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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/ky-0005.html
  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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/kj-0032.html
  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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/tn-0035.html
  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.
    https://www.shoyeido.com/category/horin-incense-coils
  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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/mn-0020.html
  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.
    https://www.shoyeido.com/category/southern-wind
  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.
    https://www.shoyeido.com/product/xiang-do-forest/xiang-do-incense
  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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/mn-0060.html
  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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/ky-0053.html
  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.
    https://www.japanincense.com/ji-0002.html
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22 Comments

  1. timdufka said,

    September 4, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    HI Mike, regarding the Shoyeido Premium, are the current Nan-Kun, Ga-Ho, and Go-Un incenses holding to the same scent profiles as older versions?

    • Mike said,

      September 5, 2021 at 9:13 am

      You can actually see a years long profile change with a lot of the premiums. First of all Go-Un is deleted, along with the other two kyaras. When I first bought Nan-Kun and Ga-Ho in the 35s stick boxes, I loved them enough to go for the bigger 135 stick rolls on both. I honestly think those 135 stick rolls were older stock than the 35s at the time, they were much woodier and really nice. So when I restocked last year you could be talking anything like a 10-15 year difference in stock. I bought the larger but long 90 stick rolls of the Nan-Kun and Ga-Ho. They’re roughly in the same scent ball park but my feeling over a lot of the Shoyeidos is perfume wizardry may be making up for missing materials. So no I don’t think they’re the same, not exactly. But it’s a tougher call because the aromas are still pretty close. I do still like them both, but there’s a difference. Misho felt like it had changed quite a bit, I don’t sense what I used to call like the masala or curry like note in it as much now. Kyo-jiman I still thought was similar. But if someone said they arents as woody, I probably wouldn’t argue. But I do hope to go in and update our Premium reviews once I burn some more sticks and address this a bit closer, I think I have new stock of all but the deleted. One more thing for the list. But I might argue that a lot of these were really highly priced and then got even higher. Nan-Kun and Ga-Ho cost a lot more than kyaras and high enders in other lines. So whether they’re worth purchasing or not may have been an issue even before materials changed.

  2. timdufka said,

    July 21, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    Hi Mike! The sample of Kyokyodo Sho-Ran-Koh I am working through is subtle verging on non-existent…super light on the aloeswood and mostly sandalwood. It seems quite different than your description, which is usually congruent with my sensations. I wonder if Japan Incense gave me the wrong stuff….

    • Mike said,

      July 22, 2021 at 6:48 am

      Tim. Your impressions may be correct. I believe around the time I wrote this I had just recently restocked and had a few sticks from an old box left. Something in the overall recipe has changed for sure. I’m not sure I would have described it as lighter on aloeswood (could have been this, or a shift in stock), but for me the tricky mirage like note that really left its stamp on this incense seems to have vanished in the new box. But yeah as soon as I get to Kyukuodo in my reviews index I am going to note there was a significant formula change on this one. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. chamekke said,

    May 20, 2021 at 3:45 am

    I just came across this page during a search and was thrilled to see you posting again! Thank you for returning and sharing your incense expertise once more.

  4. redtick12 said,

    February 27, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    I have a few favorites that aren’t on this list, but I haven’t tried a wide enough variety to know if they are unique. I am guessing that they probably are not. The first of these is Shoyeido Incense Road, particularly the Chai, but I like all three a lot and in my limited experience seem to be one of a kinds. The other two are Tennendo Tensei and Kuukai. I am guessing those last two are not all that unique, but I haven’t had anything quite like them.

    • Mike said,

      February 27, 2021 at 12:45 pm

      I considered the Nanzan/Frankincense actually but it’s not far from the Chai and I find both of those Tennendos pretty close as well, I think they mostly vary because the oil mix is different. But both of them did come to mind for sure.

  5. redtick12 said,

    February 27, 2021 at 11:59 am

    You know what would be really cool, but probably not realistic? If japanincense put together a sampler pack of these 14. I have tried about half (the Shoyeido’s as it my favorite brand), but I would totally buy a sampler to try the rest. It’s cool to see a few of my favorites are on here, but I am trying to branch out a little.

    • Mike said,

      February 27, 2021 at 12:50 pm

      Maybe see if Japan Incense has samplers of some of them. I think the Kyara Ryugen they sell 5 stick samplers and 20 stick sheets, they’re still a bit pricey because it’s a kyara but it’s a way to know if you’ll like it. There’s also a smaller more affordable shorter stick box of the Sho Ran Koh. Usually any link will lead to the other sizes of a particular scent. My feeling about asking for samples if there’s nothing already created there is if there’s something I’m not sure I’ll like or not and don’t want to take a risk on, but if I do like the sample I will follow and buy a box for sure.

  6. February 27, 2021 at 12:53 am

    Nice catch-up. You know, I have skipped a minorien floral for all the same reasons. Now I’ll have to check it out!

    I used to love Tenpyo as the best of the Horin series but it recently took a major quality hit and now Muromachi is my go to. I find the Nijo and Shirakawa to be way too far into the vanilla and get cloying to me.

    Lastly, are you aware of craft incense makers that are doing monthly batch releases like KyaraZen used to do?

    • Mike said,

      February 27, 2021 at 7:51 am

      Thanks! I have some word on those types of craft incenses makers and am interested for sure, but I probably don’t know who they all are and the ones I have looked at often seem to be out of stock when I look.

      • February 27, 2021 at 5:34 pm

        Dr. Incense has a great blog at http://www.incense.sg. His drops happen every last Saturday of the month(today). He does a lot of research into ancient incense uses and production methods. It goes on sale 8pm Singapore time, which is 4am Cali time.

        Yi-Xin Craft Incense is one of KyaraZen’s students who operates out of Northern California and his drop is the last Sunday of the month(tomorrow). It goes on sale at 11am but you have to get the invite from being on his mailing list.

        Both of them sell out pretty much the same hour it goes on sale.

        Rising Phoenix Perfumery is worth talking about too because they make some great single source Japanese sticks as well as amazing oud oils and blends.

        Lastly, Essence of the Ages is mostly gone, but taking up the Tibetan/Bhutan flag is a new ‘Incense Traditions’ up in Canada. They carry some of the stuff you reviewed as well as a host of “new” things they import.

  7. Carrie Vandiver said,

    February 25, 2021 at 8:29 pm

    I am so happy to see you posting again, Mike! Dangerous for my bank account though. lol I hope you are well!

    • Mike said,

      February 25, 2021 at 8:32 pm

      LOL, thanks Carrie and likewise.

  8. February 25, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Mike,
    I am very pleased to find your site. I am an old person who knows NOTHING about incense, but for some unknown reason, I have decided I want to experiment with making my own. I became intrigued when I visited a Zen monastery and they were burning something called Rei-Ryokou (sp?). I would like to make something similar. I ordered an herb called gold coin grass, among other things but from my first experiment, I can tell it is going to be a long haul to get something that is suitable.
    I am wondering if you would be willing to give me some advice…what would be your suggestion on which ingredients would go into such a blend…where do you think a good place to start would be? My first batch used sandalwood and agarswood powder, gold coin grass and makko, and then oils of clove, patchouli, benzoin and turmeric. It is okay…and held together/ burnt well, but the fragrance was a little unimpressive…I think maybe I did not put enough oil in it. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have. Thank you.

    • Mike said,

      February 25, 2021 at 6:12 pm

      Hello and thanks for your comments. I would guess it was this?

      https://www.japanincense.com/ku0001.html

      Foenum Graecum (or fenugreek) has a lot to do what that blend. In fact I believe it moves up the line as there are more refined versions of it. There should be a review here somewhere if you search for Kunmeido or find it in the categories on the left. I think the link has the list of most of the ingredients.

      Honestly, I may not be the best to answer making questions but I know there are some readers on here who are very good at so I’m hoping they see this and can help it. I know before it closed there was a making incense group on Yahoo but am not at all sure where that activity shifted to. There is an incense group on Facebook as well who might be able to help. Best of luck in your search!

  9. Mike said,

    February 25, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    I tried to throw in a picture here but either I don’t get it or WordPress hasn’t made it easy or it needs to go premium or something. This is one avenue I try not to burn too much time on.


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