herbs/spices […]

  6. January 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    […] the recognition it deserves here. You can refer to the other write ups we have done on the company here, here.and […]

  7. Mike said,

    May 4, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Kristin, thanks for pointing that out, from everything I can tell it was probably an error on my part, so I’ve gone and fixed the article. Tokiwa it is.

  8. Kristin A-T said,

    May 4, 2009 at 6:48 am

    The Toshiwa sounds lovely, as I’ve also been gravitating towards the sweet patchoulis. Does there happen to be a Toshiwa in addition to the Tokiwa found on Essence of Ages, or is the Toshiwa supposed to read Tokiwa?


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