Keigado: Keiga Byakudan (Sandalwood)

Keigado has a very large assortment of scents like Purple Magnolia, the East & West Temple sticks and Full Moon, to name just a few. They use Sandalwood a lot, although it is usually a medium for other scents to be carried along with. This particular stick has the Sandalwood up front and I think it’s a winner. It is a “straight up” style, with few if any additions. If there are any they are in there to help elevate the sandalwood scent itself. There is a very slight sweetness, pretty much what you would expect from burning a piece of sandalwood from the heartwood of a sandalwood tree, in other words it is true to the natural scent. It also has great hang time; the scent stays within the room for quite a while (not hours like a synthetic would, but a decent amount of time).

If you are looking for or simply enjoy sandalwood based incense you might want to give this one a try. It is different enough from, say, Shunkodoh’s Sarasoju or Yamada Matsu’s short stick to be worth a look. It is also at a very good price for what you are getting.

-Ross

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Seikado’s Gohitsu, Daikouboku & Keigado’s Jiyou Koh

Seikado’s Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood: A nice, inexpensive Aloeswood blend from Seikado. It holds to a “middle of the road”  Aloeswood scent with a slight top note that is somewhat spicy. Which is not too say cinnamon like or anything along those lines. It’s actually quite different from other Aloeswood blends and is pleasant, easy to use as a background scent and a pretty good deal as an everyday incense. Fifty sticks in the box at around $14.00.

Seikado’s Daikouboku Sandalwood: This is a very nice straight up Sandalwood from the makers of Solitude line of wood blends. Seikado seems to big on the use of oils married up to Sandalwoods or Aloeswood to produce some pretty potent blends, almost ranging into what reminds me of Indian styles. In this stick they have not gone that route, opting instead to produce a very nice deep Sandalwood scent with a bare hint of spice/herb notes. I find it to be very easy to use and at the same time different then say the Baieido or Kyukyodo sandalwoods. This is another excellent everyday scent that will be merciful to your wallet.

Keigado’s Jiyou Koh: This is low smoke type incense, and it really is closer “no smoke”. Normally I do not like this style but this one I am finding pretty fun. When I first smelled it at Kohshi /Japan Incense it reminded me of something, about a week later I realized there were similarities with Shoyeido’s  Myo-ho in the top and mid notes. After looking at the ingredients list (Fennel, Cinnamon, Clove, Polygala tenuifolia (Polygalaceae), Angelica acutiloba) I realized that the first three are something I always associate with the scent of Myo-ho(along with Star Anise). All this being said I find this stick to be a pleasant backround scent, not very strong or prominent( like most low smoke stick) but it does add an interesting note to a room. Because it is a low smoke stick it will also tend to eliminate other scents, something to keep in mind if you want to clear the air.

March 2010’s Top Ten

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.

SAMPLER NOTES: Nihon Senko Seizo, Saraike Kunbutsudo, Keigado, Kunmeido

Time for another batch of samples, four relatively new imports and a couple old scents I’m managing to get around to now…

Two scents have arrived from Nihon Senko Seizo, the first a cedar incense called Momiji Koh that comes in a ten roll set with single rolls sold individually. This does what it says on the box, however unlike cheaper cedar incenses, Momiji Koh manages to exhibit some of the wood’s finer qualities, with notes of evergreen and especially conifers floating lightly on the top. Undoubtedly this is an inexpensive incense that could easily be filed with daily sandalwoods and there are some interesting subtleties that imply there may be a bit of sandalwood in the mix, but overall this tends to hit a sort of generic cedarwood in the middle. It’s definitely more pleasant than the cedarwood you might find in Tibetan incenses, on the other hand Indian masalas and some American red cedarwood is perhaps a bit more overtly aromatic.

Tsukiyama is also a very evergreen incense, this time going for a pine scent, however where Momiji-Koh is decidedly cedarwood, Tsukiyama seems decidedly more complex. There’s definitely the evergreen notes you’d expect for a pine incense but there seems to be something of a less traditional oil mix on top that modernizes the scent to some extent, making the finish fruity, bright and attractive. At times I’ve detected hints of patchouli, apple, spearmint and berry in the mix, all of which I assume are less notes and more attributes of a certain intricacy in the mix.

Saraike Kunbutsudo also now exports two modern incenses  to the United States via Kohshi. Mt. Fuji is an incense somewhat similar to Shorindo’s Wayko discussed last installment, with sandalwood and cinnamon listed as the two main ingredients, however Mt. Fuji is a more traditional mix even with the spice blended with some unidentifiable light floral qualities. As such the cinnamon doesn’t cut through so much and make the incense stands out and the result is actually quite mild and mellow which I can imagine are likely to be attractive qualities to some purchasers. It has a very restrained feel to it.

Shizuka-No-Sato comes in a huge 500+ stick box making it necessary to get a sample to see if it will have such lasting power for you. I found it to be not terribly different from the previously mentioned Tsukiyama incense, although as shown in the ingredients the jasmine/floral mix is certainly prominent. I found it to be just as mild and smooth as the Mt. Fuji overall, as if the characteristics of the company were an elegant restraint, but such a quality makes it difficult to discuss from a sample. It is quite pretty with no offputting qualities found in relatively inexpensive florals (per stick here of course) with a mix of slight woodiness, a light spice and berry along with the jasmine and likely rose mix.

I forgot to mention Keigado’s Kaori when last discussing the two Magnolias but I didn’t want to forget it as it’s a very nice affordable sandalwood with a slighty minty tone as well as hints of cedar, pine and patchouli in it – a very green incense overall. Like several of the Keigado traditionals there’s something of an oil strength to it and as such it also has a touch of something reminiscent of the line’s Full Moon, perhaps a slight touch of whatever it is that creates the amber in that incense. Overall though the  middle is somewhat airy, giving the whole incense a fleeting smell and as such it’s one of the lightest incenses in the Keigado catalog.

Had good luck with Kunmeido‘s wonderful Hosen incense, but the sandalwood, lilac and cedar mix of Unjo Koh isn’t nearly as immediate. By proximity, it did remind me a bit of the Kaori, but without the amber-like depth to it and a much woodier middle. Strangely I didn’t detect lilac much at all, but I can imagine it’s the sort of scent that could get buried among the ingredients and here the woodiness is probably responsible for that. It’s slightly sweet and evergreen and perhaps the cedar is the most dominant note. Certainly pleasant, but fairly dull especially for a Kunmeido scent.

Next up in the sampler notes series, a pentad of scents from American company Ancient Forest. I’ll be out and away for about a week at this point so bear with me if comments or questions addressed after today aren’t attended to until next week. Thanks!

SAMPLER NOTES: Keigado, Seikado, Kunmeido

I’ve long had the internal debate on reviewing incenses where I only have small samples, in many cases I often just hang onto the ones I’m going to buy anyway and do a review proper on them. But I’m getting to the point where I’m kind of backing up with them and in a lot of cases they’re new and it’s probably time to get the word out, particularly as we’ve been seeing a lot of new modern styled imports coming in in the last six months. So periodically and probably through the end of the year I hope to get some comments out on these in batches of (approx.) 5 or 6.

The three Keigados in this batch, however, have been around for a couple years. The Blue Berry was even discussed in some comments a while back, and I can see why, it’s a pleasant smokeless stick that does what it says on the box, exude a pleasant smell of blueberries that’s pitched just about right. However I’m at the point where I wouldn’t even be sure what I’d do with 370 sticks of this, I could easily even imagine getting tired of it. But it’s light, airy and friendly, I can’t imagine the person who would find it unpleasant.

Keigado’s Pink Magnolia is one of their three magnolias and I believe I covered the Purple Magnolia some time ago. Like the purple, the pink isn’t smokeless, the main difference is this stick evokes typical pink-like smells, perhaps rose or carnation in parts, as much as it does magnolia. In fact I was reminded a little of the Shunkohdo Shuhou I reviewed yesterday in terms of tone. The Pink Magnolia, however, has a slight bit of cinnamon spice in the mix which made me like it a little more than the purple, but overall this is the kind of low end, inexpensive floral that will appeal more to the modern than traditional incense fan.

Sennichiko, however, is definitely more in the traditional vein and strikes me as, perhaps, a slightly more inexpensive version of Keigado’s Full Moon, the amber scents are not quite as strong in this version, although it’s strong enough that this doesn’t just come off like another low end green sandalwood. But like most of those, it has a mild perfume oil on top that’s hard to describe, except that it seems to have a touch of patchouli or cinnamon in the mix. And certainly at $3 a roll, it’s kind of a steal.

Moving over to Seikado is another entry in the company’s Hitori-Shizuka line, the Fancy Floral. That’s not particularly the kind of description that really appeals to my sensibilities so much and my opinion wasn’t far off the same one I had for the Floral Elegant in the same line. Like many an NK floral (or even Daihatsu or Kunjudo), it’s part of the modern trend of perfumed incense sticks, and like a couple I’ll talk about later in the Shorindo Koibana line or the NK Free Pure Spirit line, I get watermelon more than I do floral, sort of a gentle and subtle feminine perfume that isn’t likely to do more than lightly perfume an area. Like the whole line, the base is sandalwood but in this incense more than the others it’s perhaps the most sublimated.

Seikado’s Kyoyama is also modern, but in this case they’ve put together a distinctive and special incense not quite like any other, although again I’m fairly put off by the sheer number of sticks (200+) in the box more than I am by the price; that’s probably way more incense than I can crunch at this point. Anyway this incense is unique in that it largely exudes the aroma of Sumi ink. Not having any conscious memory of Sumi ink specifically, I can say that it does remind me of the better examples of calligraphic ink I can remember and married to camphor it makes for a distinct almost oceanic incense, very water elemental. It’s smokeless, so never gets too potent, a bit spicy and overall this one just about anyone will need a sample of first to check out as it has virtually no comparison at least among imports.

Finally, another oldie from the Kunmeido stable, the Hosen is one I feel amiss at not having discovered earlier as although it’s a distinct modern floral, it’s really no less brilliant than most of the line’s traditionals and one of the best multi-floral air freshener type incenses I can think of. While it’s definitely a bouquet scent, I’d say the violet’s out front on this one but what’s great about it from my perspective is it’s almost as spicy as it is floral and the complexity the combined styles exude make for a fascinating burn. Some similar incenses might be Baieido’s Kokonoe Floral and Izumi and less so Shorindo’s Chabana Green Tea, all mentioned mostly due to their similarities as freshener types. A 200 stick box, again, could be stretching it for me, but in this case I might be on the purchase side of the fence as I can see this mixing into a day perfectly.

Up over the next few weeks new incense from Shorindo (including the excellent Wayko), a handful from the new Ancient Forest line, scents from Scents of Japan, Nihon Senko Seizo, Saraike Kunbutsudo, Tahodo and I believe Ross will have some words on a few new Daihatsus.

Keigado / East Temple, West Temple (by Nancy)

There are many categories of incense. There is the synthetic vs. the natural, the floral, woody, spicy, herbal, fruity, and the resinous. There are sticks for daily use and rare woods to be savored only on special occasions. Then there is temple incense, a variety that tends to be longer and thicker with an extended burning time, specifically designed to be used for prayer and meditation. East Temple and West Temple fall into this category, measuring in at 12” long with a burning time of 90 minutes. Sticks like these are conducive to meditation not only because of their physiological effects, but because they provide a non-linear way to measure time. This permits us to detach ourselves from the material world of schedules and mechanical clocks and slip into a suspended peace measured only by the graceful wafting of the incense smoke.

East Temple and West Temple are both sandalwood blends. Sandalwood is grown primarily in Asia. Mysore (a.k.a. “Sandalwood City”) is the focus of sandalwood production in India. Here you will find thousands of people transforming sandalwood into incense, perfumes, lotions, soaps, candles, medicine, and devotional statues. This plant is so valued in India that the Sultan of Mysore declared it a royal tree in 1792. Even today all sandalwood in India and Nepal is property of the government and no individual may own a single tree, even if it is on private land. Sandalwood is an evergreen with the aromatic oils residing in the hardwood and root system, and it takes at least 40 years for the plant to mature. Since all parts of the wood are valuable, the tree is not cut down when harvest time comes, but rather is pulled up from the roots during the rainy season when the ground is soft. Current market value of the essential oil is $1,500 per kilogram! Sandalwood incense is considered to be the most calming type of incense and is used extensively in ceremonies by people in many religions from all over the world.

The aroma of sandalwood is very enjoyable. It is rich, balsamic, and sweet, with a woody undertone. East Temple incense mixes this wood with spices, making for an invigorating blend. This stick is named after the cardinal direction of the rising sun and is intended to be used in the morning as you prepare for the day and get your energy going. It definitely stimulates the mind so I would recommend it for contemplative meditation or study, or just to rev you up as you go about your morning rituals. The predominant note is more like sandalwood essential oil or the resin, and not so much the wood. I also detect in there hints of leather and campfire, and the blend is so masterful that I am having a hard time identifying the included spices individually. Very smooth, like a fine aged wine. West Temple, named for the direction of the setting sun, is for evening use when our energies are naturally declining and we are preparing for sleep. It is definitely the more subtle of the two and is almost smokeless due to its high wood-low oil content. This stick is truer to the wood, sweet and sublime, pure and utterly relaxing. It has a sort of slow, permeating quality about it that will gradually fill even a large space with its subtle effect, gently shifting the energy to peace and relaxation.

These two incenses are certainly enjoyable on their own, but are even better experienced as a pair, burned one in the morning and one in the evening as intended. They definitely have completely different scents, with noticeably different affects on energy levels and the mind. Two interesting takes on a classic wood and a very good deal given the length and duration of each stick. These are some of my all time favorites and I highly recommend them to anyone who loves the aroma of sandalwood and is interested in trying some very pure examples from a skilled and revered incense company.

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.

Keigado / Full Moon

I find it surprisingly uncommon to run across Japanese incense sticks of any fashion that contain a noticeable amber content. Ross reported on one a few days ago, and while I’m sure that there’s a number that use it as a “spice” in terms of the “secret” parts of the recipe, it’s very rare indeed to find it as a noticeable part of an incense’s base, especially odd when you consider how prevalent it is in Indian and Tibetan styles.

Keigado’s Full Moon is basically in the common, green sandalwood style, except that the strong presence of amber really sets it apart. It reminds me a little of the Gyokushodo blend Hanabishi in that it starts with a slightly sweeter sandalwood base; however, the powdery, almost royal amber base helps to create a very different incense. It adds up to a rather wonderful low end and affordable blend that comes as a long stick or small box. And particularly with 50 sticks for $2.50, you’re getting quite the bargain here.

Keigado / Purple Magnolia

From what I can tell with English information, Keigado mostly do three styles of incense: floral blends including smokeless scents, two different meditation long sticks and a standard called Full Moon. Undoubtedly their Japanese catalog is deeper.

In question seems to be one of the only non-smokeless floral incenses, Purple Magnolia. Given 370 3 inch sticks for $16.00-18.00, this is a very inexpensive blend, one that blends a floral and somewhat earthy scent with a backing of slight spice. Purple when it comes to incense invokes for me both violet and spice, and I’m reminded of unusual spice masalas that have an almost Crayola-like note. While Purple Magnolia doesn’t have the same note, the slight spice hints make this a little more alluring than it would be if this was just your average wood-and-flower.

I’m not sure how much this actually smells like purple magnolias or any magnolias for that matter, but it’s very user friendly with just a slight exotic tinge that gives it a bit of character. Ask your supplier for a sampler, as although they don’t seem to retail, it’s how I came across this.