14 One of a Kind Japanese Incenses

This article was an idea to have a Top 10 of what I consider one of a kind Japanese incenses in the sense that the 9 incenses and one line (of 5 incenses) would all be scents I consider unique. I thought of this burning selection #2 today. This list is in absolutely no hierarchical order, I just went through and thought of incenses that are so singularly their own that there’s really no other incenses like them, no match in their own line or in other company’s lines. So it features both affordable and highly priced wonders. I didn’t really have time to go through and link to previous reviews to them at least yet (and not all of these have reviews, so there is a first time showing or two), but you can use the search engine to the left to find my years-old impressions of them and in certain cases I give my thoughts here of what I think of them now. Do you know any one of a kind Japanese incenses that aren’t on the list? Please feel free to share them in the comments and discuss!

  1. Kyukyodo/Sho-Ran-Koh (Laughing Orchid) While I largely wanted to avoid a great deal of aloeswood incenses, where either in line or out of line you can usually find something similar in style, I find Sho-Ran-Koh utterly unique in its mix between oils and woods. Like most Japanese incenses I think it has probably taken a minor hit from what it smelled like ten years ago, it’s either my nose or the blend isn’t quite as complicated anymore. But I do think it still really fits the Laughing Orchid name in that the scent has an incredible amount of movement in it and almost playful and joyful quality to it. There’s aloeswood certainly, but the creators of this incense have a completely unique mix of other ingredients on top that made this a one of a kind, there is no incense in its line or any other that quite capture what it does. Even the more premium Kyukyodos I believe are not quite as excellent as this one. It is truly one of the treasures of traditional incense, a prime expression of Japanese art.
  2. Kunjudo/Hogetsu What used to be Incense du Monde and then became Florisens I believe still markets this incense as Guiding Light, but the mark up as it sails around the world is quite substantial. I was pleased when Japan Incense began to import this on its own and for a $20 spot which makes it an excellent deal. This is described as a mix of woods and while there’s probably a bit of aloeswood in it, there’s really not enough to make this an aloeswood incense per se, but the blend of woods and oils here gives off an utterly unique, salty and tangy incense that has been a favorite of mine since I first tried it. The fact that it’s not really an aloeswood or a sandalwood incense and yet still remains high quality is very rare in Japanese incense and there’s absolutely nothing else that smells like this that I know of. And I nearly ran out of my Guiding Light box as I discovered it was imported so I can now happily stock this one deep.
  3. Tennendo/Propolis – This is a very special incense. It is a modern short-stick sort of deal and you have to spend into the mid 20s but you get a large amount of sticks with a scent that is unlike anything else in incense (I certainly can’t think of any other propolis stick incenses). It’s essentially the resin that bees bring back to build their hives and as such the properties of the wood resins change into a remarkable and rich scent that actually kind of hints at other wood resins while not being close enough to be duplicative. So it’s modern, deep and intense all at once and the aroma is powerful and fills the room really quickly.
  4. Shoyeido/Horin (the original line). While I’m technically cheating here given that the newest incense in this line, Shira-kawa, is essentially a variant of Hori-kawa, the five incenses, both stick and coil, in Shoyeido’s original Horin line are remarkable in that they start with vanilla and spice/amber blends but notably tackle a few rare modern aloeswoods of which there are really no other analogs in the field of incense. When I first started restocking, most of these were actually at the top of the list for me. You will find that through Amazon marketplace a lot of these are actually priced cheaper than the Shoyeido going price as well. I’m not sure what my favorite of the five are but I often feel it’s either Hori-kawa because I love the cinnamon in the mix or Muro-machi because it as a very nice caramel-aloeswood blend I’m not sure you can find anywhere else.
  5. Minorien/Kyara Ryugen – Unless you’re looking at one of the really high end purer kyara woods like Baieido Kyara Kokoh, for me Ryugen is the singular and most impressive kyara blend ever made and one of my all time favorite incenses. I don’t think I can match my original review of it, so I’ll point you there. Most kyaras are amazing enough to have very complex personalities but often that complexity actually creates similarities, where in this case there’s an oil mix with the woods that just gives off this unique mystical nightshade sort of ambiance that has as much vibe as good taste.
  6. Shoyeido/Premium/Nan-Kun I was glad this incense survived the recent cuts as it’s the one incense where spikenard is a really powerful presence, something you don’t see as much anywhere else. It’s also, of course, a pretty expensive and premium aloeswood incense at the same time, but rather than going for the hoary antique side of things the woodiness presents a balancing act with sweetness in an analogous way to the great Kunmeido Asuka stick while ending up in a completely different area. I actually like this one in tandem with Ga-Ho, as for years I’ve always rotated them in sequence due to how different there are, but it also ends up reminding me that this is really the rarer of the two sticks.
  7. Shoyeido/Xiang-Di/Forest Popular incense companies Shoyeido and Nippon Kodo churn out modern sticks almost as fast as you can keep up with them and many of them are so geared to specific scents that they can often just be aromatically monochromatic and at worse bitter or synthetic smelling. This little gem has always been a favorite to me as its crystal freshness doesn’t have any off notes and captures the fresh feel of a walk through an evergreen forest with a candy touch. It’s no secret I love green incenses whether it’s the Kunmeido’s or Mermade Magical Arts but this presents the scent in a completely different venue and actually succeeds for its build.
  8. Minorien/Kagiku (Chrysanthemum)  I’m not a huge floral fan so my eyes tend to zoom by them in catalogs and it probably zoomed right by this one at some point without noticing that it’s also an aloeswood incense. Also something of a modern scent due to the short, thicker stick, the combination of floral and wood here is something I’ve seen before (probably, I can’t think of any off hand) but certainly not as a Chrysanthemun scent. A sample of this one won me over almost instantly.
  9. Kyukyodo/Azusa  Another Kyukyodo gem and perhaps the world’s greatest floral or at least jasmine. Powdery, sweet, not bitter in the slightest with a distinctly pretty scent, I have kept this in stock since I first purchased it. However, I do miss the slim long stick boxes.
  10. Japan Incense/Theology/Eucalyptus You can tell by the box and the little inserts inside that this is a Minorien incense marketed for the USA’s finest source of Japanese incense, Japan Incense. Many incenses like this are likely targeted for people who visit off the streets and gravitate to more familiar scents and as everyone in California knows eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in a way that incenses of that scent really aren’t. I was surprised by this one in a way I wasn’t quite by the Myrrh and Sage in the same line, but still I’m always impressed by Minorien and how brilliant they are, I think maybe four of my favorite incenses are made by this company. This has a nicely polished Eucalptus sense with a bit of richness to it that I was surprised to find and now that it’s in rotation, it’s actually easy to see how different it is from anything else I own.

Hello Again!

So I wanted to give a bit of a status update on Olfactory Rescue Service, talk about some random things, maybe a bit of a view on the incense world as it exists in 2021. I have had some thoughts about opening up this website again, although I still haven’t even committed to it myself at this point, there’s a lot of work to do and I’ve sort of begun organizing some of it in a new way.

First of all, I think the really big challenge of updating Olfactory Rescue Service is that incense is a changeable thing. Many of the reviews here are somewhat obsolete. Even if the incenses still exist and are sold, often they are not the same ones that we originally wrote about. Sometimes those changes are massive and wholesale, sometimes they are much slighter. We saw the effects even when this blog was started of the shortage of halmaddi in Indian incenses and the shifts in recipes, particularly in Satya catalog, but I would dare say something like this also happened with the Mother’s nag champas even before we closed up shop. Just imagine feeling like the reviews here of those scents don’t reflect the reality of the incense anymore and also the objective need to go through each one again and so forth. Even the Shroff line changed rather dramatically right before we closed up here and then the source for those also went out of business on the incense front.

Changes to Japanese incense are something I am much more up on having spent the last few months restocking my collection and supply. To my nose the changes are fairly minor although in general I think it’s fair to say that new aloeswood sources change scent profiles. I would dare say in a lot of lines perhaps there has been a change to the ratio of theses woods, like maybe a tapering off of the use of woods. But some of these shortages on the high end woods like kyara have been very profound. We recently heard the news that Shoyeido has deleted their top three kyara incenses and must add even before this the prices on these had skyrocketed to levels, an almost 150% appreciation on the prices they were when ORS was in full swing. While apparently the company has created a new incense in this range that will probably end up being the top incense in the range, these were classics of the incense style and it is very sad to see them go. A similar example is Nippon Kodo who just recently released several high end kyaras again, the top of which goes for nearly $3000 a box.

So in many ways a great deal of the archives really need to be gone over and I’m not quite sure yet how I want to approach this or whether the effort is worth starting, but it is something I have been considering. The second challenge is quite simply one of the reasons I shut this site down. One day I realized I was less involved in reviewing incenses and much more involved in dealing with the behavior of a few people in the scene causing a tremendous amount of drama, not only here but with some of the companies. I will say this, I tried to be fair at the time, if I open it up again the culling of this activity will essentially be ruthless. The good 80% of commenters here (I have to save 15% in addition to this having to remove endless companies thinking they could just use this place for free advertising) were wonderful and welcome but what is really obvious if you moderate a site like this is there are always a few bad apples who you can see coming a mile a way and if you can see them you know reasoning with them isn’t going to help. I am a believer in civility, debate, genial disagreement, and the idea that everyone has their own valid and subjective opinions on what they like or don’t. And again I really don’t like to have to say any of this because most of our readers are great and always have been. But I do not have the time to babysit and conversations about companies and service and those areas are just not going to be OK here anymore.

So over the last few years I also haven’t let comments through, even a lot of very nice ones. It’s always been somewhat ironic to me that our blog subscriber list probably doubled in the time we were closed. I am going to consider letting comments come through on this thread only with the caveat that I might not be able to respond to them all. The WordPress interface always changes and I’m not entirely sure even if the current settings will allow me to vet them and so on and so forth and as this is just sort of interim post, I’ll just deal with the issues as they arise. Thanks to everyone who has take the time to comment and collaborate and hopefully this will lead to seeing some old and new friends alike.