Top Ten November 2011

1. Akikaze from Kyukyodo: This is part of what I think of as the “The Heavy Hitters in Wood Boxes” from Kyukyodo. You can get an idea about them at this page in our blog. With luck I will get a review of them out in a week or two. This one is a reasonable price (for what one is getting) with a really beautiful perfume note on top of the woods and a light musk back note. You can check with Kohshi/Japan Incense for availability. I think Kyukyodo does this type of style (perfumed floral’s mixed with quality wood) really well and it very hard to beat here.

2. Kyara Seiran from Seijudo: This is number two in Seijudo’s high end line up, based mostly on price point, not scent. I think it is a little less strong and more likable then the Kyara Enju while still being heavily laced with a very strong set of wood notes and spices with musk undertones. If you are in the market for a Kyara blend this is a great one. I find myself liking it more in the cooler months; it is also very relaxing and quite nice in the evening. It is right up there at the pinnacle of this style and not to be missed; it also comes in a number of different sizes and price points.

3. Byakudan Kokoh from Baieido: This is one of the very best of the “straight up” Sandalwoods, in other words, no perfumes and minimal spices or herbs. It is pretty dry in scent but very true to Sandalwood’s nature. Great for reflection or the post work chilling. Baieido really does the woods oh so well, it is hard to go wrong with them and this is a real winner in a old Japan incense style.

4. Enkuu from Tennendo: You can check in the blog for the notes on this one, it has always been a favorite here at ORS and with good reason. It is very much on the dry side of the scent spectrum, it is also has a very clean (not pine or camphor) set of notes to it combined with a very unique and clear wood base of Aloeswood.

5. Cracked Earth from Aluwwah:  Aluwwah is a Canadian Oud  oil and wood seller as well as an incense maker. He has a number of styles of real, hand made Bakhoors at his site. They use real ingredients and quality woods and oils. This one has a nice resinous note mixed with some woods and ambers. It is somewhat lighter in scent then the Bakhoors that I have tried before, which I like as it tends to allow me to check out the different aspects of the mix. There was also a mix called Deer’s Breath that was a huge floral/musk/oud master piece. It’s out of stock but I hear tell that a successor called Lamb’s Breath is in the works.

6.Deep Earth 2011 from Mermade Incense: For the incense heater or coals, but for sure made to be slowly heated up. Stunning deep resin notes wrapped around woods and herbs, I think the name pretty much says it all. Perfect for Fall into Winter.

7. Evergreen Forest Incense from Mermade Incense: This is, again, for an incense heater, you could also try Sacred Grove if you wanted something along the lines of a cone. Either produce a wonderful “in the forest” scent that freshens up the atmosphere and generates a wonderfully clean and very green scent. Very much a Winter forest scent and just a wonderful treat for the senses.

8. Jihi – Amacha kou from Awaji-Baikundo: Very strong and beautiful amber note with borneal camphor added as well as Hydrangea Tea. I think this is one of the most beautiful amber’s on the market, no matter what country you are from. It is a very clean and warm offering that really livens up a space and would also be great to scent ones clothing with. Very long lasting scent.

9. Meena Supreme from  Happy Hari: Easily one of the very best of the Indian incenses and in general this company looks to be a real winner all around. I have not gotten to try the newer releases yet but you can see Mike’s notes within the blog. This has all the deep floral’s along with the woods and spices. There is also enough separation between the notes to make it really interesting. It is pretty strong; you might not want to start here if you are going to be going through a number of different sticks at one setting.

10. Genmyo from Yamada Matsu: These are in the kneaded style or incense balls. These happen to have Kyara and Aloeswoods plus a spice and oil (I think) blended together for a more modern take on this style. There a sort of amber and caramel mix that rides across the woods. There are three different blends from YM that Kohshi has at their retail outlet in San Francisco. The Aloeswood blend has this same set of notes but the amber/caramel notes are stronger and the woods more backed off. It sort of depends on the day as to which I like more.

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August Top Ten 2011

Minorien  FU-IN® Kyara Ryugen: This is Minorien’s top of the line(at least here in the US)  Kyara blend. If you are familiar with the companies style then you will see that this is the end result of ever increasing refinement. The balance of all the differing elements and the way they have been mixed is truly remarkable. Not to be missed and you can pick up a small box for around $40.00.

Keigado East Temple (Ansoku): Sandalwood with a spice note that is also somewhat (a little) perfume like. This is a very pleasant and usable “everyday” incense. I find myself giving away a lot of this just to show people that you can get good Japanese incense and not blow away your bank account.

Kyukyodo Akikaze : No one does this style like Kyukyodo. There are notes that are floral married up with perfumes and all this rides across a quality Aloeswood base. One of the masterpieces of the incense maker’s art. It’s available from Kohshi by special order. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

Kunmeido Shoryu Koh (Rising Dragon): A great Aloeswood mixed with a wonderful “green” note, which seems (to me at least) to be this companies signature style. This one is much more forward in all these elements but also smoother than their Reiryo koh blend and costs much less than their upper tier blends. A nice balance point.

Seijudo Shiragiku White Chrysanthemum: One of the great deals in incense, with a distinctive “high end” style that mimics the much more expensive real Kyara sticks that this company also produces. It’s rich, powerful and you would swear, loaded with Kyara and musk. This is not the case but it is a great introduction to that world. This is a great treat for one’s self.

Shoyeido Muromachi: This has seemingly gone though some changes over the years but is still great incense and also a pretty unique scent. Nice, almost caramel note which is mixed into the woods. I use the coils, which seem to me to have a slightly woodsier note going for them then the sticks.

Nu Essence ABRA MELIN: These are small tins packed with a lot of scent. This blend has a strong rose note along with frankincense and other resins. There is a wonderful interplay between all the different ingredients and the scent can change depending on the length of time on the heater. Very nice to scent a room and a little goes a long way. I have encluded the makers link as it’s a very informative site.

Mermade Arts Pan’s Earth: Deep resin scent mixed in with the woods and the addition of Patchouli and Vetivert, which adds a lot more depth to the mix. There is also a slight edge to this incense, which reflects the idea of Pan to me. Pan’s Earth is always a winner but I think this batch is one of the best.

Deep Earth Premium-2011: These incense balls or nuggets have been aged for quite awhile which adds complexity and depth to the scent. They are very resinous with wood notes as well as a subtle blending of spices. There is a slightly sweet side to the whole thing and it is best used in an electric heater at a low setting.  This is a good choice for reflection and meditation.

Baieido Kokonoe Koh: I find this to be a really good and classic Baieido style stick. It has a great combination of Aloesood, Sandalwood and spices and is also very reasonably priced. This would make a nice gift for someone who is not into the sweet or floral scented incense’s. This is one of my “go to” or must have sticks.

Awaji-Baikundo Jihi – Amacha kou: One of the best amber scents around and it also has some serious Boral camphor along for the ride. It’s quite distinctive and very good. I use it a lot late at night. The scent lasts a long time and also works well for scenting clothing.

– Ross

Awaji Koh-shi: Fresh Citron, Water Lily, India Ink, Japanese Musk, Coffee, Green Tea (from Ross)

Scents of Japan has some pretty deep ties to the Awaji  Island incense makers and has had these scents custom made for them for their Awaji Koh-shi line. There was a lot of R&D involved as they wanted incense’s that could hold their own in the market as well as be unique. This is Part 1 with Part 2 to follow shortly.

Fresh Citron (Seasonal Yuzu)(Awaji Baikundo): I am not sure what Citron really smells like, but assume it is “citrusy” in nature. This particular incense is not like anything else I have sampled. There is a great citrus note combined with an almost pink pepper top note and way under it all a slight wood scent. This is really surprising and delightful in its delivery, excellent for an overall refreshing room scent. Very uplifting, light, and the pink pepper  really brings it up into another level.

Water Lily (Less Smoke)(Keigado): This is a very subtle and almost etheric scent. I think the name aims more at a concept rather then a true scent as I am not too sure that water lilies have a scent( well maybe blue lotus). All that being said this is a very pleasant light floral note that is very much a back round rather then in your face incense. Not particularly sweet, and it does invoke the feel of the name. A lot of people who would like to try incense but do not want something too strong will find this just right.

India Ink (Less Smoke)(Seikado): India Ink is famous for( well one of the things) its scent, which is a mix of many materials as well as Patchouli oil and camphor. This incense is a wonderful combination of materials that has a very soothing and grounding quality to it, much more going on here the just the Patchouli oil and camphor. A great back round scent that to me invokes far away places and times. Somewhat stronger then many less smoke type sticks. It is defiantly a distinctive scent and something that could fit in many different enviroments.

Japanese Musk(Daihatsu): Whoever figured this scent out is really good. The musk is right up front with a light floral/spice and cream back round. Its surprisingly strong but not over powering and every time I burn some I think of the colors magenta and violet, which sort of describe the scent characteristics to me. Very elegant and almost hypnotic at the same time, a solid winner. I think it will appeal to a wide variety of people.

Coffee (Less Smoke)(Kunjudo): This smells like a very good cup of French Roast with a bit of heavy cream, no sugar, to round it out. An very pleasant and friendly sort of aroma that is actually stronger burning then unlit. It is supposed to act as an air purifier and freshener. I was not at all sure what a coffee scented incense was going to do for me but ended up being quite pleased. I can see this could be very useful in commercial areas or at home as a back round scent.

Green Tea (Less Smoke)(Kikujudo): A nice medium tea scent. Not really sweet and with that subtle bitter edge that tea can have that, to me, gives it character. There is a green note that flows through the whole mix and kind of holds it all together. There are no forceful notes in this stick, rather it is a grouping of three or four delicate scents that work very well together to add a distinctive “Japanese Tea” scent to a room, in other words, it smells like its name.

Awaji-Baikundo / Nyuwa, Bayakudan, Wabi-sabi (by Nancy)

This esteemed company was founded in 1885. It is located on Awaji, an island in the Seto Inland Sea near Osaka, where about 70% of Japan‘s incense is currently manufactured. Here you will find burial mounds thousands of years old, and this may be the first island to have been settled in the Japanese archipelago. Legend identifies it as the landing place of the first pieces of aloeswood, arriving via ocean currents from Southeast Asia around 595 AD. As the story goes, the locals burned this driftwood and, realizing its amazing aromatic properties, immediately extinguished the chunk of wood and presented it to the Empress.

Awaji-Baikundo’s incense is unique because the base of their blends is not the typical sandalwood or aloeswood, but hydrangea flowers. This is a very important and historically symbolic plant in Japanese culture, used in celebrations and offerings, to clear the mind of misfortune, relieve tension, and grant one courage and happiness. This base lends Awaji-Baikundo’s incenses an overall light and uplifting quality, with a noticeable mood-enhancing effect. They currently have only five incenses available in the US with a much larger catalog available in Japan. Ross has reviewed Jihi here and Shoujou here. Every one of these incenses is unique, amazing, and well worth sampling. It is rare to find an incense company with a product so consistently high in quality. I have tried all five of their US offerings and enjoyed each one immensely.

Nyuwa is a hydrangea-fruit incense. Fruits are an unusual category and one I find myself really getting into these days! It is rare to find a predominantly fruit blend, especially one that avoids the use of synthetic aromas, so this is a treat for sure. At first I was going to say that this was like a peach, but no, on further contemplation I would say it is more like an apricot. Being a fruit incense it is very peaceful and, unlike some of the wood-heavy blends, achieves this without being too sedating. Fruits in general are energetically lighter than woods and this characteristic certainly comes through, with the apricot lending this incense a pleasant sunny disposition.

Bayakudan is a blend of sandalwood and hydrangea. There is a lemony note in there and just a touch of amber. The play of the ingredients is balanced just so; no one ingredient dominates the other and each inhalation give a new angle on the complexity. If you like sandalwood incenses you should definitely try this one. What an unusual take on this traditional wood! Just beautiful! I am forever amazed at the adaptability of sandalwood, and here is yet another example. It is capable of blending flawlessly with an astounding range of aromas, from herbs and spices to resins and flowers. This is absolutely one of the most unusual and elegant sandalwood incenses I have ever tried.

Wabi-sabi was a tough one for me to figure out at first. It was so strange and unusual, unlike any incense I had ever tried before. After burning quite a few sticks, however, I finally got it – coffee! There are other Japanese companies that make coffee incense, including Shoyeido and Baieido, a testament to the popularity of this style. As someone who does not drink this beverage, however, this incense was initially difficult to interpret. Still, I have always loved the rich and roasty smell of this bean. It is intensely aromatic, with a high quantity of volatile oils, making it the perfect ingredient for incense. It is the predominate note in this blend, rounded out with some sort of delicious caramel note and just a hint of herbs and wood. Just like the beverage, I find this blend to be subtly stimulating and a natural choice for social gatherings and casual conversation. Recommended!

Three Spice Blends

These are all gathered within the “spice” category of incense blends. They are all different and also different enough from other company’s offerings to be worth a look.  They won’t break the bank and would make great gifts to beginning as well as experienced users.

Daihatsu Bodaiju
This is listed as pure sandalwood and cinnamon. I can taste the Sandalwood, but must admit that the cinnamon is unlike any I have smelled before. However I am basing that on my experiences with the various Baieido blends that use cinnamon or cassia. It has a very nice spice brisk almost peppery quality to it and along those lines is really a winner. I believe there are some pretty high quality E.O’s at work in here also. There are none of the harsh or off scents that signify synthetics to me, so the overall feeling is one of a fresh, clean and lively blend. I think the green color of the stick sort of sums’ it up nicely.
It comes in a rather elegant black and gold box and would make a great gift

Keigado Kaori( Third Down)
This is a green Sandalwood stick with honey overtones riding over it all. The honey plays within the middle and top notes while the base is a great herb and sharp spice blend. It is a very interesting mix because the scents keep moving back and forth as to which is calling out the most from moment to moment. Warm overall tone, with lots of Essential Oils playing their part, this stick smells wonderful even unlit. Nice way to set the vibe of a room with a warm, cozy and clean atmosphere. Again, a nicely done box and a great gift item.

Awaji-Baikundo Shoujou
This is part of Awaji-Baikundo’s Hydrangea Tea series, which I find myself really drawn to. The tea seems to provide a whole extra level of ( for lack of a better term ) goodness.
There are a lot of different spices and oils at work here, you can tell as soon as you open the box. It is spicy, sweetish and almost floral yet never cloying or “soapy” as sometimes happens in these kinds of blends. At times I seem to pick up an almost tobacco note with the overall impression being a mix that is very grounding and very clean. I think the addition of the hydrangea tea tends to push the scent towards a brighter note. Their products all seem to make statements based on the different blends healing qualities. Great stuff from what is becoming one of my favorite companies.

Awaji-Baikundo / Jihi

Jihi from Awaji-Baikundo uses hydrangea tea as one of the main components of this incense. It seems to me that it adds a rather clear and bright quality to the scent. There are three kinds to choose from. SHOUJOU, which I believe may be just the hydrangea tea and some spice, Byakudan, which adds Sandalwood and the one I ended up getting, Jihi, which has a major Amber note to it. There is also a big Borneol Camphor presence ( you can really tell when you open the box ). Taken all together this combination makes for a very unique and interesting incense. This is not the regular sultry Indian Amber I was expecting, it has a much lighter, cleaner almost fresher scent then any other Amber based, well anything, then I have experienced before. I find myself really liking this one. It is the sort of thing I would burn for special moments or to set a certain mood or vibration in a room (or me for that matter). It’s not inexpensive, yet because I find that I really enjoy the particular style of Amber that it presents it will be something that I keep a stock of. It has the unique factor in spades.
Most likely I will find myself ordering the other two because the hydrangea tea aspect intrigues me no end. So much so that I am checking out my neighbor’s plants and am contemplating a raid :0 )