Kunjudo’s Karin is a wonderful incense in our Japanese Hall of Fame. If you search for a review of Karin here on ORS, it’s possible you may experience some confusion, as the French incense distributor Essence du Monde has an incense line called Karin (confusion #1!) that includes an incense called “Forest of Flowers”, which is actually Kunjudo’s Karin (confusion #2!). As a final confusion (#3!), I’ve heard that subsequent samples of Karin and Forest of Flowers may not so closely resemble one another, though whether this is a true delineation between the two incenses or just inevitable differences over time from batch to batch is anybody’s guess! Well, with all that clear now 😉 , let’s revisit Kunjudo’s Karin and its more deluxe sibling, Karin Select (aka Tokusen Karin). For simplicity, I’ll refer to the original Karin as “Regular” and the new Karin Select as “Select” for the rest of this review.
Mike summed Regular up best in his earlier (Essence du Monde categorized) review: “…an affordable and fantastic blend of sandalwood, Daphne wood, and cinnamon that hits a number of different buttons. It has hints of amber even without the ingredient listed as well as wood, spice and floral and it manages to spin out different combinations of these elements like an echo of expensive aloeswoods. It’s fresh, vibrant, wonderfully spicy and addictive…” I would add that there are even hints of talcum powder, which may be a trick of the amber and florals playing off one another. Clearly a multi-dimensional scent.
Kunjudo introduced Select in December of 2009, and this recent addition has already gained a number of supporters here on ORS. As compared to Regular’s orangey-brown sticks, Select’s are more pink. While it’s clear these are sibling scents, Select comes across as smoother and more refined. This is a result of the top note – that intoxicating amber/floral combination – being higher grade in Select. My conjecture would be that by upping the quality of spice and oils, and perhaps some reformulation towards the sweet, the scent remains multi-dimensional but the presentation comes across more unified, with the “ridges” between individual components less obvious. This top note is more sultry in Select, with the Regular’s having more of a punch to it (I won’t go so far as to say Regular’s top note is harsh in comparison, but it is certainly less rounded.) Friend of ORS, Janet, had an insightful comment on this difference – “…the roles of various components are reversed, with the slightly pungent herbs taking a back seat to the sweetness…” It’s unknown if the quality of the sandalwood in the base has changed, but with Select’s smoother top, its contribution to the whole is more evident and enjoyable. Think Regular Karin and Kyukyodo’s Yumemachi combined.
Ironically, I’ve heard a few comments that Select is more spicy. A possible theory is that with that smoother, sweeter floral top, there is more open space for the cinnamon to shine through.
We’re fortunate to have two fabulous takes on Karin from Kunjudo, and certainly either is a worthy, even required, addition to a well-rounded Japanese incense collection. You can’t go wrong with either, but with the bargain pricing of Karin, and the negligible price increase for the Select version, it’s an easy decision to upgrade and the recommended way to go.
Highly recommended to those new to Japanese incense looking to survey different styles, wood lovers who have hesitated approaching florals, and the connoisseur looking for a good palate cleanser or additional entry in a daily incense lineup.