SAMPLER NOTES: Nippon Kodo, Men-Tsee-Khang, Lhundup

Nippon Kodo were apparently started in New York, or at least I read that on Wikipedia once, so I suppose a grain of salt is in order, but I take such a statement as part of a rationalization that helps me separate the company from the big group of other Japanese incense companies. But to be fair the major separation here is that Nippon Kodo are more of an incense company for the masses, creating many of their lines so that they’re modern in tone and cheap in price, meaning that there are obviously a lot of synthetic perfumes at work in these, a fact we can infer from a couple of their lines being marketed as pure or all-natural. So it has been difficult from my end to really sing the praises of Nippon Kodo’s incenses, although to be sure in some cases they really do succeed.

For one thing, Nippon Kodo, like most Japanese companies have a line of aloeswood incenses that could have the widest range in the world, starting down in the cheaper categories covered here a while back with Kangetsu. Shuin and others and apparently moving all the way to kyara sticks in the 5 digit range, well beyond the standards of all but the truly wealthy. In the US, we’ve seen as high as the $420 box Tokusen Kyara Kayou. More common (and covered by Ross a while back) are the next two in the series, the Tokusen Kyara Taikan and the Gokuhin Kyara Taikan at $146 and $250, both of which are excellent incenses if, perhaps, overpriced compared to what you might find from a different company in the same range. After these scents, the Nippon Kodo aloeswoods drop to the Kyara Taikan and Kyara Kongo, two incenses that seem to mimic a certain type of stylized kyara scent that may be considered too perfumed from a traditional perspective.

And for a long time here is where I stopped, not realizing that when the range drops to Jinkoh Juzan, it has actually come up with a startingly decent and fairly affordable aloeswood incense. Like with the higher ends, it does retain a certain perfumed characteristic that’s common to all Nippon Kodos, however, the Juzan is not nearly as rich as the two Kyaras above it and somehow a distinct woodiness that is common to most aloeswoods is not lost at all, giving the perfume and oil quite the decent balance. That Nippon Kodo could get away with an aloeswood having this resiny a subscent at this range is quite a surprise in my book. However, the crux of the issue is whether I’m enjoying the sample or would go on to like a full box of Juzan without getting tired of it. Honestly I’m more inclined to thinking it would be quite good, as it has a similar balance to the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which I do like quite a bit.

On the other hand Nippon Kodo’s Jinko Seiun is perhaps more what you’d expect from a low end Nippon Kodo incense. Despite the $36 asking price, you’re still getting 170 sticks which sort of belies the idea this is a deluxe aloeswood and implies this probably fits better with the low ends. I’ve not, nor plan to try any of the other Seiuns, so I’m not totally sure what the characteristic is of the line across Amore, Violet and Chrysanthemum incenses, but the Jinkoh is certainly floral enough to where its nature as an aloeswood is somewhat trivial. Certainly this seems to have more of an aloeswood approximation than definition and as such it seems like it’s crossing a modern/traditional divide that’s likely going to appeal more to the modern-inclined.

So now over to the continent to the Men-Tsee-Khang medical center that appears to operate in two different countries (Tibet and India), however from the constituency of the incenses (that is, lacking the sorts of animalistic scents found in incenses from the Tibetan Autonomous Region) I think we can assume these scents follow alongside traditional Nepalese and Indian styles. Men-Tsee-Khang produce two stick incenses and two powders. I’ve not tried the powders, but the sticks certainly seem akin to incenses found at the Dhoop Factory and other Nepalese outfits, with heavy Himalayan woods and herbs at the center. The regular Sorig Incense, like many Nepalese or Indian monastery incenses, has a number of ingredients (listed by Latin name at the above link) that impart herbal and berry-ish tones to the scent, but overall is distinguished by a large amount of woods and binder that give the typical campfire smell associated with these types of incenses. While I only had enough of a sample to touch the surface, it did seem that this seemed to be one of the better in the style, with a bit of complexity and an unsual wild note in the mix. While I probably have enough incenses in this style not to immediately pursue a box, I can imagine I might eventually replace something else similar to this in the future.

The Sorig Healing stick is much thicker and resembles Dhoop Factory’s Agar 31/Medicine Buddha line in a couple of ways. It definitely seems to be akin to the common scents in this style, with a mix of woods, herbs and a very slight agarwood tang to it, but most importantly it doesn’t seem to have a great deal of filler to it and few if any off scents. It’s perhaps a bit hard to get lit, but for such a thick stick it doesn’t put out a lot of smoke and seems to have a gentle calming effect.

There are a couple grades to Bhutanese creator Lhundup, however I only received a sampler of the top A grade. Naturally this is sort of the typical Bhutanese style stick, roughly similar to Nado Poizokhang’s incenses or World Peace Grade B or Kuenzang Chodtin, with a pinkish hue and a similar berry-like tang to it. The consistency isn’t quite as snappy or plastic-like as some of these other incenses and there’s a bit deeper of a tone to it. Overall there’s a lot of sandalwood, both white and red, spice, cherry, musk and at times a slight unique gentle floral that sets this apart from other Bhutanese sticks. Quite interesting overall, although it’s difficult to tell whether it earns its $18.50 asking price or not.

Next up in the Sampler Notes series, the bad news, a very rough sample of a few Maroma Indian charcoals and perhaps another incense or two as a late addition…

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7 Comments

  1. william273 said,

    February 4, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Love the Sorig! Personally I think it’s some of the best out there. There’s another called Dorje that’s almost identical and very good.

  2. greg said,

    October 29, 2010 at 11:30 am

    after some years of listening to the NK seiun i feel that it is an incredibly decent aloeswood rendition that definitely has a perfumed fragrance but one that melds seemlessly with the woody elements – whatever they may be. in my opinion, i think the seiun beats out the kongo/taikan lines hands down! the tokusen taikan picks up at the next level of excellence after seiun in my hierarchy of NK scents. on a cool, breezy, autumn afternoon, the seiun mixes with the wafts of autumn air and creates an ethereal atmosphere in my zen meditation room!

  3. Michael said,

    September 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Have to agree as this is probably one of the better NK that I have tried, the Jinkoh Juzan has a very strong aroma directly from the stick and although perfumed the balance does lean toward a modern interpretation while exhibiting some sophistication (I think it smells more expensive than the cost).

    Although this is an affordable aloeswood, I detected a little sandalwood essential oil pretty clearly off the stick prior to lighting, the wood/perfume elements came forward once lit and the wood had a good combination of sweet and bitter components. Often it seems lower cost aloeswood is very sweet, or very bitter, but overall, this is very pleasant and perhaps a good choice if you are looking to try a NK incense.

  4. C.J. said,

    December 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    On Sorig…wow! Maybe not Highland or Medicine collage, buit it is what it is. Which is definately something you can burn in the home and feel good about. Herb and sandalwood, NOT crappy filler, a subtle, soothing scent. Great to mellow down with.

    There is a sharpness–not too– to the Sorig Stress that gets your attention, urges you to kick self pity, and consider life’s options. If you have the flu or some other ailment I have got to recommend this one. I don’t know what it is about smelling silghtly bitter-to-bitter (this one is ever so slight) scents when sick, but it seems to aid the healing. Maybe it’s the memory of bitter childhood incense, or Mom’s healing tea. Got the two powders, savin’ dolars for the burner. Will report back 🙂

    ~~ C.J.

  5. C.J. said,

    December 21, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    I’ll have to differ on the Nippon Kodo 3 mid-luxury aloeswoods Jinkoh Juzan, Kyara Kongo, and Kyara Taikan). I’ve always loved the resiny nature of Jinkoh Juzan. I can smell the resiny Indonesian-type aloeswood here, rich, deeply cloying, rezzzzin-y! The Kyara Kongo in the gold box—a Royal Temple scent, deep, penetrating and rich. The Kyara Taikan in its brocade box–there really is something subtle here, but since it isn’t an extreme of wet or dry, it might be tought to pick up. I get hints of Vitenamese. You can get the ~perfume~ in the Sandalwood at the beginning of this line, but there is a richness in the Kyara Taikan itself which suggests royalty.
    ~~ C.J.

    • Mike said,

      January 4, 2010 at 10:27 am

      Personally I find all the kyaras in NK to be more stylized than authentic, particularly when you compare them to, say, a natural kyara like Baieido Koh Shi Boku. I find it almost impossible to believe at the prices kyara goes for now that there’s anything more than microscopic amounts in anything lower than the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which leads me to believe perfume is making up for the rest of it.

  6. David Oller said,

    December 8, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    The price on Kyara may not be so out of range. The price of Kyara has risen dramatically in Hong Kong and Tokyu.


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