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.

Gyokushodo 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 🙂



  1. Christian said,

    September 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Based on your review, I tried the “Beckoning Spring.” There was nothing floral about it. It almost put me in mind of immortelle used in perfumery-and it was (to my nose) very unpleasant. Since the comments thread seems to be revolving around masculine/feminine scent-I’d put this firmly in the masculine category.

    Maybe this one really made the reviewer sing; it made me scowl.

    • Marian said,

      September 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      I intensely dislike immortelle but I love “Beckoning Spring”.
      The next time I light up a stick I’ll see if I can pick up notes of helichrysum; if not, and it’s there, perhaps I should count my inability to smell it as a blessing.
      I’m sorry you didn’t like the incense, Christian.

      • September 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

        I would have to go with the feminine floral, at least the sticks I had gotten about 3-4 years ago. I do think there has been some formula changes along the way.

        • Marian said,

          September 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm

          My box is over 3 years old, Ross. Maybe that explains the difference in perception.

      • Christian said,

        September 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

        Scent perception is highly subjective, Marian-and as I know from reading perfume reviews. I was expecting a floral incense, but this was hardly that. Nevertheless, there have been so many amazing discoveries here for me, this one is just chalked up to “oh, well…” It was a sample 8 pack, so not a big loss.

        • Marian said,

          September 12, 2012 at 10:07 am

          Christian- I sure hope it’s a difference in perception and not in formulation. You’ve peaked my curiosity. I’d be happy to purchase your sample set so I can compare it with my older box. If you’re interested you can email Ross. He’ll make sure we can contact each other to make arrangements.
          And I’m so glad you’ve discovered other great incenses through the site and hope your future purchases will be a lot more successful than this last one 🙂

          • Christian said,

            September 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

            No need for you to buy it! I’d be glad to send you a stick so you can sample, Marian. 😀

            Just so you know, I got mine through Tom’s Incense on Amazon. I’ve purchased from him before (directly, via Ebay and Amazon) and have been happy with what I’ve received. I never thought about incense formulations changing, but it makes perfect sense since the same thing happens in perfumery. Usual with perfume it was because of cost/scarcity of ingredients, and now-IFRA regulations…

            • Marian said,

              September 12, 2012 at 12:29 pm

              That’s very nice of you, Christian. I’d love to take you up on your offer. Thank you!

              • Christian said,

                October 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

                Follow up to the above posts-I sent Marian the “Beckoning Spring” incense that I purchased based on her review (and disliked) and she is in agreement that the product I tried does not resemble what she reviewed…

  2. glennjf said,

    September 6, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Hi Marian, I’m trying to clarify which incenses are which, I’m guessing Seijudo Lotus Flower Kyara may be Seijudo Horen and Seijudo Yeonsu Kyara could be Seijudo Enju, am I close?
    As for Seikado Kyara, I’ve had no luck guessing this one, is it Meika, Gokujo or Hien?

    Best of luck securing a 350th anniversary box set.

    • Marian said,

      September 7, 2012 at 6:39 am

      Hi, Glenn,
      Yes- Hoetsu is Lotus Flower. What was translated for me as “Yeonsu” is the top kyara in the Seijudo catalogue and cost 31,500 yen. I don’t know if it’s available in the U.S. Seikado Kyara- this was a sample from and the stock number on the tube is se-00703. Hope this helps.
      And thanks for your good wishes. I’m working on it!

  3. Hisham Ayoub said,

    September 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    very nice descriptions Marian. Thank you! I am familiar with some of them but not withe others. The Baiedo’s 350th anniversary stick sounds intriguing. May I ask, if this is something that is still offered commercially or it was a one time item and now discontinued?

    • Marian said,

      September 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      I received a sample for a very generous friend. I’m in the process of trying to purchase one myself.

  4. Mike said,

    August 31, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Great stuff Marian. 🙂 I have the Murasakino out today, it is a favorite. Kyukyodo are so sublimely elegant at their top end, I think their kyara Musashino might top kyaras for me.

    I also found it interesting you found Shun Yo feminine. I’ve often wondered what a survey of masculine and feminine scents might turn up, it could make a nice series of polls to do that ingredient by ingredient.

    It’s also great to see Ross’s blends in our lists these days, I think they stand right alongside all these good scents.

    • Marian said,

      August 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks, Mike. I, too, like Musashino- if only it weren’t so pricey!
      Maybe calling Shun Yo “feminine” was a mistake and I should have stuck to descriptive adjectives that are less stereotypically “charged” 🙂 I’ll try to be more illuminating next time 🙂

      • Mike said,

        September 3, 2012 at 10:17 am

        Marian, I actually think people do tend to have a rough idea of what’s considered masculine and feminine scentwise and that indicating such a thing can be helpful. I just think it was interesting as I’d normally consider Shun Yo masculine. You just reminded me it’s not so easy to call a lot of the times. No right or wrong here, just different takes. 🙂

        • Marian said,

          September 3, 2012 at 11:15 am

          I first smelled it in a very peaceful Japanese store where I’ve purchased indigo-dyed dresses. Perhaps I just haven’t been able to shake the clothing association 🙂
          All the materials used to construct the interior were brought over from Japan- wood, stone, etc. The dapple the roughly-hewn stone floor with water every morning. I really enjoy being in that space.

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