July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere 🙂

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight 🙂

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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.

Kunjudo Karin Select (aka Tokusen Karin)

Kunjudo’s Karin is a wonderful incense in our Japanese Hall of Fame.  If you search for a review of Karin here on ORS, it’s possible you may experience some confusion, as the French incense distributor Essence du Monde has an incense line called Karin (confusion #1!) that includes an incense called “Forest of Flowers”, which is actually Kunjudo’s Karin (confusion #2!).  As a final confusion (#3!), I’ve heard that subsequent samples of Karin and Forest of Flowers may not so closely resemble one another, though whether this is a true delineation between the two incenses or just inevitable differences over time from batch to batch is anybody’s guess!  Well, with all that clear now  😉 , let’s revisit Kunjudo’s Karin and its more deluxe sibling, Karin Select (aka Tokusen Karin).  For simplicity, I’ll refer to the original Karin as “Regular” and the new Karin Select as “Select” for the rest of this review.

Mike summed Regular up best in his earlier (Essence du Monde categorized) review: “…an affordable and fantastic blend of sandalwood, Daphne wood, and cinnamon that hits a number of different buttons. It has hints of amber even without the ingredient listed as well as wood, spice and floral and it manages to spin out different combinations of these elements like an echo of expensive aloeswoods. It’s fresh, vibrant, wonderfully spicy and addictive…”  I would add that there are even hints of talcum powder, which may be a trick of the amber and florals playing off one another.  Clearly a multi-dimensional scent.

Kunjudo introduced Select in December of 2009, and this recent addition has already gained a number of supporters here on ORS.  As compared to Regular’s orangey-brown sticks, Select’s are more pink.  While it’s clear these are sibling scents, Select comes across as smoother and more refined.  This is a result of the top note – that intoxicating amber/floral combination – being higher grade in Select.  My conjecture would be that by upping the quality of spice and oils, and perhaps some reformulation towards the sweet, the scent remains multi-dimensional but the presentation comes across more unified, with the “ridges” between individual components less obvious.  This top note is more sultry in Select, with the Regular’s having more of a punch to it (I won’t go so far as to say Regular’s top note is harsh in comparison, but it is certainly less rounded.)  Friend of ORS, Janet, had an insightful comment on this difference – “…the roles of various components are reversed, with the slightly pungent herbs taking a back seat to the sweetness…”  It’s unknown if the quality of the sandalwood in the base has changed, but with Select’s smoother top, its contribution to the whole is more evident and enjoyable.  Think Regular Karin and Kyukyodo’s Yumemachi combined.

Ironically, I’ve heard a few comments that Select is more spicy.  A possible theory is that with that smoother, sweeter floral top, there is more open space for the cinnamon to shine through.

We’re fortunate to have two fabulous takes on Karin from Kunjudo, and certainly either is a worthy, even required, addition to a well-rounded Japanese incense collection.  You can’t go wrong with either, but with the bargain pricing of Karin, and the negligible price increase for the Select version, it’s an easy decision to upgrade and the recommended way to go.

Highly recommended to those new to Japanese incense looking to survey different styles, wood lovers who have hesitated approaching florals, and the connoisseur looking for a good palate cleanser or additional entry in a daily incense lineup.

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.

Clearing up Encense du Monde

In my last Encense du Monde article I was given assistance by a couple readers on the origins of some of the incenses, that is what company they originated from. Given that most of the line heralds from several companies I thought I’d put up the rest of the line to see if we can’t collectively clear up the rest of the line. Originally I thought in doing so we’d find out where some duplications are, however it’s become clear that even in cases where there seems to be duplication, there often isn’t. I was pretty stunned to find out that Middle Path and Mount Fuji were apparently the same name as the two Daily incenses Daigen Koh and Hoyei Koh, as they are very different in scent. So anyway, here’s the list after the break, if you can fill in the gaps in the comments I’d most appreciate it. Pictures of the incenses can be found here and on subsequent pages. Eventually once complete I’ll put up a comparison page between similarly named incenses for reference. Read the rest of this entry »

Encens du Monde / 1000 Years of Wisdom, Pine & Orchid Wedding, Whispering Bamboo, Oriental Breeze, Aloe Vera, Middle Path, Mount Fuji

It’s dawned on me recently that if you want really high quality but low price incenses, the various Encens du Monde sandalwoods are really some of the best on the market. It’s true there’s something of a price markup with most of these due to the incenses’ long travel regiment, but I think the quality of most of these incenses does indeed offset these prices to some extent. The real difficulty with these incenses is making sure you don’t overlap with something directly distributed to your country; however, my experience over time has been that even in the cases that incenses do overlap, there’s still enough of a recipe difference to set two similar brands apart.

For example, I reviewed Kokando Rangetsu vs Encense du Monde Jade Orchid a while back and while you certainly only need one or the other, I felt the EdM variety was slightly the superior with a better wood base. Later I got the opportunity to compare Kunjudo’s Karin in the box to Karin in the tube and found that the difference was nearly significant, the former much sweeter, the latter muskier and more traditional, making me wonder if the Encense du Monde Forest of Flowers variant might differ in its own right. With these experiences I wouldn’t be quite so sure that even when two packagings match up in style that you’re dealing with the exact same incense. And Ross’s warning in the latest top 10 should be taken under advisement as well, there are indeed formulation changes happening with nearly every incense under the sun as aloeswood, sandalwood and halmaddi all get rarer. In the group I’ll be reviewing today, the Oriental Breeze packaging matches up with the “generic” Shobikoh incense distributed via the Incense Works, but I’d make a guess that the Shobikoh probably isn’t quite as strong as the Oriental Breeze given the difference in price. In summary, buyer beware. I believe most of the EdM incenses in this review are made by Kunjudo, with the known exception of Mount Fuji, which is a Shoyeido incense not otherwise distributed here. [Correction: Please note Francois’ comment below for the right origins of these incenses]

1000 Years of Wisdom (1000 Ans de Sagesse) is something of a potpourri type of incense with ingredients extracted from various wood powders, essential oils, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus and patchouli. It’s a black colored stick but not of the smokeless kind usually found in this color. It’s a hard one to describe given there are really no dominant scents other than the eucalyptus content being fairly obvious with its almost menthol like cooling scent. It does appear to have the typical sandalwood base and although there is no obvious aloeswood content, oil or otherwise, has some similarities to the Shoyeido Sei-Fu blend. Whisps of sweetness, anise and even an herbal flavor that reminds me of veitivert pop up occasionally, but overall this is an incense formulated for a unique scent. It’s not at all a bad deal for the almost $9 a roll and one I’ve found gets better with use.

Pine & Orchid Wedding (Mariage du pin et de l’orchidĂ©e) I’ve tried in the short roll but it also appears to be part of the Japonessence line as well, although I’m not sure if it varies in scent or not. This is one of my very favorite under $10 sandalwood based rolls and in some ways it’s almost like a low octave and inexpensive version of the incenses you see as Seeds of Transformation and Blissful Mountain in the much pricier Meditation range. That is, it’s a wood based stick with a fabulous floral oil on top, a marriage I’ve really grown to appreciate with use. The floral oil isn’t as expensive or as high class as it is in the previous mentioned incenses but nor is it bitter or off  putting, just a bit mellower (it should be mentioned that the two top ends use lily essential oil rather than orchid, but the results are too similar not to compare). The pine is typical of its use in most Japanese incenses in that it’s a woody scent rather than the heavily resinous pitch you’ll encounter in, say, Fred Soll’s incenses (Shunkohdo Matsuba Pine is fairly close for example). Overall just a perfect scent, fresh and calming and even with the EdM hike, very affordable.

Like 100o Years, Whispering Bamboo (Le Chant des bambous) is a pretty complex and multi-ingredient heavy scent, although in this case we’re dealing with a square stick with the typical green color. The ingredient list has “a delicate touch” of violet along with sandalwood, cinnamon, eucalyptus, Chinese plants and patchouli. And in particular the Chinese plants aspect evokes similarities to various traditional Kunmeido and Shunkohdo scents that use medicinal herbs, with a unique spice as a backdrop. This is a much more intense scent than, say, the bamboo incense found in Kunjudo’s Three Scents box due to these herbs, although I would suspect the slightly fruity undertones are where the violet manifests (or at least it doesn’t all evoke for me what I typically think of as a violet scent). Overall its quite unique and another EdM winner that improves for me with every stick of use.

As I mentioned before, Oriental Breeze (Brise Orientale) has packaging reminiscent enough of Shobikoh as to hint that we’re dealing with a very similar incense and a significantly different price. Of all the incenses in this review, this is the most obviously inexpensive, it’s described as a sandalwood incense with clove and cinnamon, a combination very common at the lower price ranges. The wood, unlike with the other scents here, is a bit on the bitter side at times, and the oil content is much lower, making this one only roughly indistinguishable from most lower end “every day” sandalwoods. Although I haven’t tried the Shobikoh per se, it may be the one to start with given its low cost. Those stocked heavily with green low end sandalwoods will likely not need the duplication.

The next three incenses could be considered “sampler notes” in that I’ve only tried a couple sticks of each and don’t feel I’ve exhaused the aromatic potential of any of them. The good news is that with all three I felt my best experiences were towards the last stick, and in one case I did an almost complete turn around. This case was the Aloe Vera, admittedly not one of my favorite scents, it’s quite the common addition to soaps and even tissue paper, with its very noticeable green, verdant and fresh scent. My initial take on this incense was that it was too bitter and unpleasant, but I found myself actually warming to it by the second stick. It really does what it says on the box, representing the aroma in a wood base, with some hints of clay and patchouli in the mix. I perhaps did not have enough of a sample to know how I’d feel about it in the end but still ended on a positive note.

Middle Path I liked from the start, it’s a purple stick with a very purple “feel” to it, slightly mellow and otherwise not terribly far from most low end green sandalwoods, except it generally avoids the bitter tendencies found in the woods. There’s quite a decent sandalwood value here, with a noticeably sawdust like aroma, but the best part is the myrrh and spicy oil, the former of which would account for the mellowness. One I think I’ll be adding to the next incense order.

Mount Fuji, as previously mentioned, is a Shoyeido incense not distributed through the main company, perhaps because it’s fairly similar to the same line’s Miyako-gusa scent. That is, it’s a typically spicy, but uncommonly rich and slightly sharp low end sandalwood mix that wouldn’t have fit particularly comfortably in the Daily or Classics range.  There appears to be lily of the valley in this one, but I didn’t notice the same sort of powerful oil that’s in Seeds of Transformation or Blissful Mountain, more so I got impressions of forests, pine and other woods and maybe a touch of patchouli. But again, with only a couple sticks its possible I was just missing the notes.

Likely next up on the Encens du Monde agenda will be a look at the Aromambiance line, which to my nose is almost how I’d envision Nippon Kodo moderns if they were done a bit better. But that will be some time down the road. As far as these incenses are concerned, Pine and Orchid Wedding is something of a must, but other than the Oriental Breeze and maybe the Aloe Vera, all the rest seem to be strong low end sandalwoods all with unique combinations you may not have tried before.

Kunjudo / Three Scents: Green Tea, Bamboo, Cypress

This smart little gift box contains 50 sticks each of three scents, all of which are, if not rare, fairly uncommon in the incense world. All are decidedly traditional scents, featuring a fair amount of wood at base and only enough essential oils and spices to make the scent work, if there are much at all. All three scents are wrapped in these nice styrofoam wrappers that cushion the incense quite nicely, wrappers that are fairly unique to this package, perhaps unfortunately. And the three wrappers fit snugly inside a conservative green box, wasting very little space. In all, a very attractive and intelligently made package.

The Green Tea scent is fairly unique in that it features a dry, very herbal green tea without much sweetness, a tendency I find truer to the smell of green tea leaf in a tin. The Nippon Kodo CafĂ© Time Green Tea cone is perhaps the only one I’ve tried that approaches this electric, sage-like (or even salvia divinorum-like) note to it, although where the cone will leave a holder in a pool of perfume oil, there’s no such downside to the Kunjudo stick. I’d hoped to have been able to link to Ross’s review of the single roll of Kunjudo’s Green Tea, as based on that I’d guess both that and the one in this package are the same incenses, but it seems to have disappeared! Like all of the incenses here there seems to be a mixture of sandalwood and other woods at base which keeps this one from being a true modern and in the realm of traditional incenses.

Bamboo incenses also appear to be fairly uncommon, and those that are available tend to feature as a scent, a very mellow, fleeting aroma that while fairly distinctive is kind of difficult to describe and not always all that striking. The Kunjudo version is quite mild and traditional and certainly fairly accurate of a bamboo grove, although perhaps bolstered in the middle by the woods and spices. It sports kind of a pale green color to it and ends with a mild floral note that helps to lift the overall scent. It’s a stick one ought to find quite different from the usual offerings.

Cypress is an extremely woody version of the scent, closer in spirit to the Nippon Kodo Ka-Fuh version, although this one is not at all smokeless. Where the Baieido Hinoki probably hits the spirit of the cypress a little closer by the use of fine and rare essential oils, imparting the crystalline quality one tends to find on the fresh tree, the Kunjudo version seems rooted in a woody base that renders the overall cypress smell a lot milder. And given it’s a mild smell as it is, the result seems to be a bit more of a woody blend, certainly pleasant, but as equally evergreen or even sandalwood infused as it is cypress.

Overall Three Scents is something of an unusual combination in that it provides you with an electric, powerful incense in the Green Tea, but opts for milder and more graceful scents with the Bamboo and Cypress. But its real strength is that while there are some comparisons, you’re not likely to find three incenses this distinctive and different from the status quo and they’re really good for mixing things up. In many ways these are moderns for the traditional crowd, with different directions for what are nominally wood-first incenses.

Encens du Monde / Meditation; Short Rolls / Celestial Nave (Ranshuko Temple Blend), Seeds of Transformation; Virgin Snow

Previous Encens du Monde / Meditation reviews

The French distribution company Les Encens du Monde is responsible for bringing over a number of great incenses to the Western world; however, several of them overlap with currently available incenses and there are also subtle differences between overlapping incenses, all of which make them somewhat problematic and difficult to review. As a distribution company, Encens du Monde brings over a number of different incenses which are dominantly from Kunjudo, but also feature scents from Shoyeido, Baieido, Kokando and others.

We can generally guess an overlapping incense by the graphics on the roll, which, while not identical, tend to feature a similar artistic motif, for example the green roll with Koh game symbolism on Kokando Rangetsu and Jade Orchid. The same goes for two of the three incenses here, there’s a definite overlap between the Celestial Nave and Ranshuko Temple Blend (which now appears to be deleted or unavailable from many suppliers) boxes, almost identical in this case. And the motifs of Virgin Snow and Byakudan Shirayuki (also translated as White Snow) are also similar enough to be considered fairly identical. However, there appear to be slight differences among the recipes that could be attributed to either a different batch or an adjustment for a particular market. I’m not sure what these all are, but will account for them given a particular incense.

Celestial Nave was fairly easy to identify, as I mentioned above, as the same incense as Ranshuko Temple Blend, the orange box and graphics making this fairly obvious. However, I’ll be reviewing from the latter box. The ingredients on both appear to be the same: agarwood, sandalwood, kansho (spikenard), cloves, patchouli and camphor. And in this incense’s case you can quite easily pick up just about every single ingredient even though they also blend together nicely. It’s a long, thick, square stick with plenty of burning time, reflecting its value for temples nicely. The sandalwood seems to be of very high quality, the agarwood and camphor notes, the clove particularly strong and spicy, and the kansho and patchouli faint but still noticeable overall. It’s fairly similar in some ways to the Reiryo-Koh blend in that it’s tangy and strong natured, with something of a hoary, earthy vibe to it; in fact other than that incense it’s tough to compare Ranshuko to anything. In most aloeswood/sandalwood blends, the aloeswood tends to dominate but it could be that the reverse is true here. I’d actually had this for a while, so when I pulled it out for this review I was surprised at how much better it was than I remembered, it’s a very memorable scent. But I’d hunt down the Ranshuko version before it disappears, as it’s half the price the Encens du Monde version is and a steal at that price. Even if you can’t, Celestial Nave would be well worth it.

Seeds of Transformation is one of two incenses in the Meditation line that features a sandalwood stick drenched in the essential oil of the lily. I reviewed the other sandalwood/lily incense, Blissful Mountain, at the top link, which is a thicker stick, however even though the descriptions are virtually the same, the incenses differ in a way that’s quite difficult to capture in writing. Both are terribly gorgeous incenses, two of the best florals available, with no off tones in the perfume, just a rich scent of flowers that really lingers. If I were to guess, I’d say that the oil might be a bit purer with the Blissful Mountain, where there might be a bit of spice bolstering the Seeds of Transformation, but these differences could be between the thick and thin stick versions as well. Like the high end florals in the Shoyeido Floral World series, both incenses have great definition and thus belong with the aloeswoods in the more expensive incense ranges. Really beautiful work here, I can even see why there are two similar incenses in the same line.

Virgin Snow tends to be a bit more complicated. The version I have comes from the shorter rolls, but there are 3 versions of it, including a long stick meditation version. The odd thing to me is, despite the long box being identical to the Byakudan Shirayuki, the version I have isn’t low smoke by any means, fairly normal actually, which makes me wonder if there’s a recipe change for the version distributed via Incense Works. Regardless, the short roll sticks are really nice incenses, green sandalwoods also imbued with quite a bit of oil or perfume. The freshness and slight evergreen nature of the stick does reflect the incense’s name quite well, and it’s also quite sweet and friendly with a slight mintiness and maybe a touch of green patchouli to it. Overall it’s a very accessible stick, like a walk in a snowy forest. In this case, I’d probably recommend trying out an Encens du Monde version first, unless you’re partial to low smoke incenses.

The Meditation line is really one of Encens du Monde’s finest, it’s quite solid across the spectrum, although I found Imperial Family a little hard to get used to at first. They’re all packaged in very attractive boxes, use high quality ingredients even down to the spices, and feature scents you’re unlikely to match outside of the incenses’ obvious, directly exported duplicates. And they’re quite interesting for having some of the most high end, non-aloeswood incenses available as well. It’s not at all difficult to give recommendations for all three of these.

Encens du Monde / Karin / Pearl, Ruby, Moonlit Night, Perfumed Prince

Reviews of the previous Encense du Monde/Kunjudo Karin incenses can be found here.

Encens Du Monde’s Karin line is somewhat confusing given the changes executed a year or two ago, which ended up in totally different box designs and the elimination from the line of two of its best incenses, Golden Waves and Royal Nave (both of which can be found, at relatively expensive prices, in Temple length form). Karin now consists of six incenses, two of which, Forest of Flowers (also called Karin via Kunjudo in the US) and Swallows in Flight, I reviewed in the first link above. The remaining four incenses are all fairly different (with one exception) from these two, all being very floral incenses. They’re also very good floral incenses, different from those that often have bitter and cheap perfumes, with surprisingly satisfying finishes for the style. As always, Encens du Monde incenses have considerable mark up, coming from Japan via France, however even with this markup, the quality often matches the price. Almost every incense in the line seems to use perfume oils, but all seem to be perfectly pitched.

Karin is a strange line having so many differently styled incenses. Along with the amber-infused every day style of Karin and the decidedly aloeswood leaning Swallows in Flight, we have two less smoke incenses with square cuts (Pearl and Ruby), a very similar round cut but not smokeless incense (Perfumed Prince) and a floral yet traditionally styled incense (Moonlit Night). There really isn’t much of a qualitative difference among the six incenses, even the one you think would be the most expensive (Swallows) seems to get much of its impact from the oil, in a similar way to Tennendo’s roll incenses, like Renzan or Tensei.

The two less smoke incenses are quite pleasant surprises. Both use something of a charcoal formula for a base, yet neither have the slight bitterness that even the Baieido smokeless incenses have. Both are very modern perfumes, having little relationship to most incenses or even other florals. Pearl has an almost vanilla or honeysuckle like perfume, sultry, mellow and reminiscent of modern perfumes. It reminded me a little of an old memory of daffodils, with hints of talcum powder and even tonka bean at times. It’s still surprising to me that such a mellow aroma isn’t cut through by its own base. Ruby might be even more delicate, with slight hints of rose and carnation in the midst of what is a fresh, cleansing sort of aroma similar to Baieido’s Izumi but not as intense. There are some citrus-like notes in particular that help to separate it from the Pearl, not to mention it’s lacking Pearl’s creamier notes for something a bit more overtly floral.

Perfumed Prince might have been the third of this style if it was less smoke and square cut. It still has what seems like a similar charcoal base, although it seems to have the normal smoke content of a Japanese stick. Strangely enough, however, it’s an incense very similar in aroma to Pearl, with an almost coffee creamer-like aroma on top. There seems to be some strong vanilla notes involved, although it’s hard to tell if this originates from vanilla itself or a resin like benzoin. I also get a bit of jasmine or marshmallow in here as well. Like Pearl, it’s a very gentle incense that is likely to appeal to even those put off by traditionals. The only issue is there’s some slightly metallic hints that might come from the base, but these hints aren’t noticeable enough to be offputting.

Moonlit Night differs greatly from these three, being a traditional, wood-based incense. Inspired by the aroma of the Daphne flower it draws the obvious comparisions to Forest of Flowers, a sandalwood-based incense that also incorporates the Daphne aroma to fine effect (honestly Karin/Forest of Flowers is about as good as an inexpensive Japanese incense gets). Moonlit Night’s floral nature is much more overt, to the point where it reminded me of a lot of Nippon Kodo and other Kunjudo florals, however, Moonlit Night stops just before it gets bitter or offputting, leaving the incense’s floral nature rather pure. Unlike the other three incenses in this review, Moonlit Night has some wood base to it that prevents it from being a fully modern incense and in many ways bridges the three black stick florals to the other two traditionals.

I’m not a big fan of floral incenses, but have to say that the four in question here are among the best I’ve tried in that they are all rather original aromas without the problems associated with cheaper incenses: the bitter off notes, bad charcoal bases and inexpensive perfumes without any true depth. They really make the Karin line one of interest throughout the six incenses, and present some modern styles that one might be able to introduce to even the most casual appreciator of incense. Even at these travelled prices, these incenses are generally worth it. Were they to arrive in the US without a European side trip like Karin does, I’d be telling you about their high quality/low price ratio.

Encens du Monde / Prince of Awaji, Imperial Family, Ikebana, Jade Orchid/Kokando Rangetsu

Other Encens du Monde (now Florisens) reviews can be found here. Prince of Awaji has been discontinued, however the other incenses are still available.

Encens du Monde is a French company that contracts with various Japanese companies, especially Kunjudo, to provide a number of lines of incense to the public. Due to such an arrangement, the prices of these incenses tend to be quite a bit higher than most in the same range, although the overlap between EdM incenses and those already catalogued in the US is small enough that the lion’s share of EdM incenses could be considered new to US shores. Overall you’d probably have to consider EdM a somewhat higher priced, more boutique version of Nippon Kodo, who tends to market their incenses more so to gift and new age shops, than appreciators of traditional Japanese incenses. As of today only Essence of the Ages supplies this company’s incenses for the US market.

Encens du Monde include numerous sublines, many of which signify the length of the stick. Prince of Awaji is the line’s most deluxe luxury incense, Imperial Family a long stick Meditation incense. Both Ikebana and Jade Orchid are long rolls and floral in bouquet, the former two incenses definitively woody.

I’ve struggled with Prince of Awaji for quite a while as this is a good example of where the Encens du Monde price differential makes a difference. Readers of our Hall of Fame page will notice the Luxury category, which are boxes in excess of $150. In nearly all cases, a box of incense costing over $150 is going to be superb and while they will always be cost prohibitive given a certain salary, it’s hard not to recommend most incenses at this price for those who can afford them. However Prince of Awaji is more a Premium level incense at a Luxury price and while it’s still excellent, it’s hard to justify it as a Hall of Fame pick given its expense. Going for it are what seems like a larger number of sticks than what’s on the box, at least at a guess. Like several other EdM incenses like Whispering Bamboo and the two Karin smokeless incenses Pearl and Ruby, Prince of Awaji is a square stick, skinner than, say, Baieido Kai Un Koh but similar in cut. Prince of Awaji is described as having accents of kyara and that would be a fair statement. That is, this is not a kyara incense in the same way, say, Koh Shi Boku or Aioi no Matsu are, rather that element of the incense only exists at the most faintest top note, the note missed most with aromatic fatigue. In fact of a dozen or more burned sticks, I only caught this note once and while it’s quite sublime, it’s not likely to survive past what is a rather workmanlike and slightly nutty aloeswood base that, while reminiscent of other excellent EdM aloeswoods like Golden Waves or Swallows Flight, is rather pale and not particularly compelling without the essential oils to bolster it. Overall most incenses at $150 or more are intense and heavily aromatic, Prince of Awaji by comparison is less rich and far more fleeting, whatever good can be said for it.

The most striking thing about Imperial Family would have to be the attractive box, its green, floral motif one of the most striking outside pawlonia boxes. Incense-wise, it’s very difficult to describe, ostensibly a sandalwood based green blend, but that would incorrectly imply a noticeable sandalwood aromatic element. Instead the woods and spices blend into something far more difficult to put a finger on, with a number of rarely used woods that give the incense a slight tang to it. The description implies flowery, but it’s quite unlike Pine and Orchid Wedding, Ikebana, Whispering Bamboo, Virgin Snow and other green EdMs with stronger floral elements. Overall it’s a difficult incense to really talk about as it’s quite unlike other woody incenses and might be something of a risk given its relative expense and quantity. I’m still fairly neutral to it although there are indeed some accents that are intriguing and overall it is reminscent of other incenses with rei-ryoko root or other medicinal herbs, particularly from Shunkohdo or Kunmeido.

Both Ikebana and Jade Orchid (scroll down about half way) are sandalwood-based long rolls with very floral aromas. Ikebana presents a bouquet-like floral that will remind many of Kyukyodo’s similar florals (such as Azusa and a few currently unexported to the US). While Kyukyodo florals tend to hide their base more than this, leaving Ikebana with a noticeable sandalwood center, the jasmine-tinged multi-floral perfume oil on top will likely be considered very pleasant and similar, with a bit of spice to pep things up including what seem like cinnamon and patchouli, similar to many low end daily incenses. Overall a bit powdery and sweet, with only a bit of sharpness from the base.

Jade Orchid is one of the Encens du Monde crossovers, being an almost identical recipe to Kokando Rangetsu. Kokando Rangetsu (scroll down to bottom, this page has it listed as Ranshuko Rangetsu) is an extraordinarily affordable floral sandalwood with what I would have described as a jasmine oil in front, but what appears to be something of an orchid aroma based on the EdM name. A lot of sandalwood incenses at this low end often have sharp or bitter notes in the base, but the Rangetsu seems to avoid these. It’s interesting to compare Rangetsu to Jade Orchid as the recipe does indeed seem to be slightly different despite what is similar packaging and almost identical aromas. Jade Orchid seems to have a higher quality and more sandalwood rich base than Kokando Rangetsu, despite their being very little difference otherwise. While it’s not the sort of difference to explain the same in price, Jade Orchid has a pleasant woodiness to it that gives it the slight nod.

Lots more Encense du Monde incenses to still cover, the next batch should cover four more Karin blends and after that some more short rolls.

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