Gyokushodo / Nerikoh (Kneaded) / Kusa No To, Hanafuna, Shiun

Its been a while since I wrote a review! I have been trying to reign in my budget a bit by going through my existing stockpiles before purchasing anything new, but I had the opportunity to try Gyokushodo’s new line up of nerikoh offerings earlier today thanks to Kotaro-san from Japan Incense.

On first analysis all three blends contain the typical Ume-gaka style ingredients, including camphor, clove, cassia and agar wood. They each start off with a blast of camphor and clove, and then settle down into a sour plum fragrance, and eventually wrapping up with a nice woody agarwood aroma. The difference in the three though is the concentration of ingredients. Whereas Kusa no To is the lowest price point of the three, it is obvious it has less of the key ingredients than the next two up the line, and does not project as much. Hanafuna ups the game a bit, and Shiun does that but also seems to have extra agar wood added to it.


Gyokushodo / Jinko Kojurin, Jinko Hoen, Jinko Yozei (Revisits)

All of these have been reviewed some time ago here at ORS but there are a lot of changes going on in the incense world (things like a scarcity of materials as well as huge prices increases in the raw ingredients) so I thought it would be interesting to not so much compare them to the old ones as much as just take a present time look at where some of my favorites are now. I think, in general, that the biggest difference is in the woods and how they are used by many manufactures. But since there is not a lot we can do about that it is a good time to get sample sizes and see what moves you.

Jinko Kojurin: Sort of the start of the agarwoods blends for Gyokushodo it has a somewhat musky base mixed with a light perfume scent. All this floats above the woodnotes. This might be a good place to start if you were very used to Indian style incenses. There is a somewhat sharp or tangy character in the overall scent profile which many will find agreeable.

Jinko Hoen: The classic Japanese incense smell, Agarwood, Sandalwood, Camphor, Cinnamon, Clove. I am sure there are quite a few more things in here but it is so well done that I cannot tell what they are. Just opening the box is a treat in itself. When lit the different materials blend into a very harmonious whole that is much greater than the single parts. This is not a strongly scented stick and I have been known to burn two at once but this seems to be a trait of many of Gyokushodo’s offerings. I think this is a real winner as well as a good buy.

Jinko Yozei:  This is beautiful. Woody, smooth and on the somewhat “sweet” side of agarwood’s scent profiles. Like many of the incenses from this company it is also mild, although a friend(who is Japanese) finds it just right. If you are looking for woody type incense, without too many other additions this would be right up your ally. For sure this and the Jinko Hoen should be in the Hall of Fame, they really are treasures.

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 🙂

Gyokushodo / Hana no Sho (Bloom), Mori no Sho (Woodland), Nami no Sho (Wave)

I first got to try these over a year ago, when they were brought to me by a friend in Japan, and like a number of readers that I have noticed in the blog I was very curious about them. This was just before Japan Incense had brought in so many of the other offerings from Gyokushodo. Then, as now, I was impressed with the ingredients  it was also the first time I had even seen ambergris mentioned as an ingredient. These are made with very traditional materials and the ingredient list seems pretty simple, which means the quality of the materials has to be pretty good in order to work. There are six different blends in this series and Part One will look at three with Part Two finishing it off next week sometime. I had a friend translate the ingredient list from their catalog for me and decided to put that in also as it is so very rare to get something like this from any Japanese incense maker. These are available from Japan Incense/Kohshi.

Hana no Sho (Bloom): This one has a very up front sandalwood oil presence to it. It really stands out and comes across very differently from other Japanese sandalwood based sticks. It has a very “full” quality to it as the oil plus the woods really fill out all the corners and produce their own top, middle and base notes. If you like sandalwood it would be hard not to own this. This would also appeal to someone who is used to the Indian style and wants to sample Japanese incense.

[Ingredients] Tabu bark powder, activated carbon powder, Sandalwood, Jinsui Koboku (jinko,) Sandalwood oil,

Mori no Sho (Woodland): Very woody and spicy, a sort of classic Japanese grouping of incense materials. It is also extremely balanced. Just when you think its cinnamon, it might just be clove, but wait, that could be borneol, then there are woods but it is all done so well that they just keep mixing. This would be pretty fun as meditation incense, assuming it didn’t end up making you completely analytical.

[Ingredients] Tabu [Machilus thunbergii] bark powder, activated carbon powder, Jinsui Koboku (jinko,) Cinnamon, Cloves, Benzoin, Borneol,

Nami no Sho (Wave): This particular incense has caused me to spend quite a lot of money on ambergris. I was so taken with the smell, which was just different enough to really catch my attention, that I decided I wanted to use ambergris in my own incense. So I started to and my wallet has been in shock ever since. There is a sort of, but not quite, musky quality to this stick, but there is also a very subtle, very clean, marine background note that goes along with it. Plus ambergris has the somewhat unique ability to increase other scents in the mix(one of the reasons it was and still is so popular in perfume).This is also a really balanced blend with the different players sort of briefly stepping up to the front of the stage and into the lime light. This is a very beautiful, somewhat masculine in nature, scent with woods in the background while the spices and ambergris move through the top notes.

Top 10 August 2010

This is, more or less, my top picks for the month. This does not mean that they are really in any kind of order (well OK, the Kyara Kokoh really is the top dog). There are also a lot more then ten incenses that I burn but we try and hold the line for the write up’s. I did find that as it got hotter in the Bay Area  my use of the Electric Incense Heater went up, as did my own blending for things to put on it. Great fun by the way!  -Ross

Kyara Kokoh by Baieido: I burn, maybe,  one plus sticks of this a month, in small “installments”. It is somewhat of an almost religious experience. Baieido says that this one is hand made by the owners using green oil Kyara that had been specially selected and I can believe it. It is pretty much beyond words and just gets better with each “installment”. Not inexpensive, but quite wonderful. Note to Baieido, if any of that green oil kyara is laying around ’cause it did not make the cut, I could find a use for it 🙂

Ogurayama Aloeswood from Baieido: Baieido is all about the woods. This one is from Vietnam and is considered a “sweet” scented Aloeswood. I love to put a small amount on the electric heater and let it gently infuse the room with it’s beautiful and very smooth scent. Trying to describe this is not easy, but basically it is about as pure of an Aloeswoods experience as you can get. If you like Aloeswoods then this is a great way to really start to understand them. Baieido’s Hakusui is another to try, actually any of them would work! At some point (when we get really brave) I think we might be doing some full reviews on the Baieido woods and possibly the Rikkoku (Six Countries) Set.

Saimei Koh from Gyokushodo: This is a wonderful Aloeswood and Sandalwood mix with a nice helping of spices, resins , herbs and  camphor. I do wish it packed a bit more “punch” and often find myself burning two sticks at once. It has a very classic “Old Japan” type scent. There are some similarities to a number of other makers scents but(at the moment) I think this one stands out.

Ranjatai or Kyara Seikan from Shunkohdo: Rajantai is one of my favorite scents; it pretty much has it all. Really good Aloeswoods combined with musk and resins. It’s deep, dark and wonderful, plus you get enough in the bundle to go on a real incense burning binge! Kyara Seikan adds Kyara to the mix and is also much smoother, it also cost more and is worth it (but not so “bingeable”) I ended up using both of these a lot during the Mystery of Musk series just to get a straight up scent logon for musk.

Honey Amber by Fred Soll: This is one of the very few incenses in the world to actually use Ambergris(beach caste). It has a really deep, yet clean amber note to it that the honey aspect adds an even deeper sweet note to. It is pretty strong so one stick can go for quite a few burns and still do up a room quite nicely. I think that Soll’s incenses are one of the best deals in the world and this one is right up there for me.

Copal Negro by Fred Soll: I would have to term this one as “heavy hitter” copal. It is smooth with a touch of sweetness in the background that kind of tempers everything together, but all that is riding on lots of deep dark copal. Wonderful stuff, great for grounding the environment of a room(or a person).

Japanese Musk from Koh Shi (Daihatsu): I am pretty sure that this does not use real musk, that being said it does really convey the idea of musk. It is  strong and has a nice, not too sweet, quality to it. It produces a wonderful scent to a room that also feels quite clean.

Swallows in Flight by Les Encens du Monde(Kunjudo): I had not used this a while and then “rediscovered” it last month. It is very complex, uses very good quality woods, resins, spices and maybe oils. Sometimes it almost seems a bit over the top in how much is going on here (another long learning curve)but having never been adverse to excessive excess, I just light another stick and go with it.

Deep Earth Premium – 2010 from Mermade Magical: This is something for the heater, to be gently warmed over a period of time. It has many musk like elements to it as well as resins and spices, It is a very deep, complex and meditative scent that really shows off Katlyn’s skills as well as the use of very high quality materials. It also takes quite awhile to make with a lot of ageing involved, which is reflected in the complexity of the scent. Beautiful.

Healing  from Mermade Magical: One of Mermades incense triangles, which is along the lines of a cone. This has a very clean and clear scent to it, I find it refreshing and uplifting; it seems especially good during the summer months. There is a great play between the resins and woods Somewhat unique and very nice.

Gyokushodo / Seidai Koh, Buntoku

You can see the first two sections about this entire grouping here and here.

Seidai Koh: this is listed as using Vietnam Aloeswood. It is  somewhat spicy, yet with some sweet, almost musky undertones. I am thinking that this maybe caused by the Reiryo koh (also listed as an ingredient) and perhaps some benzoin resin. Nice woody notes in this one, not super strong but nicely done. Much more distinct then the Buntoku. [NOTE 7/5/21: This incense was later reformulated and the description here may no longer apply.]

Buntoku:  An Aloeswood blend with some Sandalwood and also with Spikenard listed in the ingredients. There is a bit of sweetness mixed in with the woods, faint, but there. The scent seems to sort of balance on that knife edge between the Aloeswoods and Sandalwoods, neither quite making a solid appearance nor playing a leading role  I find this one to be the least satisfying of the line. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not a standout like most of their other products tend to be.

Keiunko is also listed in this grouping, it has also be around longer then the others and you can see Mikes review of it here.

All in all, these incense from Gyokushodo are quite good, some of them are truly outstanding and reflect a very well established and knowledgeable company with a lot of expertise in incense. My own feelings as to what to get would probably be that the prices tell the story, or, you get what you pay for. Given the prices and availability of materials that the incense makers are dealing with right now this makes sense.

Gyokushodo / Saishu Koh & Shunsui

Gyokushodo is a very old incense company who has only recently come to light in the US. They have actually had some of their offerings available here for some years but never seemed to have their name mentioned.

They have a number of lines, each of which are pretty tightly grouped as to a style. Their woods and oils lie have been here the longest and you can see our reviews on them here. The new group to come in seems to be centered on the use of traditional woods and herbs/spices without the addition of oils, at least to my nose. The first two to come in were Saimei koh and Umeshoin. I personally find them to be very well done as well as very traditional style scents. They are not particularly strong and are much more geared to setting quietly nearby rather then doing up a large space(unless, of course, like some of us; you burn a bunch at one shot 🙂  ) .

Saishu Koh uses a good grade of Aloeswood mixed with what is labeled as Lysimachiae herba (Reiryo-koh). So given that, I was expecting something along the lines of one of the incenses from Kunmeido. This is not the case. Instead I find an almost musky scent, with some additional sweet notes as well an occasional hint of clove and/or cinnamon. Way in the background there seems to be a slight green note. Again this is all pretty subtle, refined and elegant but not something that would be considered overpowering or overwhelming. It would be equally at home during meditation or even during a meal.

Shunsui also uses a good grade of Aloeswood as well as a part of a marine mollusk. I am sure there are other spices at work here also. It has a sort of bitter sweet scent to it that is stronger in delivery then the Saishuko mentioned above. Again this has a seemingly very traditional scent to it, yet it is also not a very common scent in the incenses that have come into this country (so far). As a side note the mollusk used as a main ingredient here is usually used as a fixative (something to prevent the other scents from going away too fast) This is a pretty unusual use of it and it works out well.

One thing about all of these is that they pretty much need to be first on the nights “burn list”.  So trying to taste a bunch at one sitting can be pretty difficult. Also, they all seem to have a pretty deep learning curve with many layers residing within each stick Oh yes, all of this line seem to come in a rather heavy plastic wrapper as well as in their own box. This means that they are going to hold onto their aromatics for quite a while, nice touch.

Right this moment the only place I know of where you can get these in this country is at Japan Incense. I would assume this will change but who knows.

I will be reviewing another three of these within a day or two.    -Ross

Gyokushodo Saimei koh & Umeshoin

Japan Incense/Kohshi recently brought in two more additions to the Gyokushodo line. Gyokushodo is very well thought of in Japan and is only recently getting the recognition it deserves here. You can refer to the other write ups we have done on the company here, here, and here.

Saimei koh comes in a thin square cut stick with a orangeish brown color that reminds me of Turmeric. Unlit the scents of  Borneo Camphor and a large helping of herbs, spices and a back round note of oils are evident. When lighted the Borneo Camphor is not noticed but the quality of the woods present becomes the dominate back round note (aloeswood andsSandalwood) with, in typical  Gyokushodo style, the spices and oils intermixed. There is a definite spicy punch here, the Turmeric mentioned above comes to mind, with the oil note sort of rounding out and smoothing things together. This sort of reminds me of Tennendo’s Karafune sticks, the Silver or Gold. [NOTE: Link changed to point to new packaging, incense may be different from review. – Mike]

This does not seem like the other offerings that Gyokushodo has had here before. This one is much more about the spice/herb notes mixed in with excellent woods rather then the oils that have predominated before. Nice contemplative scent and also works well as something to use before a dinner or gathering. I think this would be a great addition to ones collection at a good price for what you are getting.

Umeshoin also comes in the thin, square cut stick, this time with a medium green color and also with the Borneo Camphor scent as well as an assortment of spice notes. When lighted the Borneo Camphor once again sinks below what my nose can sense (your results may very  ). The overall impression here is that the wood notes are being showcased more then the spice or oil notes. There seems to be a great helping of the woods in the mix and the other scents are there to sort of shape the scent rather then play a major part. This one reminds me of a really good, expensive and elegant men’s cologne(somewhat spicy citrus or Chypre) from long ago. It’s like it was applied some time ago and just the barest hint is still there. I find this one needs to be studied and tuned into, some time taken with it.  Good for meditation or reflection, probably not something you would use to scent a room. Many of the higher end Japanese sticks have this quality, they use great woods and a minimal amount of “colorant”  so that they become much more of a personal moment rather then a crowd pleaser. Then again many go the other route, so much for trying to put incenses into neat little niches! [NOTE: Link changed to point to new packaging, incense may be different from review. – Mike]

The Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25 (Mike and Ross)

Today we introduce to you the Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25. However, unlike our usual top 10s and last year’s combined top 20, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and a little bit tricky. This year’s top 25 is something of a meta-list, in a way we want to capture the best of incense by looking at things from a larger perspective. So instead of having one incense per entry, we’re just going for broke: full companies, sublines, incenses, incense materials, incense supplementals – everything we could think of that would lead to a top tier incense experience. In fact we started at a top 20, expanded it to a 25 to make sure we got everything and ended up with a pretty good group.

Please keep in mind as always that our best of lists are something of a lark. For one thing I think both Ross and I probably find it somewhat difficult to truly tier these in order and so while maybe we like the stuff at the top a little more than at the bottom, maybe, there’s no particular rhyme or reasoning to the ordering and we consider everything on here to be superlative work, perhaps with a few individual idiosyncracies we won’t mention. As a whole though, I think this is a good look at what we consider the best incense related stuff on the US market today and we’ve pared it down only to include what is available here. As each entry often includes several incenses, we’ve left off links to reviews and sites, but just about everything on here has been reviewed previously and links to them can be found in our Reviews Index. So, after the cut, the ORS Top 25. Read the rest of this entry »

Gyokushodo / Jinko Yozei

Gyokushodo (bottom of page) is a rather interesting company, one that seems to have been pretty well hidden until the last year or so. Not all that big (at least what we get to see) but they do turn out some really good incense at very reasonable prices. They  use a good grade of Aloeswood combined with a unique blend of oils and resins to produce some very nice scents. None of them come across as “heavy” or “fill the room” types of incense (what used to be called , I think, “Hundred Pace” style,) just very pleasant and ones that do get your attention. Their incense tends to make you sit up and notice and at the same time not get overwhelmed. In other words, great for meditation or as a background scent to create an atmosphere in a room.

Jinko Yozei, which is the newest of the line to make it over here, pretty much holds true to the above. Good aloeswood, a really nice oil/resin scent floating above the wood and in general just a really pleasant experience. An overall impression of resins mixed with a certain muskiness without florals. I have gone through three sticks at this point from a sample sent to me from Kohshi in San Francisco. One thing that has happened each time i have used it is that at some point into the stick I find myself thinking i have Shunkohdo’s Seikan burning. There are some real similarities here in the oil/resin department (the wood in the Shunkohdo is at a much higher level ). Given the price difference between the two there are most likly huge differences in formula between them also. But still, it keeps happening to me. If anyone else has sampled this i would be very curious as to your impressions.

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