Nine Japanese Incenses I Burn PLUS a Wonderful Cheat

Seijudo Lotus Flower Kyara (Kyara Horen) – Light and sweet (quiet vanilla) and somewhat lacking in depth, but elegant and almost floral in its delicate fineness. It has a gentle and gauzy feeling that make me think of tender moments.

Seijudo Yeonsu Kyara (Kyara Enju) – Stronger, deeper and fuller than Lotus Flower, containing sweet notes of kyara and powdery, cushion-y musk.  It is heartier than Lotus Flower though they both feature Kyara from Vietnam.

Shoyeido Beckoning Spring (Shun-yo)- a very feminine, floral stick in that makes me think more of perfume than of incense. The name of the incense is very apt- it resembles a flower garden waking in the morning dew.  The scent is quite strong, without being suffocating, and feels very joyous and generous in spirit. I don’t think it will appeal to lovers of wood-scented incense, but it is one of few floral incenses I like despite its linearity and one dimensionality. It supposedly contains agarwood,, cloves, camphor and patchouli but I can’t smell the cloves and I would guess it contains other synthetics and/or perfume oils in addition to white musk. This incense really makes me sing 🙂

Shoyeido Hoetsu Rapture- a chip mixture with very strong notes of camphor, star anise and sandalwood (also aloeswood , cloves and probably other stuff, too). The sandalwood overshadows the aloeswood, but the blend is a pleasant combination of woody and floral notes. I enjoy burning it on Shoyeido’s portable burner. The gossamer floral notes that I think are a combination of camphor and clove make their appearance early in the burn; the woods predominate after a few minutes have elapsed.  I’ve tried a couple of Yamada Matsu chip mixes with similar ingredients that I prefer. I can’t figure out why the YM mixes seem more potent and more interesting since the ingredients, as listed,  are pretty much the same.

Kyukyudo Murasakino- I wish I knew how to upload a photo. The packaging is stunning-bluish/purplish and gold brocade, a wide, eggplant-colored cord and gold-flecked parchment label with black characters – the epitome of opulent presentation.  The sticks themselves are a bright yellow-green in color- a marriage of emerald and chartreuse. The incense is a less sweet than the above sticks. Although I can smell agarwood, borneol and herbs the individual ingredients don’t stand out as distinct entities but fuse together to form a complex amalgam with its own particular character. The scent is dynamic and energizing, and seems less “processed” and more natural than the others sticks I’ve mentioned so far. The stick is a little edgy without being harsh. It makes me think of a brisk woodland stroll through in autumn where campfires were recently burning and furry animals glide through the night. (There is a hint of musk but it is somewhat subdued).  Despite the fact that the separate notes blend together so effortlessly, the scent of the stick varies throughout its length. I like that- it keeps me guessing 🙂

Seikado Kyara- I think this one is worth mentioning because it showcases the bitter side of Kyara.  I like the dryness of the stick, though sometimes it smells a little earthy and muggy.

Baiedo’s 350th anniversary stick- I only smelled this once but it made a big impression on me because of its successful combination of seemingly contradictory elements. The stick smelled densely sweet with notes of cinnamon, cloves and the sweetness of  creamy woods, yet also crystalline, confident and sinewy. The juxtaposition of dignified strength, pastoral earthiness, suede-like skin scents and floral sweetness was as surprising as it was alluring.

Gyukushodo Nami No Sho-  I was sure this contained ambergris! There’s a mineral fizziness- almost like white pepper- that fooled me 🙂  That’s OK- I like the way it plays the trick 🙂  I’m a huge fan of ambergris because I love the salty marine notes and the many images they conjure up. If anyone knows of sticks that do contain ambergris, I’d be grateful for the information.

Kyukyodo Koroboh kneaded incense- Heavy on the borneol and plenty of plum-y, jam-y fruits.  I really love the way the almost eye-smarting camphoraceous notes collide with the juicy stickiness of dried fruits. The combination of heat and ice makes me absolutely giddy. That such seemingly opposite scents can get along so well gives me hope for mankind 🙂

The downside- not much carrying power

Cheat- Agarwood mix by Olfactory Rescue Service’s Ross Urrere- I’m saying this is cheating because Ross isn’t Japanese but I think it’s OK for me to list his incense here because I think the ingredients are ambergris, agarwood and musk- real musk. One of the major reasons I like this incense is because it starts off with a blast of animalic, brine-y ambergris that is unmistakable. That mineral note is so seductive- perhaps because of the images of harpoons, scrimshaw, bursting waves, one-eyed pirates, etc, that it immediately brings to mind. The agarwood is so sweet it almost smells caramelized, and the musk adds warmth and mellowness. I would call this an animalic/gourmand agarwood mix- perfect for a cozy winter evening 🙂

Shoyeido’s Horin series Shirakawa

Shoyeido’s Horin series has been a long time favorite of many here at ORS and has some real winners in its line up. Recently Shoyeido brought out a new member of the series called Shirakawa, which apparently is named after the White River Valley in Japan.

If you like Hori-kawa’s (River Path)amber scent then this will  be right up your ally as it also has a big amber based scent, along with the addition of a vanilla and slight coconut note across the top. There is a sweet quality to the over all profile and it reminds me  a bit of a perfume called “Pink Sugar”.

Like Hori-kawa, it is very strong; even a quarter of a stick will pretty well fill up a 12 X 12 room. This incense relies heavily on oils and perfume influences and while I think there might be some sandalwood in the base it is pretty hard to tell. I did notice that this seemed to be better as a first stick of a burning session, although burning anything after this is going to require a wait. This incense would be great for scenting large areas like gallery’s or showrooms. -Ross

myInsens / myJoy, myMantra, mySensuality, mySerenity, mySpark

myInsens is a new company in the US offering natural and premium Indian incense. The owner, Kaivan Dave, contacted me last year about the project and after samples of the incense, I’ve been pretty excited for a while to announce the company’s presence, their web site went live not too long ago.

One of the things you start to notice with Indian incense over time is the distribution structure. It is quite possible to think of several incense companies having separate product, but often certain incense companies in India market incenses outside the country and so, for example, the Madhavadas family provide incenses for Primo, Pure Incense and others.  I mention this because myInsens is definitely providing a new scent profile with their first six incenses, one that will be similar to other Indian incense companies, but with variations that make them well worth checking out on their own. Kaivan has struck me as very careful in the quality and styles he is releasing first and as such all of the incenses in the line have done nothing but open up since I started using them.

But not only are the incenses good, the packaging and presentation is particularly notable. The first thing I thought of when I got my first samples and box was simply why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Because the box the incenses come in is wonderfully crafted for travel, a hinged box with a compartment for an incense holder. Even if you’re the Japanese incense type, I can imagine you’d love a box like this, with just a little bit of arrangement you can load the case for travel and not really have to worry about broken sticks. The only downside to any of this is that $19.99 for 24 sticks of incense and the box might be considered too steep for some, and I might agree if we weren’t dealing with what is essentially a connoisseur level of Indian incense. But I’d still maintain it’s almost worth it for the box alone, it’s that cool.

myJoy is the first of two reddish colored sticks, both essentially florals. I’m often the first person to complain about how poor some Indian florals can be, so I’m also going to rave about them when they’re great. And in many ways what myInsens has done with the floral incense is one of their selling points. myJoy is the type of floral that many companies attempt and few get right, and it is a real credit to myInsens that this is so beautifully balanced, because a hair outside of this balance can really hurt a floral. In the description, we’re given crushed rose petals and olive oil, the latter perhaps being the first time I’ve heard of the ingredient in an incense. The perfume that centers the stick is just incredibly well conceived, with almost real essential oil quality definition. The beauty of walking through a garden is the subtletly of scent, not some sort of perfume drowning session, so it’s so easy to recommend this, its powdery and feminine sweetness has a true delicacy and sense of nature in it. Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli is perhaps roughly in the same style, but I’m not sure anyone’s done it better than this.

The ingredients given for myMantra are ground patchouli leaves and frankincense powder. I also notice a strong sandalwood presence as a base, and the patchouli holding the center. The patchouli tends to the sweet, I’d guess due to the frankincense powder which gives the overall scent a fruitiness you don’t tend to find in most patchouli incenses. Due to so many elements at play the overall bouquet has hints of vanilla and orange in the mix, which remind me of spicier teas as well as certain colognes. But like all the incenses in this line the effects are quite gentle and always subtle and you never forget their are organics at work, all of which wonderfully unfold duing the burn.

While the whole line is good, if there was a standout in it it would have to be the absolutely world class mySensuality. Talk about raising a rose (and, as the description unveils, raspberry) incense to a new bar. How the company managed to get a rosy incense this authentic at a reasonable price is quite frankly almost miraculous territory. Like with myJoy this has floral definition that you usually only see in the high end Japanese lines (like Shoyeido Floral World). While other incenses in the line have a bit more halmaddi, this is still essentially something of a champa style, balanced to the point that criticisms fall away. The rose/raspberry mix is a real triumph for the company, so rich it almost has wine-like notes. Make sure this one’s in your first sample pack.

mySerenity moves back to familiar territory. This is definitely a champa incense, with what seems like a very nice halmaddi and honey mix. We’re given both lavender and vanilla as ingredients, although the former is certainly not very loud, which I generally think is a good move. The style is quite similar in many ways to Satya Natural, Honey Dust and others and thus is perhaps a bit on the generic side as a scent while still nailing the quality end of it. In fact if there’s any criticism to be made, any stick this thick with gum can be slightly problematic on lighting, but once it’s going it should be fine. The ingredients are nice and fresh and this is essentially a vanilla/balsamic mix, quite old school at heart.

mySpark nearly combines the spicyness of myMantra and the ambery subnotes of  myJoy with the champa qualities of mySerenity and indeed the ingredients given are patchouli oil, halmaddi and sandalwood. Like myMantra, this is something of a spicy, somewhat cologne-like masculine scent. Once again the perfume/oils being used in this stick are nicely defined, including a light touch of sweetness, in fact the way the florals and woods mix is lightly reminiscent of a good oud. This is the kind of champa I tend to gravitate to on a personal level and found this stick quite bracing and enjoyable.

When I got to writing notes on myZen, I realized I had gotten some aromatic fatigue, particularly because it is the lightest and airiest incense in the catalog. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how careful the incense making is here. In fact this seems to be almost the perfect meditation incense, not so loud it will distract you. The ingredients are sandalwood, halmaddi champa flower, the sandalwood the most pronounced ingredient in the middle with the champa flower playing lightly around the edges (my first impression was violet). Of all the scents in the catalog, this seems to be the least oil heavy.

Perhaps the best news about myInsens is they’re already looking forward to new scents, in fact I believe I was told there were four more on the way. This is all excellent news, because the combination of quality incense with an intelligent and modern style of packaging is all too rare in the field today. Also it should be mentioned that if you sign up for their newsletter you can get 10% off on your order. I highly recommend any incense lover who likes to share to give a sampler a try, I find it worth it for the box/holder combination alone. That it comes with extremely good incense makes it a perfect package.

myInsens

myInsens is a new Indian incense company in the US, providing six new traditional scents in modern packaging. Reviews will follow next week, but I wanted to announce for a couple of reasons, first, these are very good incenses, with at least one or two that are notable, such as the extraordinary floral MySensuality. Second, the incenses come in a very well thought out box, which hinges open to include the incense and a burner, making this an excellent and reusable item for travel. myInsens look to be around for a while with several other aromas in the works, and based on these it looks like they’re off to a really good start.

July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere 🙂

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight 🙂