Mike’s Top Ten Incenses and Lines of 2021

So this is my first top 10 since ORS restarted and rather than doing a straight ten incenses, which would have been difficult in such a busy review year, I wanted this to be a mix of lines, companies and incenses that truly enchanted me in the last year and gave me the aromatic experiences I was hoping for. As such it isn’t really possible to throw in a photo with everything on this list (some of these companies and lines would fill a screen on their own), so all of the links will go to either reviews that will have specific photos or to the company categories which will be sorted for multiple reviews (with photos). If you’re interested in purchasing any of these either follow the links to the reviews/category searches or use the Reviews Index to find more specific lists from each particular outfit where you will also be able to find links to the sources. Oh and I should mention that Stephen will also be posting a top 10 soon as well! Please feel free to use the comments section here to post your own favorites for the year. Thank you to everyone I have talked to and collaborated with in 2021 and recently, new friends, people who pitched in samples from their own generosity, all who contributed incenses for reviews, everyone who took the time to provide their own reviews and comments of incenses this year, etc etc. Special thanks to new ORS staff writer and good friend Stephen as well! All of this goes to helping ORS become a better resource for the incense fan and you are all very much appreciated.

  1. Wara Monastery Incense. My number one incense of 2021 was literally a runaway. Honestly if I was to do an all-time incense list it would still be hard pressed to beat. I discovered this incense at incensetraditions.ca in 2021 and I am something like 4 sticks away from my fifth roll of this utterly mystifying and unique blend. I burn it nearly every night and it’s almost like an addiction now, I go up to the bedroom to read a bit before I settle down and nearly always light a stick. I am one of those people who are somewhat skeptical about the effects of incenses beyond smelling good, but this one is so vastly under my skin that I do indeed wonder if there’s some sort of secret Tibetan drug in the mix that screams “buuuurn me!!! BUUUUURN MEEEE” every time I sit down. I have been able to listen to it roll after roll and see each one changes slightly, I remember on my third roll wondering if it might have taken a bit of a dive only for the next one to come roaring back. What can I say about it? It’s just Wara really, I don’t even know if it has a subclass except that it has a resinous quality that is somewhat analogous to aloeswoods along with a mix of a million other things that created a wonderful tanginess and spiciness that I find endless fascinating and yes soothing as well. It is a bit of dangerous blend and it may not be to everyone’s tastes but there may be something in the impossibility of classifying it that makes me come back to it constantly.
  2. The Kourindo line. Japan Incense is still the marvelous and extraordinary #1 importer of Japanese incense into the US and one of their latest “gets” is this 11-flavor line of Kourindo’s incenses. In my opinion this line is gorgeous from top to bottom and as of a couple of days ago I finally gave myself the holiday treat of the KourindaiKyara, which may be the finest of kyara incenses along with Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh and not including the Nippon Kodos that noone can afford. I have been having this ongoing conversation with Josh Matthews on this particular line because where in other companies and lines one might immediately find out which ones you like the best, this is a very difficult line to choose from simply because they’re all fantastic. I might start with either of the two middle-high incenses, the Kodaikourin and Jinkourin, because they are startlingly complex in a way that stays at about the same level until you hit the kyara. But then there’s the Jyakourin Musk which is really like no other incense in any other line and one might also want to travel into the rather impressive low end before bouncing back to the near top and going for the spicy, square cut of the Saikourin. They’re all a bit thicker than the normal Japanese style, which seems to give them a little more power, which is always a good thing in my book. In the end, like me, you may want them all.
  3. Absolute Bliss/White Lotus Oudh Saffron. Corey of Absolute Bliss whipped out this variant of their Oudh Saffron incense when I least expected it and I was utterly bewitched by whatever is making up the floral component of it. It started this train in my mind of what happens when you “floralize” a woody stick. There’s something about the mix of this that adds a lot of complementary subnotes, no less this sort of minty vibe that threads its way through the middle like its sewing everything together. It is probably one of the most deluxe Indian sticks currently available at the time and it might be one of the best charcoal-based incenses I’ve ever sampled. As I implied with Wara, my main reasoning for inclusion on this chart is simply just how much I reach for a stick because I need this scent right now.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty. My brother Stephen spoke very highly of this one for quite a while before I got to try it, but in Corey’s first batch back the supplies of this were highly limited, so it wasn’t until his second that I got to stock up fully on this utterly wonderful scent. For one thing, I think this second batch might have used a bit more halmaddi than the first because it struck me as a bit softer. But even with that sweet middle what you come to this one for is the mix of woods that front an almost perfect cedarwood note. It is literally one of the best incenses on the market now, and if you like cedarwood in any way I strongly urge you to check it out. Like everything I discuss here it’s a “reach for it” classic. At any time it could move up a spot or two on this list.
  5. Temple of Incense/Absolute Sandalwood and so many others. While the British importer Temple of Incense opened their doors during ORS’s hibernation, we were not aware of their presence until reader Peter Bartlett alerted us. This sent ORS staff into a buying frenzy over culminating months to try everything in this gigantic stable of incenses (well over 50 I believe), which, in some ways feels like an expansion of the Happy Hari and Absolute Bliss imports. First of all, the Absolute Sandalwood absolutely took my breath away, being markedly the most accurate-to-scent sandalwood incense on the market at the moment, bringing back memories of the old days when it was not an endangered wood, meaning it was either duplicated rather well or someone came across old stores. But it wasn’t just this, but the three super thick stick glories of Shiv, Ganesha, and Shakti; the weird glories of the blue Electric Musk, and the gorgeous beauty of Tulsi among so many others that have made this company one of the best Indian incense importers in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that the service and great energy of the Aydee family make one feel very comfortable supporting such a fine outfit.
  6. Mermade Magickal Arts/Sweet Medicine and so many others. When ORS was in hibernation I often wonder what treasures I must have missed from Katlyn Breene and Mermade when my attention wasn’t turned their way. In a field where so many incense companies and creators come and go, vanishing into the mists of time, I can honestly say that I have been experiencing Mermade creations since some time in the late 90s and have experienced an overwhelming and bewildering array of incredible incenses with something like a 95%+ hit rate. Katlyn has never showed any signs of slowing down, not to mention continuously and steadily improving her sense of craft and prowess. She is now a mentor to so many other nascent incense creators and I am often just amazed at what her creative genius will dream up next. This year she not only found a cool shortcut to being able to increase and vary her kyphi incenses but she has also dipped into South American, Tibetan and other styles of incense, all bearing her creative stamp in all the best ways. Perhaps my favorite of the year and worth listing here because it has become one of her revolving staples, is the propolis and sweetgrass based Sweet Medicine, which is so lovely you might be able to replace candy with it.
  7. Espirit de la Nature/Mother’s – Ancient Winters Remembrance. Another wonderfully skilled magician of scent hails from Canada and often collaborates with Katlyn, selling some of her incenses through Mermade and many others through her own imprint Espirit de la Nature. It is one thing to find incense creators out there who create their own blends, another to find someone with as distinctive a creative stamp as the work of Bonnie (Be) Kerr. Incense from EdlN is not merely an experience of combinations but a presentation of the voices of botanics and fungi, with a quiet resolution encouraged by careful crafting and a number of ingredients that are not often common in incenses. I was first introduced a year or two back to Bonnie’s skill with larch resin, in an incense that had all the depth impact of a great agarwood stick, but this was only the first in a long series of amazing and bewitching scents that I eagerly grab when I have the opportunity (I will only add that at Mermade these fly off the shelves, so you need to get in early). I have two new ones sitting here that I haven’t even had the time to heat up yet but in the previous batch was the astonishing Mother’s incense which was an evergreen incense with a different slant to those you often find from Katlyn’s, all of which show Bonnie’s art as ever improving, becoming more impressive with further new creations. Oh and there was the incense cones, showing another wonderful innovation. I would guess like with Katlyn, Espirit de la Nature would be likely to be on every ORS top 10 from me going forward, she’s that good! Be sure to visit her own site and check in as she has all sorts of incenses I haven’t even been able to try yet, undoubtedly a veritable cornucopia of brilliance.
  8. Drigung Monastery / Drigung Fragrant Incense. – So if I was to have a potential follow up to my obsession with Wara Monastery incense it would probably be Drigung Fragrant Incense. This isn’t to say I haven’t tried and reviewed a cavalcade of great Tibetan incenses this year thanks to the wonderful incensetraditions.ca, but this is another in the “reach for it” category that I have tried restocking and storing as well. However, I am not sure of the viability of this stick moving forward, simply in that the sticks have apparently gotten a bit more fragile over the year and are not reaching North America in mostly one piece. So in terms of the availability of this I would definitely get in touch with Hart over at the store. But scent wise I think this a good example of the sort of vegetable imitating animal scent that seems to be the puzzle we often have over some Tibetans these days in that they have musk or civet sorts of tones while purportely not harming and of the animals in the production. I like this one’s overall sort of musk hit, it’s kind of like a tweak on Mindroling grade A incense in a direction I like more.
  9. Dimension 5 Line. I was pleased to watch Josh Matthews high end craft sticks start to reach a market this year. Josh has a creative urgency that combined with a deep aesthetic and understanding of fine woods and oils have begun several lines of incenses that actually DO use fine woods, ouds and other ingredients (rather than including these ingredients in descriptions and leaving us to guess over the provenance). While this undoubtedly puts a higher cost on the sticks, it is commensurate with the prices also put on the ingredients and so in some ways if it’s not something of a first, at least it is a first in terms of having them generally available (rather than being part of an operation that tends to be something of a rush to place an order in a small time frame like a few other really good small companies use as a model). I also have to say that I have learned an incredible amount about fine materials from Josh, which I’m sure will be trickling into my own reviewing as time goes on, and I have enjoyed our ongoing conversations. But I do think Josh and Dimension 5 are well worth keeping an eye on as time moves forward because as with Katlyn and Bonnie, he already has a fine sense of aesthetics that is only likely to keep improving with experience. If you want to try something that is remiscent of Japanese incenses but often just as high end or more, be sure to check his work out. Right now it’s hard to even pitch one as they’re all at the same consistent level and each new one I try is a marvel.
  10. Kida Jinseido/Ikuhokoh. The problem with doing a top 10 of a year is sometimes the front end gets away from you and I was actually confusing Kida Jinseido when trying to find a Kikijudo incense to put on here when I realized I had missed a biggie on my list that I haven’t burned in a little while simply since it’s out of rotation but nearly went through a large roll of it early in the year. This is something of an analog to Shunkohdo’s great Ranjatai a sort of mid to high end aloeswood blend with a lot of fine materials. If I had done this list halfway through the year it could have been a lot higher up the list.

Here are a number of runners up, all of these were mostly new incenses I discovered and really enjoyed or old favorites that are still part of a heavier rotation. Please use the above-linked Reviews Index if you need to find any of these if and until when I find the time to link em up: Kikijudo/Kouboku Ginmi/Sandalwood India; Absolute Bliss – Floating Lotus Flower, Forbidden Fruit, Bholenath, Bengali Jungle Flora; Happy Hari – Oud Masala, Niyama Sutra; Pure Incense – Connoisseur Opium, Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk; Baieido – Kyara Kokoh; Kunmeido – Asuka; Kyukyodo – Fuyu No Yoru; Nippon Kodo – Kyara Heian; Seikado – Kyara Koh Hien; Shunkohdo – Kyara Houzan; Tennendo – Propolis; Yamadamatsu – Shuju series, Hojo “Kyara Firebird” line, Kumoyi, Ouju; Aba Prefecture – Agarwood Heart of Shambhala, Gang-Zi Nunnery Incense.

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Kourindo / Byakudankourin Sandalwood, Zenkourin Aloeswood, Senkourin Aloeswood, Tsukasakourin Aloeswood, Takarakourin Aloeswood

With the gloriously decadent half of the recently imported Kourindo line behind us, it’s time to take a look at the five you could buy all at once without coming quite up to the price of a box of Saikourin Aloeswood. All of these are essentially low to midlines incenses. It is perhaps not surprising that Kourindo do a fine job on this end as well. You really get the impression with the aloeswoods that they’re all increasing grades of a sort with modifications to bring out the best in them. But like with that group, this one starts with something a little different.

Anyway I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but the Byakudankourin Sandalwood page at Japan Incense seems to list musk as the main ingredient (in fact every single incense in this review does). I’d wonder if it’s a mix up since it’s also a green box like the Jyakourin Musk is, but in lighting it you are not really getting a pure sandalwood scent here so much as a bit of a high end daily if there is such a thing. Seeing the musk actually reminded me of Tennendo’s Shingon which it does resemble (well not really in price so much), so describing this as a sandalwood/musk isn’t really far off the truth. It’s interesting as well because I seemed to notice the sandalwood a lot more from the sampler where maybe not having it in proximity with other sticks made it easier for the top oils to dissipate and let the woods bleed through. Here there’s no question that this is more than just a wood stick and something a bit more artfully perfumed, which is strange when most of the aloeswoods don’t leave you with that impression. Anyway it still has the Kourindo magic overall, almost like there’s some sort of toffee-like sweetness to it, maybe some trace spikenard or a touch of floral in the mix. I would not approach this as something to scratch a sandalwood itch however. When I bought this I had also gotten a nice box of the Kida Jinseido Kinbouku India Sandalwood in which mostly demonstrated how far apart the two scents are. It’s also interesting considering that this is priced at $20 which is a little farther up the cost chain than many a line’s basic daily. You might have to see for yourself if it justifies that cost, but I will say this definitely seems to have some level of premium ingredient that sets it apart, even from the Shingon. And finally it’s worth paying attention to this level of caramel-ish sweetness as it’s a theme taken up most of the ladder.

Zenkourin Aloeswood is the first of a very long aloeswood ladder. You would first want to look at this incense as being more of a blend with a little aloeswood mixed in. It doesn’t have the heavy contours of the higher end woods discussed in my previous review, but what it does have is a lot of the same fine crafting in it. It’s sweet, has the sort of candy-caramel like profile so many of the sticks have, quite a bit of nice sandalwood in the mix, and, in fact, one might consider this a slightly aloeswood-laced version of the previous sandalwood. I am actually struck by just how gorgeous of a stick this is and how it’s almost worth completely ignoring that it’s part of a ladder and just enjoying it for what it is. It takes a bit for the aloeswood to come out, it kind of plays in a spicy sort of way at the edges. Honestly this could be one of my absolute favorites when it comes to a more low end aloeswood because it’s just a very pretty incense with so much going on that if I had tried it not knowing it was part of this ladder, I would have been deeply impressed at the way this sort of fills a void you didn’t even know existed. It’s really elegant and restrained, has a slight sense of perfume or floral that moves it away from the sort of heavily woody area you’d usually expect and moves a bit of fine spiciness around, a bit like cinnamon toast. I’m sure this is one I can easily recommend as a hall of famer for its price range. I would only add that it could be an incense to test your psionics skill to see if you can break them just by thinking about it; I was kind of shocked how fragile these were given the thickness.

The wood comes out to play more in the very similarly named Senkourin Aloeswood, taking the place of some of the sweeter ingredients and giving the incense a much woodier background. It doesn’t, of course, have the level up aloeswood of the later grades, but it still manages to retain that pleasant caramel scent most of the line exhibits in some way. Like the Zenkourin this has a pretty broad spice palette, I’d guess a lot of cinnamon and clove as well, which isn’t a huge surprise and a touch of something like citrus in there too. Do you need both this and the Zenkourin? Well they’re different enough, but at $4 apart this might be one you’d want to start with and decide later if you need both. On the other hand, the one without as much of the woodiness might be more interesting sheerly from the fact that what make up the rest of it gives it a slight sense of uniqueness in the overall scheme of mid to low end aloeswoods. But don’t take that to mean the Senkourin is better or worse, just kind of a different take. You would notice in the three kanji characters that only the one at the top is different so there may well be some intentional thematic similarity here (and to be fair the one on the bottom is the same for most of line). But within that similarity there are some interesting variations indeed and even at this end of the Kourindo stable there is a lot to study.

Tsukusakourin Aloeswood is one of the few in the line that seem to sidestep the caramel/sweet note and go for something a lot more intensely dry. So in this case if you have been skipping some of the line that might be more similar, this is unlikely to be one of them. This moves a little bit more into woodier areas while not quite getting too resinous and there’s only an appropriate touch of aloeswood bitterness to go with the dry qualities. There’s still some level of cinnamon spice that’s in play for all the low-end Kourindos, and if there’s any sweetness left it’s the mix with that. It does have a bit of a tang to it as well, but it’s fairly well restrained overall. Once again what you note if you’re looking at all of the incenses is the way every incense shifts up a bit in wood quality and then what Kourindo does to balance that out and supplement the wood’s aromatics. It’s very much a variation on a theme and in that sense there feels like some aloeswood similarities with the Senkourin, but with the notch dialed up just a bit. The thing I notice that seems to set it apart is the contour of the way the wood burns, it’s a little on the polished side with a mite of acridity. Very cool stuff.

And finally, well for this write up, Takarakourin Aloeswood takes a similar level of wood as Tsukusakourin and pivots back to a similar profile to the Senkourin. For me this is the first major step up of the entire line, a really gorgeous, well-round incense that balances a lot of the aspects of the entire Kourindo line, the caramel sweetness, the nice aloeswood, the cinnamon toast, and perhaps here you can start to get a bit of the musk that will be turned up a lot more in the Jyakourin Musk, the next incense in the series. Wondering which one you might want to start with outside of the one stick sampler? Well if you want one incense that really encapsulates the whole Kourindo line and balances it like a fulcrum, this one might very well be it. Obviously the Jyakourin is somewhat sui generis, the kyara a price issue, and there’s only one sandalwood, but Takarakourin may do a bit of everything outside of the kyara. There’s even a bit of a brown sugar that shows up from the mix of elements and I believe it’s the first of several in this line where it feels like the woods kind of hide regally beneath a curtain before slowly revealing their presence. Nearly all of the Kourindos are complex in some way but this one might be complex AND have a lot of different notes to suss out.

So anyway if you’re reading this first then you can hop over to the second half now. I just want to reiiterate that if you’re an aloeswood lover and a fan of woody or spicy incenses, this is the line for you. They are quality from A to Z and if there’s really any criticism at all to be given it’s that the incenses are somewhat similar and maybe more so until you really dig into them and get some listening done. Since the KorindaiKyara is essentially an issue of budget (and if you have it, it’s one of the very best kyaras out there – the wood is legit), then I might start with Zenkourin if you can afford a box in the 20s, Takarakourin if you want something right in the middle, Jyakourin Musk for an incense very different than not only the line but much of what is available, and either the Kodaijourin or Jinkourin depending on your budget as a representation of the highend, The KorindaiKyara aside, I think the quality increases for the next two down probably do not justify the bigger leaps in expense, but they are still extraordinary if you can afford them. The worst incenses here are still very good and close to half of them are extraordinary to classic, so don’t miss.

Kourindo / Jyakourin Musk, Kodaikourin Aloeswood, Jinkourin Aloeswood, Ichiikourin Aloeswood, Saikourin Aloeswood + KorindaiKyara (notes)

It is a truly wonderful thing to see that Japan incense is now carrying the greater Kourindo line. There is perhaps no greater pleasure then to see a new, traditional Japanese line available in the US and it really can never be said enough of the efforts of Kotaro and Jay in increasing the visibility and availability of Japanese incense here. And not only does this mean there are 11 new Kourindo incenses to choose from but Japan Incense has gone one step further and provided this handy sampler as a starter kit. It’s where I started and I’m sure many readers here will do the same. But it should be said that there’s really not a bad incense in this bunch, they are all magnificent scents across the broad price range. Today I am essentially going to tackle the priciest 6 of the 11 (I hope to do the other 5 some time in October or so). I will have boxes of all but the high end kyara incense, but for that one I will be going off the one stick in the sampler and just providing some (surprisingly longwinded) initial impressions. For the rest of these I’ve tried to break into the box a little and spend some time with them first. Please note that one feature of the Kourindo line is that these sticks are just a little bit thicker than the usual Japanese stick and so it might be worth considering that in the stick to dollar ratio if you’re adding things up that way.

In most high end ranges you will be used to seeing aloeswood incenses, but I think rarely do you see one that advertises the musk first. Don’t get me wrong, Jyakourin Musk is definitely still an aloeswood, but its green color and highly noticeable musk hit are the big attractions here. In fact if you really want a stick that gives you a very obvious and profound taste of what musk actually smells like you can really do no better than checking this one out, it is not only a beautiful stick but it will be educational in pointing it out in other incenses. For example, think of Shunkohdo Ranjatai or Kykuyodo Musashino as two incenses with a noticeable presence of its sweetness. The greenness of the overall scent is also somewhat reminiscent of the green incenses in the Kunmeido line as well, although I would imagine the musk content in those is much smaller. I can not confirm whether this is animal or vegetal musk, but I suspect the former or at least a mix of both. But overall what you’re getting here is the musk up front, sweet and present, on top of what is a complimentary aloeswood base. And it is the mix of these things that makes this the great incense that it is. In fact I am so used to traditional aloeswoods at this point that this was the immediate standout in the line. It’s just a stone classic, with the musk and aloeswood mix giving the profile a great deal of complexity and warmth. It’s quite frankly a masterpiece and even though we’re about to move up the price scale, I think Jyakourin sits right next to anything in the line.

Kodaikourin Aloeswood is then already the sixth aloeswood in the series going from the most expensive up the chain and if you count the Jyakourin. It’s only a touch more expensive than the Jyakourin overall. I’ve most recently taken a few shots at incenses in this price range in terms of their aloeswood content, but rest assured the profile is wild and excellent on this one, in fact I might even argue that it’s actually fairly superb at this price range, with the kind of balanced bitter and resinous notes you tend to find in something like the Shunkohdo Ranjatai or Kida Jinseido Ikuhohkoh. Which actually makes sense as with both of these where you might be paying 1 1/2 to twice the price you’re also getting about the same hike in the number of sticks. But the similarities are fairly apparent because there’s some level of sweetness in Kodaikourin that provides something of a caramel note and there may be a bit of musk in there as well although certainly not at the level of the Jyakourin. But overall what you’re experiencing here is a stick meant to balance a decent level of wood with a lot of friendlier notes. If you’re someone who doesn’t want any sweet with their woods, this might not be to your taste but if you don’t mind it while not shirking some excellent aloeswood notes, I think this is a superb stick. Overall it’s actually not unlike Shoyeido Muromachi or perhaps more of what it was like when the wood content used to be higher. But here the wood definitely cuts through and keeps it satisfying.

So, now, strip away some of that sweet, caramel decadence, not all of it, maybe more the density of it than the presence, but back to the point where it becomes something of an equal subnote with something new. Tone down the bitterness a bit as well, into something that is a bit more of a glossier wood front. Jinkourin Aloeswood is something of a different grade where the woods seem a bit more dialed up and the recipe to compliment the woods created to highlight a bit more of a drier affair. You can feel like there’s something like a very faint touch of floral playing around the edges of this one, perhaps something faint from a spice cabinet in a more masala-like fashion (is that coriander?). This is the sort of Japanese incense that tends to fall into the aristocratic or noble styles. What’s interesting is that the woods feel a lot more polished here and it almost gives the trick of making it feel like the aloeswood in the Kodaikourin is a bit richer. It really feels like more of a shift in order to highlight the real subtle tendencies of a higher grade wood instead, almost as if all the other materials act like a foil. As a result there’s less of wilder feel to it, but it manages to highlight the aloeswood in a fairly unique way and at times the spices really pack a punch. And then wow that resin hit, almost like it was hiding at first. It’s like the Kodaikourin is a fantastic incense, but this one’s more of a work of art and likely to pay back greater listening. You might get the Kodaikourin right away but this is more of an interesting puzzle and you almost have tease the notes out. But wow when you do, it’s hard to believe this is priced so low. I keep having a similar conversation with several incense aficionados over the relevant merits of kyara. But seriously if you can get a box of aloeswood incense like this for under $70 who really needs it? It is literally shocking how good this one is.

Kourindo have three more scents above the masterpiece that is Jinkourin, which is quite frankly hard to believe given the high level of goods still under $100 a roll. But there’s a jump into that territory with the Ichiikourin Aloeswood. I had burned several sticks of all of these before launching into my writing, but once you really sit and listen to these it’s almost like trying them again brand new, and I could barely wait to get into this one. It’s worth noting while all the previous three incenses had approximately 40 sticks to a box, once you jump to this one, it’s not just the price but the stick count appears to go down to approximately 30, if somewhat thicker sticks, based on the info at Japan Incense. However it seems to me my box went over a few and this may be true for many of these boxes. Anyway this incense, after the Jinkourin, seems like a very similar jump to the Kodaikourin to Jinkourin. This is an even less caramel (if still there on some level), and more woody incense and it feels at this point that a lot of the additives from the previous incenses are becoming thinner on the ground so you’re getting a lot more wood presence. Not to mention the floral and spice like notes in the previous incense aren’t really in this. Seems like this one might have mixed in a little high quality sandalwood as well. Like with the Jinkourin there’s some level of waiting to see where the latent deep aloeswood note will hit. It doesn’t feel quite as polished as the Jinkourin but the aloeswood strength is closer to eye-watering. But it feels a bit more straight forward than the Jinkourin. If there was no Jinkourin then I might not be so hesitant in my recommendation, since this is a wonderful aloeswood incense, but given the differences in price and stick count I’m not sure you’re getting that much of a leap forward from the Jinkourin. I’d just underline that the profile of this incense and the previous two aren’t super different, almost as if they work on a similar theme with the wood being the main difference. But overall starting with the Jinkourin still seems like the best bet on a number of levels.

Saikourin Aloeswood shakes up the line’s profile by moving to a square cut stick. There’s a much more noticeable difference with this incense compared to the previous two. It reminds me a little of the difference of the scent profiles between the old Baieido Ogurayama and Hakusui woods, where the former leans a bit to a sweeter wood and the latter to something spicier. So Saikourin off the bat is a much tangier and spicier aloeswood stick. If there was caramel throughout the previous three sticks it’s fairly well buried here. But conversely you don’t miss it at all because this has such a unique presence of its own. You don’t really have to hunt for the resin as its fairly well in front of the burn and the whole thing just sings of high level wild wood. In fact coming back around to what I’ve said about kyara, this level of high end spicy wood is generally just as satisfying to me. It’s powerful, brash and has all of the elements of a deep wood that you’d want. It has the multi-note complexity of all the best aloeswoods, plenty of space to sink into and muse over. It’s interesting as well if you compare this price to the kyaras in this range, two of the Yamadamatsu Firebirds or the Seikado Kyara Koh Hien. If you’re going for something without all the additional sweetness, you’d certainly have to go with the Saikourin.

Because if you want to go with the Kourindo kyara option, KorindaiKyara, you triple the price point and nearly quadruple it if you count a slightly lower stick count (my guess is a stick is something like half or more of the cost of the sampler). These logarithmic jumps in quality are something I’ve considered quite a bit in my incense journey. I think nearly anyone who explores kyara incense wants to know how much kyara is in them, whether it’s worth the price. There’s legitimate anxiety to be found in an environment where you don’t know if the expensive incense you just bought is going to be up to what you hear or read about. I can say this about the Kourindos up to this point and that all of them still have wild aloeswood profiles commensurate with what you would hope to expect at these price points, and quite a few of them even perform above these prices. But $600 for KorindaiKyara is a gigantic leap, it’s essentially something like Shoyeido or Seijudo level pricing. All the Minorien kyaras, the Kunmeidos, the Shunkohdos, etc all of these are cheaper incenses. So one would assume that there is some level of real kyara in this stick, that it’s not just the magnification of a good thing. I set my high level kyara bar somewhere near the chip provided in the Baieido Rikkoku set or the gold standard Baieido Kyara Kokoh. OK enough already, Mike, tell us.

It’s an impressive stick, the kyara is right up front and the difference between this stick and all the others in the range is immediately obvious. It feels like Kourindo have gone the route of not making this a sweeter kyara but a peppier or spicier one. But leave no doubt at all that there’s a high level of rare wood in this, that there isn’t perfume artistry making up for the materials and that’s largely why you’d be shelling out such a large cost. It is the kind of stick that demonstrates to no uncertainty why this wood is as prized as it. There is that intense note that only this fine wood can bring, something almost like a floral mixed evergreen note and while this doesn’t lean as heavy to the green note as the Baieido kyaras do (or used to), this does indeed have the complexity you want to see at this price range. It’s probably closest in range to something like the Yamadamatsu Shuju Kyara in style and while it approaches the Baieido Kyara Kokoh, it’s maybe not quite there. But to experience the wood mixed in with this different range of spices is kind of a treat in itself because it’s not duplicative of other kyara incenses. And what a great kyara always does, so annoyingly, like the most painful of siren calls, is to make you start looking at all of those dollars you saved in a bank. And like these incenses I’ve compared it to, because this incense is materials first it’s likely to last you a long time if you take it out on special occasions and not decay very quickly. And that makes it a lot more superior to the perfume-based kyaras. If I ever do get some sort of windfall that makes me grabby for a full box, I may circle around again because I really doubt the half to 2/3 of the sample stick I burned probably does it the justice it deserves for such an insanely complex incense, but hopefully I’ve given potential buyers some heads up to what they’d experience. Coming round to what I said at the beginning, you can always grab a sampler too. In the end, bravo Kourindo, you are among the finest houses in incense and these are all deep treasures, among the best in Japanese incense.

Kourindo Incenses at Japan Incense

Great news, it looks like Japan Incense has stocked a good chunk of the Kourindo incense line. Once again we are impressed at the ability of Jay and Kotaro to bring the world of Japanese incense to the US.