Kunjudo Karin Select (aka Tokusen Karin)

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.


  1. Andre Dotseth said,

    January 31, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    This was really kind of a pleasant find. I was looking for a simple sandalwood since White Dove was discontinued. I rather enjoyed this variety with lilac… I won’t disclose the brand; and my lady friend said it smelled like a bathroom deodorizer for a urinal, so this was a nice switch. My buddies keep stealing my good stuff from Japan in spite of all the complaints I hear. I am quite sure they don’t care what the cost of these items are with the shipping. I do a Tibetan style for meditation and I am happy. I had some good Baiedo that died on me because I didn’t use it up but I got some koh-koh shu stuff that I got to get going on. I have a half a carton left. I have no idea what these crack heads did with my incense… I didn’t know it went bad after 5 or 6 years. Nobody told me it had a self life.

  2. apsara100 said,

    August 27, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Thank you all for the articles here, they are very interesting. Have looked for a description of Baieido KOH SHI BOKU, and not found one, although I seem to recall that it was mentioned somewhere.
    I am familiar with some of the higher end Aloeswoods. My sense of smell may be not very developed, I only know what I like (e.g. Myo Ho).

    I have gotten a Koh Shi Boku sample a short while ago from EotA, and I cannot detect one whiff of either Aloeswood or Kyara (tried two sticks). Am finding this strange, it smells not much different than the Shoyeido Jewel series, pleasant but nothing memorable.
    Any comments?


    • glennjf said,

      August 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      H there Aspara.

      I have not tried Koh Shi Boku myself so can’t help with feedback. Good news is the incense was reviewed here back in March 2009.

      If you check the Incense Reviews Index (find the link in the menu listings located on the left side of this page), you will find a review for it there, in the Baieido Section

      or… you could just click hereif you wanted to take the easy route 🙂

      • apsara100 said,

        August 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

        Thank you for the link, have read it, and wonder what happened. Have the Enju (I am lucky), and it is strange that the Koh Shi Boku that I burned does not remotely come close to the former. Of course the Koh Shi Boku is so expensive that I don’t want to burn the whole sampler at once, but will report if the other sticks are different. I’d go out on a limb and say that no Kyara nor Aloes was detected in the two that I burned. This is strange for a mixture that is supposed to be low on other ingredients.

        • glennjf said,

          August 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm

          Not a problem the link, I already knew about the reviews section so it was really no trouble.

          Maybe consider copy pasting your above comments under the relevant incense in the review section? It would be just to pool the information there, for anyone to find who might, later on in time, read that review.

        • Mike said,

          August 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm

          Hi – there are possibly two differences in what you’re experiencing. First, Enju and a lot of high end kyara incenses use oils and thus are a lot stronger than Koh Shi Boku which doesn’t use them. Second, Koh Shi Boku uses green kyara (the best of the best of the best? :)) and in my experience it has evergreen/camphorish subnotes that a lot of other kyaras don’t have. I think with all of those Baieido aloeswoods, they’re among the faintest sticks there are and thus I think to get the most out of them it’s best to really concentrate on the incense. Incenses like the Seijudo and Shoyeido line are a lot louder due to the perfumes and thus are quite a bit more immediate.

          • apsara100 said,

            August 29, 2010 at 10:04 am

            Very interesting, thank you so much. Maybe I should sit in a closet the next time I try it, instead of a larger room. I have seen the term “green Kyara”, and did not know what it referred to, it seems the fungus turns the wood green instead of black? So I thought I like pure woods and it turns out I can’t even smell them !!

            For me, there is a world of difference between “perfume” in premium Shoyeido and other (e.g.Indian) perfumed incense that means instant headache.

            • Mike said,

              August 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm

              Sitting closer to a Baieido is never a bad idea, but incense is always better with a bit of air intake (like an open window). Green is basically considered the finest level of kyara, I’m not sure what its origin is specifically.

              We try to use the word perfume in a non-pejorative way, especially in that in using it we don’t always mean synthetic chemicals. I think when you’re talking about a perfume on an incense like Shoyeido you’re talking about something of very high quality.

  3. Burnell said,

    August 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Wow! Nice to find your ORS. At home on the eastern slope of the high sierra burning Sarasoju and trying to find the manufacturer and a source from the japanese characters on the brown paper was not easy until your site appeared. Now some Shunkohdo samplers are winging their way here, too. I have never found myself waiting for a scent to arrive, it’s a whole new world. Thank you.

    What heater(s) do you recommend? I don’t want to waste even the little piece left in the holder at the end. I noticed that Steve mentioned perfume. Does he follow perfume oils as well as incense? The nose knows, Burnell

    • glennjf said,

      August 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      It’s the place alright.You on the High Sierra, me East coast Austraila, this place stretches far and wide!

      Heaters? I have the electric heater that gets discussed here regularly. It’s about the best that’s out there while also being the most cost effective to buy. Have a read of the review here and all of the comments under it. The review lives in the Incense Reviews Index, in the Pages listing, left side of every page

      Have a browse of the Halls of Fame as well, they’ve been a huge help to me.

  4. Janet said,

    August 4, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Wow! Awesome review, Steve….
    and not just because my name was in it 🙂
    I’m excited, though, because now I have my own acronym: FOO.
    Or, foo’, maybe? Perfect!

    • Steve said,

      August 4, 2010 at 6:06 am

      I debated between “our dear friend” (ODF), “friend of the blog” (FotB) and “friend of ORS” (FOO) – I liked FOO best 😀 Thanks for the insightful comment, Janet-foo! It really helped me grasp at what I was experiencing when I sat with the Select.


      • glennjf said,

        August 4, 2010 at 11:57 am

        FOO eh!


        • Janet said,

          August 4, 2010 at 12:03 pm

          Anytime, you know it! I’ve missed your irreverance around these parts, lately….
          I feel very special.

  5. glennjf said,

    August 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I recently took possession of what I think may be the first small box of Karin Select sold in Australia and I can say it really is a very nice incense. I also got to meet with the Australian importer who lives locally which was very nice. She told me Kunjudo had written to her that the addition of sandalwood was the main difference. Reading what you wrote Steve it explains the differences moreso such as why the cinnamon note is more noticable in the Select.
    I call incenses like these edible 🙂

    • Steve said,

      August 3, 2010 at 7:52 pm

      Funny you mention edible – I definitely think of some incenses as “dessert incenses”. Nippon Kodo’s Bamboo Leaf is certainly one and the thought also came up about Karin Select as I wrote the review!

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