Shoyeido / Overtones / Frankincense, Patchouli, Palo Santo

Many years ago I did reviews of quite a few of the more affordable and baseline Shoyeido incenses. When I first started with most of the dailies, I liked quite a few of them, but found by the time I got to the end of the box I was fatiguing on every single one, top to bottom. Part of the reason for this is that most of Shoyeido’s more inexpensive incenses are sweetened up considerably. Whatever delicate notes any Daily (or Zen or Kyoto Moon etc.) have, they are nearly guaranteed to also have this sugary or candy like addition. Benzoin is usually ascribed to this sweetness and it shows up as a substantial ingredient in many of these incenses, including the first two of the three in question here. I’ll leave it up to the reader if they find it cloying, but I wanted to mention it here as well since it seems to be an element of the entire Overtones series as well. Strangely I don’t find a lot of benzoin resin particularly sweet (or at least as sweet as budget line Shoyeidos) so I wonder if its an absolute or essential distillation that intensifies it.

Anyway, in this case I started with an Overtones one stick sampler and then bought boxes of the three I liked the most. Right now these feel a bit of a break when I burn one, but I can easily see the fatigue coming because they’re all very sweet. But, unlike the line’s more thematic and traditional recipes, the Overtones series does appear to be going for single notes. For the most part they do get something fairly reasonable especially while retailing for just under $5 a box/roll.

Frankincense, then, is much sweeter than equivalent sticks at Minorien or Tennendo and a lot less truly frankincense as well. If you’ve ever tried an Incense Road Frankincense or maybe even a Xiang Do variant, you’re more likely to be familiar with the Shoyeido Frankincense profile, it’s a bit less like the resin and more like a sort of candied variant of it with a bit of cinnamon toast spice (both sandalwood and benzoin are also listed in the ingredients). Most users of the resin use it for its citrusy qualities, but you’re not really likely to find those here, it’s actually a bit more like a tea in some ways. It is very sweet and somewhat ambery as a result and is likely to be initially friendly to most users. I find it pretty pleasant as long as I don’t overdo it, but it’s like I said earlier, I worry a bit about how I’m going to feel by the end of the box. But so far so good, and it is fairly inexpensive enough to make it a low risk try. However if you have the budget to justify it I’d definitely go for an Incense Road first.

Palo Santo seems to be all the rage in incense these days, something I’m not sure you’d find if you go back ten years or so, but the wood seems to have made its way so far into incense scent profiles that you even see this South American wood in Japanese and Indian sticks now. It’s a fairly low cost wood overall, so you can rest assured almost anything is going to have some level of real note to it, but once again the Overtones line assures that even a sort of dry, resinous wood is going to be sweetened up a bit. Cinnamon and benzoin are also listed and it seems both are used to compliment or even out the wild notes of the palo santo to some level, but fortunately neither overshadow them and what is left probably entirely relies on whether you like palo santo and don’t mind the sweetness. The only thing really missing are some of the top notes of the more premium graded wood. Like with the Frankincense I’m still in my enjoyment phase, and feel that judicious use might not eventually overwhelm me. But I also like some of the cinnamon highlights in this, more actually than the Cinnamon Overtones stick itself.

It may not suprise you that the Overtones Patchouli is also sweet. However the thing I like about this stick is it doesn’t lose too much presence of the real herb. It might be that in saturating myself in Temple of Incense Patchouli Woods and the Absolute Bliss equivalent Patchouli Khus had tilted me way over to the experience of a less sweet earthy patchouli and so coming back to something sweeter may be not noticing or caring if its too sweet. But it also allowed me to recognize the real thing in this scent too, after all patchouli isn’t terribly expensive. So yes, as a designer, affordable patchouli, the Overtones is pretty decent. But like with the Frankincense, whatever sandalwood that’s in the incense is fairly well subsumed under the general aroma.

Overtones also include Sandalwood, Cinnamon, Vanilla and Tea Leaves. None of these really worked out for me in the end, but I didn’t out and out dislike them. It was more that as incense notes you’re not as likely to recognize the main ingredient as much, they felt a bit more like variations of the aroma. For example, you’re just not going to get a reasonable good sandalwood aroma out of a $5 box, it’s just going to be generically sandalwood-ish. You’re better off trying a Yamadamatsu low end for a few dollars more. The cinnamon felt like an affectation, the vanilla a bit too sweet and where I often like tea incenses this one just wasn’t for me. But hey there’s always a 7 stick sample, although one might need to directly request it from Shoyeido with an order.



  1. realmeteoro said,

    September 27, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    Great to hear that review is coming up! I like most of them and some are actually favorites of mine. I’m curious to hear your comments on Kumoji and Gancho Koh. -JC

    • Mike said,

      September 27, 2021 at 2:05 pm

      Kumoyi is probably my favorite of the whole line, although Ouju is way up there now too. Gancho is also great. One thing I got really confused about is some of the ones in the middle smell completely different from what I remembered after restocking them again, which is another reason I want to redo the lot!

      • realmeteoro said,

        September 27, 2021 at 2:16 pm

        Kumoji is definitely in the top of the list for me, impossible to resist such an intoxicatingly decadent stick.

  2. realmeteoro said,

    September 27, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Mike, that sweet common base note present in most of Shoyeido’s daily series and even in some of the Horin line, is actually what made me like Shoyeido originally when I first started exploring japanese incense. I bought 3 lifetimes of Shoyeido incense, but unfortunately I quickly got tired of it; it became to sweet for me and my nose quickly developed an appreciation for woody or earthy scents.
    Yet, from the Overtones line, Palo Santo is the one I can still enjoy. It’s a good interpretation of Palo Santo with Shoyeido’s signature envelope. And your recommendation of going for Yamadamatsu’s entry level Sandalwood instead of Shoyeido’s Overtones Sandalwood is spot on. Kayo for instance, is to me a much better rendition of creamy sandalwood.


    • Mike said,

      September 27, 2021 at 1:45 pm

      Yeah that’s a good point that it can be a lure before a fatigue for sure. I plan on doing mostly of the Yamadatmatsu “color” boxes pretty soon, they’re all stacked up on the table behind me. 🙂

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