Baieido / Kobunboku, Tokusen Kobunboku (long sticks)

So third in a series of recent Baieido incenses is somewhere between the new review and revisit review of the last two in that I’ve had rolls of both of these incenses before but not the long ones. And I wondered just how much have these incenses changes given they’re both created from all natural ingredients and no perfume oils. The first thing I thought was is this true, but unfortunately we don’t have David Oller around anymore to check in with him. Because my thoughts with both of these was wondering if maybe they were using just a little bit now?

If I was to name one of the great affordable incenses in Japanese incense, I would easily name the great Kobunboku. In many ways this could be the archetypal “plum blossom” incense. Baieido have always included a really wonderful sandalwood to balance the mix but it still has a distinct and gentle plum blossom scent without drifting into anything harsh or cheap smelling. These plum blossom incenses are a hallmark of Japanese incense and many of them also go right up the price range when they’re mixed with aloeswood. Now this long stick version does remind me very much of the old shorter stick bundle (or two) I went through years ago. It often struck me that I enjoyed that incense as much as any of the aloeswood blends in Baieido’s ready for market traditional line. It does seem a bit different to me now, which is to be expected with ingredients drift, but there’s also a feeling that the bouquet is a bit stronger than it used to be. Baieido incenses have always been the sort that smelling the fresh stick without burning means you can’t really smell much and that still seems to be fairly true, so I can’t be certain if the company is using oils now or if perhaps this is just a lot fresher than I remember. But it at least invoked the question for me. Anyway this is described as a mix of sandalwood, aloeswood and herbs, but I would guess the aloeswood note is very faint and used more as coloring in the base. And that’s entirely because this range moves up in price when there’s more in the mix. And while this is technically a “blossom” incense and not a fruit incense, I really like that there is a distinct scent of plums on top in a sort of floral way that doesn’t feel cheap or artificial. Anyway I think this is an incense that you want to check out if you are exploring Japanese incense as it remains a classic at its price point.

Tokusen Kobunboku is a good example of a plum blossom incense that bumps up the aloeswood. In doing this that top fruity-floral plum aroma drops a bit backward into the wood mix without entirely disappearing, but at least to my nose it creates a very big change between its aroma and the regular Kobunboku even if some of the similarities are still there. Now I had a bit of the same feeling that it was stronger when I lit up a stick of the long stick version after purchasing a box, but now that I have sit with this a bit the afternoon I wrote this, it feels very much on par with what I remember. And even if there is some aloeswood tang to it that has moved in front, I still feel this has quite a bit of good sandalwood in the mix. This woodiness also brings out the spices a little more, as if to accentuate that element in the sandalwood.

So it appears both the regular and excellent Kobunboku are still in good health, which is fortunate as Baieido are really well knowing for making price-efficient incenses that still give you plenty to meditate on and enjoy. They’re really good examples of blends actually and while you can discuss the idea of how much aloeswood and sandalwood are in these, there are a lot of spice and herbal notes that make the overall scent that much more fascinating. If you haven’t checked these out, I highly recommend both. And be sure to check out the entire Baieido catalog at Japan Incense as there are some even more price conscious choices available to sample these. Even if you’re paying a little more, to my nose the quality is much higher here for low end incenses than you’d find in Shoyeido and Nippon Kodo catalogs.

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Baieido Premium Assortment Set / revisits of Kokonoe Aloeswood, Ho Ryo Aloeswood, Kun Sho Aloeswood, Koh En Aloeswood, Koh Shi Boku Kyara

Anyone who is an afficianado of aloeswood knows that the stocks of the premium woods have been slowly shrinking over the years. The fact that the best of these stocks came from woods buried underground in deep jungles, allowing the fungus that turns aloeswood into the aromatic treasure that it is, not to mention the wood’s popularity, has essentially made it close to impossible for Japanese companies who deplete their stocks to make the same incenses. The response to this has been either to discontinue the incenses, permanently or temporarily, or use lesser quality woods. It is perhaps somewhat surprising that Baieido, a company well known among aficionados for using the least amount of oils or perfumes in their natural sticks, would choose the latter approach. Simply because it means Baieido, of all the great Japanese companies, has taken the biggest hits in quality in the last decade or so. And some of the evidence comes from the five aloeswood incenses in this assortment set, a set bought last year. ORS reviewed all five incenses in this line by Ross here and here many years ago, and I would only add that around this time I owned full boxes of all five of these and got very familiar with them and largely agree with Ross’ take on these incenses. They were almost entirely great through the line and matched perfectly at their price points.

And this is why the Kokonoe Aloeswood, at the most inexpensive point in the line, seems like a completely different incense than it used to be. Baieido have long claimed that they essentially present the actual woods with just enough binder material, so the usual oil or perfume trickery to help modify the scent just isn’t here on these incenses. In fact one of my first impressions is this smells more like the binder than the aloeswood. There is really very little in this stick to commend for it and while the 00’s version of this scent wasn’t really my favorite in the series, I seem to remember it having much more personality than it does now (not to mention it used to match up with the actual aloeswood Baieido used to sell as well). And Ross’s review, where he says he burned this one more than the other two featured in that review, really underlines the differences here. Honestly my feeling is that if you were to have me smell this incense in a blind taste test I’d probably tell you it was a low quality aloeswood without a lot of personality. But at a guess what may be happening is that there may still be a small amount of the better Indonesian wood it’s just that there is either other wood and or/more binder in this. I just walked in and out of the room while this was burning and did get some notes that reminded me of the older version. But then when I sat down next to it, not so much. And $48 for an actual roll of this seems well above its worth, but keep in mind it’s hard to get unstuck from the lower prices to better wood ratio of a decade or so ago.

So how does the Thai wood stack up? Honestly, the Ho Ryu seems very similar in that the issue could be a higher binder to aloeswood ratio. Of the sticks from the original boxes that lasted the longest I believe this may be the most recent I had sampled. Fortunately this one seems to have some level of presence left. It’s interesting because if I was to reasonably guess which countries come up in aloeswood discussions, obviously the most prized Vietnamese woods be first and then probably the Indonesian woods. I don’t see Thai aloeswood spoken of quite as often, but I do love how its scent profile tends to differ from the others and you are not missing that display even with the current form of the wood. It made me wonder if this was the wood in the Kai Un Koh for example as it shares some of the more perhaps leathery or “masculine” spiciness in the woods. So honestly if all you’re paying is $2 more for a box than the Kokonoe, you are getting a much more interesting woody stick here and not feeling so much that the price is too high for the resinous content or level of quality. The resin is here, if in slightly less dense thickness than it might be in a more expensive stick. But ultimately Ho Ryu is still a very enjoyable stick. I don’t quite remember how much this differs from the last version, but it’s not striking me as all that different.

So after such a hoary, dense treat as the Ho Ryu, the Cambodian aloeswood Kun Sho seems to dial back the energy a bit, but the resin content and overall high quality presence do take a leap both quality wise and price wise. So certainly, and this was true both a decade ago and now, this is where the aloeswood jumps up to a higher grade and you start to feel a true, deep aloeswood presence. This is also where latent floral qualities and subnotes start to abound aromatically. Now my impression in general is that the Kun Sho of a decade ago was a better wood. I don’t have a lot to prove there as my box of it was yummy enough to burn up a long time ago. But looking at Ross’ review again I am reminded that this was and probably is one of those incenses you really want to spend time with. Any good aloeswood really deserves this kind of meditation because initial smells will throw the scent into your face and your brain needs work to pick out all the sub-elements. Right now I am particularly bowled over by what Ross calls the “exotic fruit” subscent. It is absolutely the hallmark of a great wood to have this sort of note in it. It is what sets one regional wood apart from another. So even when you read my impression that this might have been better, it’s certainly different as I don’t remember the herbal qualities quite as much from my initial box. But I genuinely do feel like this earns the price of $80 a box, especially considering all the shifts in pricing.

From my experience Koh En may be the biggest change in the series. This was actually one of my favorite incenses back in the 00s because the aloeswood really had this wonderful cherry blossom note. There are a lot of incenses in more inexpensive realms where they do a cherry blossom scented aloeswood, but the wood here is much finer than the wood normally used in these types of incenses and in many ways it made it one of a kind. The new version of it seems to have some sort of herbal note in front with maybe a touch of the cherry blossom scent a little farther back. As always, the stick follows the wood and it certainly does here but there’s no question this is a different aromatic bundle. The aloeswood is still quite nice, there’s no lack of resin and there are some interesting camphor and floral notes around the side that really get your attention. Honestly as you go through the stick, it’s so impressive that you actually start to forget that it isn’t the same Koh En as you remember. I was told by a venerable vendor once about a fairly popular incense which was something like when incenses change it’s usually the old hands that have an issue with it, but not so much those who are new to it. Keeping that in mind then I think you’d only have an issue with this one coming from an older version. But then you’re looking at a $140 price tag. Is it worth that? Well it’s definitely an aloeswood with some great notes. It might even be somewhere in the top tier of what you can get from Vietnamese aloeswood now. It’s still a very good incense, complex, multifaceted and deep. But hey that’s where the premium assortment is really helpful.

Finally there is the great kyara incense Koh Shi Boku. For a long time this was a very affordable and yet completely legitimate kyara incense. It had a distinct green kyara note down the middle and even if there was binder or maybe other aloeswood mixed in, it always felt like a classic and truly great kyara incense, in fact only the line’s Kyara Kokoh is a better incense and that’s because Kyara Kokoh may be one of the best incenses anywhere. So the first thing I do when I burn a stick of this is to look for that green, camphorous and complex note. The strange thing, like I discussed with some of the earlier incenses, is this feeling that some of the better notes in these incenses have been dialed down a bit. And without having a stick from 2009 it’s hard to be completely objective about this, but indeed my memory is it was a bit sharper in the 00s. But generally the front facing wood is still a kyara fronted aloeswood with a lot of denseness in the center. There are truly some beautiful notes in this, some floral notes that make me wonder if a little of the wood used in the Koh En is used here. But I do remember when I first pulled this out of the sampler feeling like this was a completely different mix to the one I remembered. But there is no question this is still great incense, there is enough going on here to take many sticks to learn. And even though it showed a sale price at Japan Incenses when I wrote this, this is still the same price it was many years ago so at least there’s been no appreciation on this account.

So really the moral of the story is that woods change and so do the incenses, but at least in these cases it feels like there was some reformulation or changes needed. Maybe only the Kokonoe here suffers from the changes even if 2 or 3 of the rest are really quite different incenses than they used to be. If you’re coming in fresh the Baieido Premium Assortment Set is a really good way to sample them all. If you’re only familiar with the older versions then it’s still a good way as Japan Incense does not appear to carry smaller samples, but then again all the deep cuts in this lovely box are all worth exploring for many sticks. Keep in mind there are very few other high end aloeswood incenses out there that don’t formulate the blend with oils and perfumes so these are quite special even if you need to nudge up really close to them.

Baieido / Ensei / Healing, Gallant, Pure

Baieido started their Ensei series many years ago with five different aromas and looking in the index I see Ross did a review of four of them in 2009 (I’m still kind of amazed any time I’m reminded how long ago some of our reviews are at this point). I tried them in a sampler back then, I think, and don’t remember them being particularly great, they felt more like a way to modernize some of the more traditional scents and in a catalog of wonderful aloeswood and sandalwood incenses, they didn’t strike me as measuring up. Ross said in his review, “These are not super powerful scents, but rather work on more subtle levels, one can use them near others without “blowing them away,”” which I think is a solid statement that also goes for this new trio. I don’t know if any of these particular sticks match up with the old (and still available) Ensei scents, but Healing is a “spicy aloeswood aroma,” Gallant is a “meditation aloeswood,” and Pure a “thick aloeswood aroma.” So some overlap maybe. But anyway, all of these are shorter sticks and come in smaller tubes of 20 sticks. They’re priced about where you would imagine at $15 and the aloeswood is probably what I might describe as low to mid end wood, with the sandalwood being a bit more premium, and Baieido usually do a pretty good job with both (although I might argue with aloeswood depletions the company is not quite what it once was).

And so they burn fast, real fast. Healing is really not terribly unlike one or two of the Kobunboku blends. It’s not heavily spicy and there is some level of aloeswood in the mix but it’s not a dense or resinous blend, it’s definitely pitched a bit lighter. There’s also a bit of like fennel like cooking spice in addition to whatever that cinnamon clove layer has in it. And I would guess there’s some nice sandalwood (it has fresh quasi-heartwood notes) in the middle as that’s part of what reminds me of the Kobunboku series. Overall it’s a bit cooling as well. So yes this one is very Baieido and if you know the company then you would expect to get to know the materials, although in this case 20 short sticks may not be quite enough. On the other hand after four sticks I’m not terribly sure how deep this one goes.

Initially, I found Gallant to be a bit richer of a blend, somewhat tangy, in fact the kind of smell I more usually associate with a spicy aloeswood rather than a sweet one. But there were some comparisons where it actually felt like it wasn’t all that different from Healing, so I figured the spatial configuration of your burning set ups may bring out different notes. I noticed what I thought were some intentional floral elements blended in and then searched for them on a different burn without finding them. Once again it feels like there is some decent quality sandalwood in the middle and once again it’s actually quite nice and beneficial for the overall aroma, but there is no really powerful aloeswood scent here. It feels more or less like the aloeswood exists to contour the overall scent. Like Healing, I was left fairly nonplussed by this one.

Finally, there’s the Pure. I’m assuming thick isn’t meant to reflect modern slang, and after two rather delicate blends I was hoping this one might be dialed up a bit more. And it is, maybe a little. It’s a bit cooking spice like the Healing, a bit more aloeswood-aroma heavy on the front end. But calling it thick seems to not take into account that like the others this is a very mellow aroma, with maybe a bit more tangy of a mix than the other two.

Ultimately these are not unpleasant incenses but they match my memory of feeling like the Enseis were really not all that much to get excited about in a crowded world full of aloeswood mixes, even in the Baieido catalog where most of their sticks are better than this. The format means it’s something where you might want a touch of scent and in a home full of heavy incense use, these are probably too fleeting to make much of a dent. Of course if you’re someone who leans to the Japanese style and even finds some of those too powerful, this might be more to your speed. But it feels like if I get the slightest bit of a distraction, I’ll turn around and the stick will be out.

Admin Notes

So now that I’ve got a bit of a writing cushion going, I’m turning some effort towards upkeep. As of today, all incense reviews for Awaji Koh-Shi, Baieido and (Awaji-)Baikundo have been:

  • Edited to direct all links for available incenses to the Japan Incense site. A lot of the links in these reviews previously went to stores who are no longer in business or don’t carry the incense anymore and Japan Incense is often the gateway for many of these companies into the US as well. This appears to be the most stable US resource for these scents.
  • Edited to tag and/or add notes to all discontinued incenses. These include:
    • Awaji-Kohshi (Shochikudo) – Orange Osmanthus
    • Awaji-Kohshi (Shorindo) – Scent of Forest
    • Baieido – 350th Anniversary box, all three scents (this was a limited edition).
    • Baieido – Izumi
    • Baieido – Byakudan Kokoh
    • Baieido – Kokonoe Floral
    • Baieido – Kokonoe (Koh Special) (this was a limited editon).
    • (Awaji-)Baikundo – Byakudan Amacha Kou
  • Edited to put caveats on certain incenses due to scent changes. There may be more coming but the current list is:
    • All five Baieido aloeswoods.
    • Baieido / Kai Un Koh
    • Baieido / Jinko Kokoh
  • Edited to update authorship and categories on a number of missing reviews.
  • Occasional clean up, especially when reviews reference obsolete websites etc.
  • [Edit 9/15/21: Noted on review that Koh/Sawayaka was renamed as Cinnamon in Baieido’s Imagine Series. Link also updated. See comments below.]

Naturally if you know that any of this information is incorrect any way you can post here or use the About page to contact me. Also, when I mean discontinued, I really mean discontinued in the US market, some of these scents still may be available in Japan. There are a few links I left to incenses not for sale anymore if there was still an active web page.

Nine Japanese Incenses I Burn PLUS a Wonderful Cheat

Seijudo Lotus Flower Kyara (Kyara Horen) – Light and sweet (quiet vanilla) and somewhat lacking in depth, but elegant and almost floral in its delicate fineness. It has a gentle and gauzy feeling that make me think of tender moments.

Seijudo Yeonsu Kyara (Kyara Enju) – Stronger, deeper and fuller than Lotus Flower, containing sweet notes of kyara and powdery, cushion-y musk.  It is heartier than Lotus Flower though they both feature Kyara from Vietnam.

Shoyeido Beckoning Spring (Shun-yo)- a very feminine, floral stick in that makes me think more of perfume than of incense. The name of the incense is very apt- it resembles a flower garden waking in the morning dew.  The scent is quite strong, without being suffocating, and feels very joyous and generous in spirit. I don’t think it will appeal to lovers of wood-scented incense, but it is one of few floral incenses I like despite its linearity and one dimensionality. It supposedly contains agarwood,, cloves, camphor and patchouli but I can’t smell the cloves and I would guess it contains other synthetics and/or perfume oils in addition to white musk. This incense really makes me sing 🙂

Shoyeido Hoetsu Rapture- a chip mixture with very strong notes of camphor, star anise and sandalwood (also aloeswood , cloves and probably other stuff, too). The sandalwood overshadows the aloeswood, but the blend is a pleasant combination of woody and floral notes. I enjoy burning it on Shoyeido’s portable burner. The gossamer floral notes that I think are a combination of camphor and clove make their appearance early in the burn; the woods predominate after a few minutes have elapsed.  I’ve tried a couple of Yamada Matsu chip mixes with similar ingredients that I prefer. I can’t figure out why the YM mixes seem more potent and more interesting since the ingredients, as listed,  are pretty much the same.

Kyukyudo Murasakino- I wish I knew how to upload a photo. The packaging is stunning-bluish/purplish and gold brocade, a wide, eggplant-colored cord and gold-flecked parchment label with black characters – the epitome of opulent presentation.  The sticks themselves are a bright yellow-green in color- a marriage of emerald and chartreuse. The incense is a less sweet than the above sticks. Although I can smell agarwood, borneol and herbs the individual ingredients don’t stand out as distinct entities but fuse together to form a complex amalgam with its own particular character. The scent is dynamic and energizing, and seems less “processed” and more natural than the others sticks I’ve mentioned so far. The stick is a little edgy without being harsh. It makes me think of a brisk woodland stroll through in autumn where campfires were recently burning and furry animals glide through the night. (There is a hint of musk but it is somewhat subdued).  Despite the fact that the separate notes blend together so effortlessly, the scent of the stick varies throughout its length. I like that- it keeps me guessing 🙂

Seikado Kyara- I think this one is worth mentioning because it showcases the bitter side of Kyara.  I like the dryness of the stick, though sometimes it smells a little earthy and muggy.

Baiedo’s 350th anniversary stick- I only smelled this once but it made a big impression on me because of its successful combination of seemingly contradictory elements. The stick smelled densely sweet with notes of cinnamon, cloves and the sweetness of  creamy woods, yet also crystalline, confident and sinewy. The juxtaposition of dignified strength, pastoral earthiness, suede-like skin scents and floral sweetness was as surprising as it was alluring.

Gyokushodo Nami No Sho-  I was sure this contained ambergris! There’s a mineral fizziness- almost like white pepper- that fooled me 🙂  That’s OK- I like the way it plays the trick 🙂  I’m a huge fan of ambergris because I love the salty marine notes and the many images they conjure up. If anyone knows of sticks that do contain ambergris, I’d be grateful for the information.

Kyukyodo Koroboh kneaded incense- Heavy on the borneol and plenty of plum-y, jam-y fruits.  I really love the way the almost eye-smarting camphoraceous notes collide with the juicy stickiness of dried fruits. The combination of heat and ice makes me absolutely giddy. That such seemingly opposite scents can get along so well gives me hope for mankind 🙂

The downside- not much carrying power

Cheat- Agarwood mix by Olfactory Rescue Service’s Ross Urrere- I’m saying this is cheating because Ross isn’t Japanese but I think it’s OK for me to list his incense here because I think the ingredients are ambergris, agarwood and musk- real musk. One of the major reasons I like this incense is because it starts off with a blast of animalic, brine-y ambergris that is unmistakable. That mineral note is so seductive- perhaps because of the images of harpoons, scrimshaw, bursting waves, one-eyed pirates, etc, that it immediately brings to mind. The agarwood is so sweet it almost smells caramelized, and the musk adds warmth and mellowness. I would call this an animalic/gourmand agarwood mix- perfect for a cozy winter evening 🙂

July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere 🙂

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight 🙂

April 2012 Top Ten

1. Dhuni Frangapani: Maybe one of the best flora’s around. It smells a lot more like the real flower then, say, as essential oil. It is also not cloying or overly sweet. A remarkable incense and well worth the price (actually it is dirt cheap compared to most Japanese scents, I am clueless as to how they manage to do this).

2. Dhuni Citronella: I really like the somewhat sharp top note in this one; it is unlike anything else I am familiar with in incense. The floral notes that follow behind are also very nice and like the Frangapani not cloying. A very nicely balanced scent.

3.Tennendo Enkuu: One of the last words in a dry scented incense. Very elegant and austere as well as a great mediation tool. Lots of Vietnamese Aloeswood make this unique and a real winner.

4. Kyukodo Murasakino: This comes in a truly beautiful wooden presentation case, inside of which is a scroll shaped tube covered in dark silk. The sticks are a deep shade of green and have a wonderful aloeswood base upon which a stunning, somewhat indescribable floralish/spice/perfume set of notes ride. I cannot think of any other maker that does this as well as Kyukodo. This is a real show stopper and is also a very classical “Old Japan” scent offering. They seem to have pulled out all the stops on this one, the word “flawless” comes to mind.

5. Kyukodo Seigetsu: A beautiful Japanese floral based on aloeswood. More overtly floral then Murasakino but less sweet then Azusa. Somewhat like Jasmine but with notes of Honeysuckle and some other white flowers. Like some of the offerings from Kyukodo there is a very slight under tone of charcoal (at least to my nose) but in this case the overall floral is so beautiful that it just does not matter.

6. Mermade Hougary Light Green Superior Frankincense: If you like Frankincense you should get this. It has been hard to get really top quality green Hougary and I am glad that Katlyn has found a source. This has a really clear citrus note riding across the resin backround that is pretty unbeatable. A winner.

7.Baieido Byakudan Kobunboku: One of the all time incense deals and still going strong. Given the recent price increases in sandalwood I was a little worried but having used this for the last ten days or so and compared it to an older box it still rocks. I tend to judge most other sandalwoods by this one. It has a very well done and classic set of spice notes (cinnamon, clove, camphor and lord only knows what else) that add to the blend.

8. Minorien Granulated Aloeswood Blend: A great loose aloeswood blend for the electric heater or coals. Very spicy with a big dose of Japanese/Chinese herbs mixed in at a very reasonable price. Somewhat dry in nature without all the overt green notes that can tend to be in these blends.

9. Yamada Matsu Firebird Select (Houjoukoh Gokuhin): There is a wonderful dry, aloeswood set of notes here on top of which clove, borneo camphor and a host of other notes are riding. The wood really makes this loose mix, which reflects the price. I have found my hand reaching for this a lot since I got it from Kohshi in San Francisco.

10. Baieido Kai un Koh: Because sometimes you just need an incense that can run with the big dogs 🙂 Very deep, thick, strong, multi layered, strong and with an amazing balancing act between dry and spicy, not to mention strong. Not for all occasions but just the thing for some moments. There are a lot of reasons that this has been in so many Top Ten’s at ORS, all of them viable.

 


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.

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

Top Ten, July 2011

I put these together based on what I have been most drawn to during the month, which tends to change to some degree as we progress through the year. I am really liking the incenses made by the smaller makers more and more. They can make small batches and take some chances that the larger companies will not. So you can find some really interesting offerings from them, plus many of them use “non-traditional” mixes or materials that produce some real winners. I am hoping to produce a listing of the “niche” or smaller makers, if you know of any that are not mentioned here at ORS, please let us know.

Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh: I actually hide the box of this from myself, so it will last longer 🙂

On a lot of different levels this is incense as art; it is also a masterpiece of its kind. You can see our reviews on it within the blog. It really is amazing. If you get the chance, just go for it. It is not going to get any cheaper. I do wonder why Baieido does not offer a sampler.

Tennendo”s Tensei: This is a really nice and also reasonably priced aloeswood blend. It is nicely balanced with a distinctive overall scent that somehow goes from a little spicy to smooth from moment to moment. I have been burning this a lot lately because, yes, it’s a great deal and also a wonderful backround scent in a room that can set up a nice focused environment.

Kyukyodo’s  Mukusa no Takimono: This is a set of five different mini sticks that mimic the scent of the classic five  kneaded incenses. They are distinctive, rich and very good. There is also some pretty serious Aloeswoods in these. Many people use them for the tea ceremony. I have heard that Kyukyodo is not making this set anymore and I do not see it in the current catalog, which means that this will be quite a limited time offering. Think of it as a real treat.

Kyukyodo’s Akikaze: This comes in a large wooden box, nestled inside is a stunning silk wrapped tube, done up like a scroll. This is sort of along the lines of Sho Ran Koh, but it is a lot more refined with the wood notes riding across the perfumes and a subtle musk note mixed in. Kyukyodo produces what are probably the best perfumed incenses going. There never seem to be any of the synthetic notes that most others have, which is most likely one of the reasons that they have a great reputation and are not inexpensive, but they are also worth it. Japan Incense might have a box or two of this and the Mukusa no Takimono above. But they go fast.

Kunmeido Reiryo koh (Aloeswood): The Aloeswood blend is a completely different animal from the Sandalwood take on this. It is a very rich woody scent with the distinctive greenish notes of fenugreek mixed in. There is a nice balance between the different layers going on and is great for meditation, it’s also nice to use at bedtime. A real winner at a good price.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo or Asuka: These two are the Reiryo Koh style taken to the height of complexity and nuance. There is a real art in the mix of woods and spices and herbs that compose these two sticks.. The Kyara Tenpyo pulls out all the stops and every stick reveals new aspects, the Asuka is very similar, it might come down to personal preference and how much you like this style, not to mention your bank account J

Baieido’s Kokonoe koh (Jinkoya Sakubei Series): This is a very dry and rich Sandalwood blend done in a style from the eighteenth century. It is very different from any other sandalwood I can think of and is a nice change of pace. It has a lot of presence and at the same time can really set the mood. It is great for meditation or quite moments.

Mermade’s Sanctuary Loose Blend:  Hougary Frankincense and white Sage make for a wonderful Spring/Summer mix. It’s clean and does a great job of cleaning out a space on so many levels. A one ounce jar that can last for a while with all the best ingredients.

Fred Soll’s Amber Honey:  Fred Solls makes some great incense at a great price. I really like his Amber Honey; it has a wonderful balance to it where all the notes are in harmony with each other. It’s also not too sweet or cloying. It is one of the very few incenses anywhere to use ambergris. I noticed that Solls has cut his line back somewhat because of the halmaddi shortage, which in one way is kind of reassuring, he is holding true to a high quality standard. We can only hope that a new source makes it to his doors soon. He really is so very good at blending.

Blue Star Incense’s Lavender:  These are very inexpensive and they rock! The Lavender scent is beautiful, fresh, very much like breathing in a large gathering of fresh lavender flowers. The sticks are thick (think Tibetan) and really you don’t need to use an entire one (however, don’t let me hold you back). Also the Rose is very nice to. Good, real floral note incense, that uses real essential oils, is not easy to make; nor is it inexpensive to produce. William does an amazing job, don’t miss these.

I notce in my internet searches that both Aloeswood and Sandalwood(in Japan) prices just went up somewhere between 20% to at least 30%. This, coupled with the decline of the dollar, means that incense prices are going to be going up, real soon. Sooo,  if there is something that you have been eyeballing for awhile you might want to go for it now, before the prices gets way worse or, heavens forbid we get formula changes to offset materials availability. That is the other thing going on, the woods are getting harder to source which also drives the prices up.

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