Koyasan Daishido / Shikimi (Japanese Star Anise)

We’re always looking for quality affordable Japanese incense as well as scents that go into less common areas and this pleasant stick from Koyasan Daishido was a really nice find on both accounts. Star Anise, of course, is a spice used in a lot of different applications, but it may be interesting to note that Japanese Star Anise is a toxic cousin to that plant, not edible, and only used in incense. In Koyasan Daishido’s blend, the JSA seems based in a bit of wood and the spice has been well balanced. Anise has always reminded me of licorice, but this isn’t quite that sort of scent, it seems more like there’s a hint of the aroma that has been blended intelligently with other ingredients for a daily scent with a neat little spice kick that you often don’t find anywhere else. In a milieu where so many incenses can be classified as predominantly sandalwood or aloeswood it’s nice to see one a bit lateral to that. The JSA spice is one that is notably different from the sorts of cinnamon and clove mixes you usually see and while it may have some cooking spice associations, I think Shikimi is well blended for aromatic appreciation. It’s got an interesting dry and tangy mix at heart with the spice tweaking it just so. Affordable and different enough to stretch the incense collection, Shikimi also comes in a much bigger size if you end up loving it.

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Koyasan Daishido / Koya Reiko, Tokusen Byakudan Sandalwood Koya Reiko, Gokujo Byakudan Mysore Sandalwood Koya Reiko (notes)

Koyasan Daishido appears to be a smaller Japanese incense company that sells incense for use in Shingon Buddhism, although a few of their incenses including palo santo sticks and a zukoh (body incense) seem to assume they’re reaching a little beyond their traditional line in their marketing. Their line up is small and I would guess the three of these incenses could be considered temple or daily incenses. As far as I know, they do not market aloeswood incenses and so much of their line is affordable, although many of their boxes are fairly bulky at even the smallest sizes. These three incenses seem to be part of a line called Koya Reiko, with a regular brand and two different levels of sandalwood incenses. Pictured are the bottom two in this line, although I did receive samples of the Gokujo Byakudan Mysore stick as well. There appears to also be a fourth incense in the line called Renge Koya Reiko, although I have not tried this yet.

The regular Koya Reiko does not list any ingredients, at least at the Japan Incense site or in English on the box, so this will be a bit of a guessing game. Koyasan Daishido does market some other incenses sourced from woods other than sandalwood, so there is likely to be a mix in this base, although none really pop out as individuals during the burn except, perhaps for the sandalwood itself. Some inexpensive Japanese sticks sometimes have a bit of an amber like base aroma to them and sometimes they go more in a spicier Reiryo Koh direction. Koya Reiko may be a bit of both adding a touch of floral to the mix. Overall this is closer to say, the two baseline Kunjudo Karin incenses, although it’s not quite as oiled up as the regular or as candy-like as the Tokusen but it’s still roughly in the ballpark. I don’t detect any real off notes either, it’s soft and genuinely pleasant, if not, perhaps, remarkable. But it is a fair pitch for the price range.

There is some level of the regular stick in the Tokusen Byakudan Sandalwood Koya Reiko, but the amber base is mostly gone in favor of the obvious sandalwood replacement. It creates a drier and less sweet stick but at this level the sandalwood isn’t terribly deep as you might imagine. There’s certainly enough of it that you do know it’s sandalwood and it does actually touch on some areas that are specific to the wood (there’s a level of resin here it’s just not the premium stuff), but it does feel like there are other elements in the stick designed to draw attention to it to some extent. It is probably well worth noticing as well that only the Gokujuo version of this lists Mysore sandalwood, so we can assume that the sources here are anywhere else. But overall this is actually a nice stick. It goes in some directions that remind me of some of Yamadamatu’s lower end blends, although this doesn’t get too sweet. It’s never sharp or bitter, and there’s enough going in it that reviewing something like my fourth or fifth stick of it so far had me leaping a bit to resdescribe it. It also looks to be the same price as the regular while perhaps being the more interesting of the two incenses. Anyway it’s a very nicely done daily.

Somewhere along the line I did end up with a sample of Gokujo Byakudan Mysore Sandalwood Koya Reiko, although I think if I had been paying attention a bit more I would have gone with the box of this over the Tokusen, but so it goes. It’s basically the same packaging but a green box. But it should be worth noting that per stick this is actually double the price of the Tokusen which is probably a decent indication of how much rarer Mysore Sandalwood is starting to get. But the question is, does it make a difference? Well in many ways this comparison is actually a very good one in terms of experiencing why the Mysore wood is so prized. Everything about it is deeper in every way and the resinous qualities take this to a level commensurate with its price level. You stop thinking about how the recipe shifts in order to accommodate cheaper wood because the good wood speaks for itself. To be fair this doesn’t mean this is completely missing other sources, but it’s definitely been crafted so that the good stuff pops. In the end I might need a full box to see how much, as this is a very attractive sandalwood.