Kikujudo / Kouboku Ginmi / Sandalwood India, Aloeswood Vietnam + Notes on Sandalwood Indonesia, Aloeswood Kalimantan, Aloeswood Indonesia

The Kikujudo Kouboku Ginmi series appears to be relatively recently imported into the Japan Incense catalog, coming in at about the same time as the Kourindo line. Kikujudo is a company we haven’t seen a lot of incenses for, and certainly not any at all for traditional wood scents, so this is an interesting line up indeed and shows the company has great skill even with a much smaller line up. Kouboku Ginmi is essentially a series of sticks made from regionally sourced woods and they don’t appear to be embellished with much in the way of anything else, allowing you to experience each particular wood in as close to a pure state as you can get in a stick. The incenses are presented in utterly gorgeous, but perhaps oversized boxes, although they are also offered without boxes, which strikes me as a cool idea because if you essentially like anything enough to buy again you can keep the old box and just get a new roll. On the other hand, this has two of those hard to fit plastic slips, one that goes over the box and another that goes over the roll. The latter seems to go right on since it has no edges but the one for the box can be a bit frustrating. Anyway Kikijudo also offer a sampler of all five sticks in this series, which is a good place to start. It is where I started and eventually made the decision to purchase the two boxes that I did, and not, if only for now, the other three. So I will start with the ones I really like and know well and then move to the sampler to discuss the others.

I’m asked every once in a while about sandalwood incenses, in fact often enough that we hope to eventually put something together that compares a lot of the existing sandalwoods to better highlight what’s out there, it will just take a bit of work. Where aloeswood can vary pretty widely in scent, sandalwoods are a lot closer together and even small variations can set one I like apart from one I’m not as fond of. But I really wanted to truly praise and highlight the Kouboku Ginmi Sandalwood India stick. This to my nose is next to dead perfect in what I’m looking for in a Japanese sandalwood stick. It smells like straight up high quality Mysore old mountain sandalwood in all its fresh and deep glory. It has strong resin, the slight buttery side, it’s freshly sawn and has a cooling middle like few others. These days you hear about how this wood is disappearing and it is, but if you don’t mind skipping the pawlonia box then you can get a nice roll of this for $36 and whatever you might think of the price this truly earns it. It’s one of the few Japanese sandalwoods in a while, like I do with a good aloeswood, that I often want to pull it out and burn a stick because the memory of it is so beguiling. Wonderful stuff and I do hope both the Kikujudo and Japan Incense stock of this one runs deep.

The line’s most expensive incense, the Aloeswood Vietnam, is also similarly excellent. While perhaps this level of aloeswood does not have the more aromatically distinct and special notes that say the Vietnamese aloeswood Baieido calls Ogurayama or Hakusui has, it is still a very fine level of wood. It strikes me as somewhat similar to some of the higher grade Shoyeido aloeswood chips, but also like the Baieido aloeswood used in more of their mid to low end lines. I would suspect there must be some slight modifications to make the burn present in this sort of way, but unlike the other two lower grades of aloeswood, any of the more bitter and lower grade notes are gone with this stick. In fact I might even recommend this as a sort of baseline aloeswood scent to compare others to because it almost typifies the sort of descriptions I’d give to good aloeswood. It’s polished, refined, elegant and stately. Keep in mind however, if you buy it with the box you are actually coming fairly close in price to some of the lower end kyara blends which might in themselves be a bit more impressive as incenses, so if you are still sort of out there sampling a number of different Japanese incenses I might wait to grab this one until you’re sure you truly love aloeswood on its own. But you can also save a little money by getting it without the box.

Moving back to the sandalwoods, as well as the sampler pack (pictured) we have the lower grade Sandalwood Indonesia. I will go on record as saying that outside of sandalwood use in blends with many other ingredients in it, if you are going for a mostly pure sandalwood it is difficult to avoid tedium unless there is some level of old mountain Mysore sourced sandalwood in it. It is this deep level of wood where I think most of the really fine points of the wood come out and a stick like the Sandalwood Indonesia is missing a lot of these subtleties. Without the finer resinous notes, it’s hard not to feel it’s a bit generic and certainly hard to justify at a $26 price, when you can find lower price point blends that even if they are not pure sandalwood still pitch at remotely the same space. Don’t get me wrong, this is a sandalwood and it does not deviate from the overall scent, but the edges of the wood are a bit harsher, the overall profile not as buttery or crystalline and while it still feels freshly cut, it mostly doesn’t work as well when you line it up with the India version. There’s some level of an almost alkaline note to it and overall it feels like it reaches for the depth without quite getting there. Now if the same roll of this was something like $10 then I might be more inclined to sing its praises as I have no doubt it’s probably close to top of the line Indonesian sandalwood. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it, but given there isn’t a huge difference in prices in the sandalwood range, it just seems redundant to have both when it’s worth just saving a bit of extra money and going for the India alone.

[NOTE: 2/7/22: I just wanted to state I feel like I completely underrated both the Kalimantan and Indonesia aloeswoods in this review. By the end of the sampler I was just starting to be like hmm these are quite good, so I took the chance and ordered full boxes of both. They’re actually quite incredible incenses. So keep that mind as you read the below, it might be instructive in how there can be something of a listening curve for certain incenses. Needless to say I highly recommend both, although they are similar enough that I might start with one or the other. It is one good reason I try to avoid reviews just based on a few sticks if I can!] Both the Aloeswood Kalimantan and the Aloeswood Indonesia are Indonesia based; however, the former aloeswood is specific to the island. These incenses bring up what I think is a pretty important issue and that’s not only just the decrease in aloeswood stocks but what happens when that leads to inflation in remaining prices. Indonesian aloeswood has often been considered one of the lower grades of wood and my general impression of it is that it can be quite nice in blends, but tends to be a bit dissipated and not as memorable on its own. When priced the way it used to be it was commensurate, but when you start putting a roll of it at $84 and you’re still conceptually stuck on aloeswood prices from 10 years ago, it can be harder to justify. However, now it may just be where the prices fall. But the Kalimantan is a really toasty sort of wood scent with an almost completely different profile to the Vietnam. In burning this prior to writing it up, I found I started to like it quite a bit more than I did going into this review. Even if it doesn’t have that sort of deep Vietnam resin to it, the overall profile of the wood feels like a bit of spice, coffee, toffee, a touch of bitterness, maybe some hint of sandalwood back there too. It is often one of the main issues where I have to separate notes I take from a sampler compared to a full review because often something takes a few sticks for me to really start to appreciate it and it’s now under my skin a bit.

So I wondered if the same would happen with the Aloeswood Indonesia, the box-less roll of which is now at $96? This one’s kind of interesting because while it’s a similar sort of aloeswood scent, it feels like there’s some level of a floral feel to it that the Kalimantan is missing. When burning the Kalimantan I was starting to almost get a hazelnut note from it but here I actually feel I get something like that, along with similar coffee and caramel sorts of notes. This also seems to have a bit higher of a level of resin to it that starts to justify better the sorts of prices you’re seeing on it, a resin that perhaps is also responsible for some of that floral top level. It’s interesting to me as well that when I burned these sticks at a different area in my home they felt more bitter than they do where I’m at now, which makes me feel like you get that more when the smoke spreads out a bit. So here I am kind of that end of the review. I bought two boxes, by the end of writing this I feel like I need two more and by the end of the sampler, who knows I may want all five. These are all real treats if you’re into woods and I would suspect most of my long time readers are very likely to be, so yeah while these may be showing some new market level of appreciation I have no doubt you’ll find them not only enjoyable but deep enough to spend some time with them.

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Awaji Koh-shi / Seasonal Yuzu, Water Lily, India Ink, Japanese Musk, Coffee, Green Tea

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.

Seasonal Yuzu (Awaji Baikundo): 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.