Baieido Koh En and Koh Shi Boku (by Ross)

Baieido has consistently made its name based on the outstanding quality of the woods that they use in their incense. This holds even more so in their “wooden box ” line up of high end Aloeswood and Kyara sticks. They also seem to keep their formulations a lot leaner in terms of what would seem to be in the mix. Whatever spices or herbs that are included are there to enhance the scent of the particular wood being showcased, rather then as stand out scents in the overall presentation. In the cases of Koh En and Koh Shi Boku this holds especially true.
Koh En means Garden Incense or Garden Scent and reflects the scents of summer blossoms( in an allegorical manner). This stick is based on Vietnamese Aloeswood and has all the notes that they are famous for. There is a certain dryness which is built upon many different layers of scent, much like poetry, at times almost bitter/ lean and at other times very full bodied. It is very prone to aromatic fatigue, so it’s not the type of incense that you want to casually light up after others. To really get the idea it needs to be on its own and like all the Baieido woods it will take many samplings to even start to get the nuances (this is a round about way of saying I am personally not there yet!) A large, but very pleasant learning curve.
Koh Shi Boku means Incense of Confucius or the Master and contains Kyara. Again, the amounts of spices and other additives are pretty minimal so what you are getting is an introduction to the real smell of Kyara minus all the perfumes, spices and herbs that you usually find in Kyara based incense. Don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with other companies interpretation, it’s just a different style.
There is just a certain something about the Kyara that just pulls you in, in this stick. It’s almost sweet, but not quite, something that almost defies a clear cut description If scent could be considered hypnotic then this would be a pack leader. Koh Shi Boku is elegant, refined and oh so nice, the kind of scent that demands that you pay attention to draw out the last little details. As you use it you realize that you have concentrated all of your attention at that point between you nose and your eyes in an all out attempt to not miss anything because, well, your source is busy burning up and will not last forever 🙂 Unless, of course, you have really deep pockets.
Kyara is sort of the mystery wood, its more then just heavy resin content, or wood that sinks in water. The Incense Masters at Baieido tend to imply that it is a unique wood. You could, if really interested, go into the older messages at the Alice’s Restaurant Yahoo group and do a search. Lots of interesting and lively discussion on the subject.
These two incenses are not something I would recommend for the beginner, however, if you are interested in Aloeswood and Kyara and the differences that growing conditions can make on the scent of the woods and what they really smell like then by all means go for it. Also, many of the stores that sell them also have sampler packs and I would highly recommend starting there, its worth the money and is a real treat. Your nose, and quite possibly your heart or soul will thank you.

-Ross

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11 Comments

  1. Louis Delmar said,

    May 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Thanks for the great reviews on Koh Shi Boku! The reason I am writing is because I have been using Indian sandalwood Incense for years as well as Superior Hojary Frankincense resin. I never really explored the fine art of Japanese incense blends. Finally I am looking in that direction! I am fascinated by the costly Kyara incense to which I plan on investing my funds into. A few years ago a student of mine took a trip to Japan and brought me a gift of Japanese incense in a beautiful wood box. Since at the time I was not into Japanese incense I threw it in the closet. Lo and behold I just now discovered that it is a box of Koh Shi Boku!!! Man o man what a scent it leaves in the room…It immediately drew me in! I am now obsessed with kyara..I must create a stockpile of this incredible incense. I cannot believe the refinement of scent that just oozes from an incense stick!!!!

    • clairsight said,

      May 30, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      If you live in or near San Francisco you can stop by Kohshi, they have a pretty good stock of different kyara sticks as well as the actual wood.-Ross

      • Louis Delmar said,

        May 30, 2013 at 11:25 pm

        Thank you so much in recommending a starting point for obtaining the fabled “Kyara”

  2. January 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    […] Koh En from Baieido is a classic. While certainly a luxury pleasure, sometimes you just have to allow […]

  3. Mike said,

    November 24, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Having sat with the Koh Shi Boku for a few sticks, I have to say it’s one of the incense greats. I’m more and more appreciating Baieido’s aloeswood selection process, and I’m not really sure there’s a finer grade of it used in any incense on the market than what’s in the Koh Shi Boku (I can imagine there must be splendid stuff that only the wealthier can afford). As great as the kyara incenses with oil in them are, I think there’s much more subtlety to be found in something like this. I didn’t think I’d love anything more than Hakusui aloeswood, but I may be changing my mind.

    • Ross Urrere said,

      November 24, 2009 at 10:14 pm

      I am thinking of late that there are what I am calling “Kyara camps” amoust incense users and the blenders. Some of them are totaly into the addition of oils and spices to increase the apparent scent and some just use a really high quality wood with a minimum of additions. M first experiences with kyara were the Shoyiedo’s and for a long time I was sure that was how kyara smelled. Now I have gotten to sample a number of other companies kyara’s and one thing I notice is that what counts is the many subtle levels going on that, because of a lack of other notes, you can tune into. Also i find that burning high grade sticks in a clean enviroment really helps. My tent when at Lake Tahoe has become my definitive testing site 🙂
      Just tried a new kyara based stick from Kunmeido( review coming soon) that is like this, subtle, like a very pared down Asuka.

      • Mike said,

        November 25, 2009 at 8:56 am

        Anything new from Kunmeido is highly anticipated, I was just burning Heian Koh last night, that’s one I could get addicted to.

        But yeah I think you set up the dichotomy well: strength vs subtlety. But I’ve also tried both Shoyeido and Yamadamatsu kyara chips on heaters and on charcoal and I have to say what Baieido has in the Koh Shi Boku is higher quality by a major stretch. It’s interesting actually, I even notice a similarity between that Indian Pure Incense Connoisseur Aloeswood and Koh Shi Boku in that both woods have a camphorous, foresty sort of subnote that doesn’t tend to show up in aloeswood very often but when it does, it’s very impressive. And when that note is present in kyara it just brings it up another level, but perhaps that’s one of the things heavier oils and spices blots out.

        • clairsight said,

          November 25, 2009 at 11:14 am

          I am going to ask my Japanese contacts to see if Baieido sells just the kyara chips, they do not list it in their cataloge. There is kyara in the 6 country set but no where else.Although I notice Scents of Earth says they can get it. What is classed as “kyara” in Japan by the incense houses seems to be a whole another set of scents and even woods then aloeswood. Not just resin content/amount but some other quality. Prices run from about 10,000 yen/gram up to at least 40,000 yen/gram. That’s not counting the stuff that has historical value whyere the price is in the millions. The kyara that we got from JI was a lessor grade that YM has. The high end chips are twice the price so who knows what happens “up there”. For that matter I am not at all sure I could really appreciate the levels of wonderfulness going on at those heights, and the cost of training would be pretty steep :0 ). -R0ss

          • Mike said,

            November 25, 2009 at 11:34 am

            I remember reading that kyara is often classified by four colors, with green being the best of the lot. And Scents of Earth did used to sell a gram for about what $400 or $500, a piece of wood that looked no bigger than the tip of a thumb. Thing is, you can buy about two full batches of Hakusui for that amount which would go so much farther and while the green kyara is certainly superior it isn’t by enough to make that worth the while. It’s kind of why I haven’t ended up shelling for the Kyara Kokoh, I just find it hard to see it being worth the money even for “special events.”

            That YM did seem low grade to some extent, almost if it had the features of kyara in the resin but the features of much lower quality aloeswood in the wood, if that makes sense. Very nice nonetheless, but with aloeswood I want that almost electric feeling you get when you throw a chip of Hakusui on a heater and it first hits you with all that spice, resin and a zillion subscents at once. So far all the kyara I’ve had is relatively one-note in comparison and given how small the chips are it doesn’t last very long (the Shoyeido chips aren’t terribly far off the YMs). But I do agree when it comes to the expense vs quality curve, at the upper ends it seems you’re paying a lot for money for very small quality increases, so it seems smart to just kind of pick the optimum ratio and for sure that’s got to be somewhere between Hakusui and Ogurayama. I’m very curious to check out the Jinko Gokuhin chips from Shoyeido, those are way up my list, am hoping that’s where that really charry resinous scent you find in Myo-Ho and Ga-Ho comes from.

  4. Mike said,

    March 16, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Well said Ross. Definitely one of the finest Japanese lines exported to the US and a continual source of fascination. I agree completely that Koh En has an uncommonly long learning curve, it’s almost like driving towards a mirage. I’ve had it longer than Kun Sho and felt I got Kun Sho a lot quicker. The thing about Baieido aloeswoods in comparison to others, is that I think you tend to notice the intense resinous notes in the other aloeswoods before you notice them in the Baieido sticks. With Baieido they tend to be kind of hidden around a corner, but when you notice them they really further your appreciation of the stick. With Baieido woods like Ogurayama and Hakusui I tend to notice the sweet and spicy notes (almost like cinnamon in a way) before the typical aloeswood features.

    With Koh Shi Boku (the larger purchase I keep putting off because I can’t afford it at the moment), Baieido claim this is made from the fabled “green kyara” which is supposedly the best of the four “color” subdivisions of the wood. I’m going on memory here but I seem to remember it having a somewhat camphorous quality to it, although I suppose that could be some fine borneol in the mix, but I definitely thought as a kyara it was different from some of the other companies, less perfumy sweet like it is in Shoyeidos and more dense and woody. It’s definitely one of the finest incense sticks on the market, but man is it worth a pretty penny.

    What a series! Great from top to bottom this one.

    • moendie said,

      August 15, 2013 at 12:42 am

      “…less perfumy sweet like it is in Shoyeidos and more dense and woody..” thank you very much, I really hate those ‘plastic’ kyara 🙂


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