Yamadamatsu / Hojo – Kyara “Firebird” / Green Label, Red Label, White Label

Japan Incense started importing Yamadamatsu incenses a year or two before ORS closed for a while. Prior to that I had received boxes through different channels. But I think that sort of trickle and then flow meant that our reviews on their products were a bit more haphazard and not as organized as some of the other Japanese companies and that many of our comments probably showed up in previous top ten lists around the time. (Also, I believe the write ups for the red and white label Hojos at Japan Incense were written by Ross as well, so they’re worth checking into from the product links given below). A similar situation is probably true for our Kyukyodo reviews and so part of the new ORS plans is to visit/revisit a lot of these incenses and of course at the same time look at what is currently being offered under these most revered of companies. Personally I don’t notice huge changes in this particular line (Hojo); however, in the more lower end boxes with all the colors it did seem that some of the incenses had changed a lot.

The Hojo or Firebird line is an incredibly well-priced line for its quality. The Green and White labels are about the same in cost while the Red label is a step up in price. These are very different kyaras from a lot of the incenses we’ve reviewed here. The Hojo series has a bit of what I’d call like a lacquer or turpentine sort of vibe to their overall bouquet. They seem to both combine elements of dry woodiness as well as a thick sweetness in the mix. I think I only had a sample of the Green label kyara a long time ago but these are my second boxes of the Red and White. They took me a while to appreciate, but part of that is because Yamadamatsu is so good at the aloeswood incense that there can be a really long learning curve to start to appreciate what is going on with these. Honestly except for the White label I’m not sure there is a super strong kyara note in these, it’s more mixed in with what I’d guess is other prize aloeswoods, but I think in deference to the skill of the creators what they’ve done to highlight or mix in the note on these is really impressive. If you’re an aloeswood appreciator and want to skip the fluff, these should be right down your alley.

My (current, subject to change) favorite of these, perhaps because it’s a bit newer to me, is the Hojo Green label. It’s actually quite cool that you can get a least a little genuine presence of this fine wood at a $140 price point as this is a tremendously good incense at this range. One thing I love about this one is it has a forest-like presence to it, it’s a bit more cooling than the other two. I’m not sure if this just my association with the green or if there’s an intention to it, but this seems to be strong in presenting the kyara with a nice helping of borneol, musk, some intriguing green notes and a bit of saltiness in the mix. When I first tried this in a sampler I was impressed, but then the box really warmed me to what a tremendously great incense this is (it will certainly end up in the new hall of fame). The kyara note seems to diffuse through the bouquet rather that sit as a note itself and because of it having such a nice mix of elements, it really gives one’s attention a lot of reward, as you sit back and let the complexity of it gather in the air around you. This is actually one of my very favorite incenses, a straight 10 out of 10 and I highly recommend it if you are new to high-end woods and want to splurge for the first time.

The Hojo Red Label I’m a lot more familiar with and it’s the high end of the three here. It is the most powerful and lacquer-like of the three and less complex extra ingredients-wise than the Green label. This is definitely an all out high-end wood assault and because it doesn’t feel like this has as many additions, the complexity of the wood itself is more noticeable. The thing about Yamadamatsu is when it comes to aloeswoods they’re very much not afraid to give you the wood itself in all its pungency and sheer strength, including any of the actual wood notes that a lot of other incenses tend to balance out with other things. But this is simply the way you want it sometimes. The kyara is really starting to peak through, although it has to to cut through all of this boldness. Overall it comes over strongly patriarchal, regal, meditative, and daring you to flinch. And if you don’t, you realize that the overall carrier wave is really delivering on the kyara front and as the wood burns you’re delivered the simple complexity and depth of the wood in a way that only an incense like this can. I would guess this wouldn’t go over quite as well to a newcomer given its utterly unforgiving density, but if you can lock into the overall powerful note akin to something like caramel, butterscotch or toffee (which isn’t unlike Shoyeido’s Muro-machi without falling more into the sweeter, more approachable realms) then you might be able to work with the less forgiving aspects that come with purer wood, whatever the type. Unsurprisingly another classic just like the Green label, just a masterclass in aloeswood skill. This is the apex of a wood incense.

And finally the Hojo White label. In some ways this is like a more affordable Red label. There isn’t as much of the caramel-like note but it’s there farther back in the mix. It’s a touch spicier and there’s a bit of chocolate in the mix and the lacquer like scent isn’t dialed all the way up. Feels like this one’s a bit muskier than the other two labels as well even if it feels they all have it in some way. It distinguishes itself from the other two mostly because it is mellower with a bit of a powdery touch. I think of the three this kyara note is perhaps the least noticeable in this one. It feels like there might be a touch of citrus it is making its present felt in, but this is a very faint subnote. Overall while I might like the White and Green a little more, it’s a bit hairsplitting to say so because again, this is Yamadamatsu and their aloeswood incenses are always unique, thoughtful, well crafted, and innovative. In fact this might even be the friendliest of the three (old brain is telling me I liked this one the most of the white and red for a long time).

Anyway not much more to say. It’s kind of crazy when you think the new Shoyeido is going for $500 and you can get the top end of the Hojos for $260. If it wasn’t on sale (at $600) you could get all three of these for less than one box of Myo-kaku. There’s just no contest what is the better incense even if they were even. And overall these aloeswoods are without comparison. Even Yamadamatsu’s Shu Ju range and most of the color range are different. One or two of the high end coils have some similarities but those are as likely down to the other ingredients as the woods. I just have to stop myself now before I discover new aspects of these great incenses and feel the need to edit. A+++



  1. incenseburner111 said,

    March 24, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    3/24/22. I bought samples of all three Hojo’s. The White Label is coming forth as my immediate favorite. Is that a touch of lotus flower around the edges that I am picking up on? There is something very delicate and “romantic” going on here.
    I have to put in an order for a full box asap! 🙂

  2. June 24, 2021 at 11:21 am

    Reading this might be similar to reading about an exotic land that I know I will probably never visit. I have never experienced kyara, and probably never will…but your article allows me to visit there in my imagination. Thank you.

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