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 🙂

August Top Ten 2011

Minorien  FU-IN® Kyara Ryugen: This is Minorien’s top of the line(at least here in the US)  Kyara blend. If you are familiar with the companies style then you will see that this is the end result of ever increasing refinement. The balance of all the differing elements and the way they have been mixed is truly remarkable. Not to be missed and you can pick up a small box for around $40.00.

Keigado East Temple (Ansoku): Sandalwood with a spice note that is also somewhat (a little) perfume like. This is a very pleasant and usable “everyday” incense. I find myself giving away a lot of this just to show people that you can get good Japanese incense and not blow away your bank account.

Kyukyodo Akikaze : No one does this style like Kyukyodo. There are notes that are floral married up with perfumes and all this rides across a quality Aloeswood base. One of the masterpieces of the incense maker’s art. It’s available from Kohshi by special order. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

Kunmeido Shoryu Koh (Rising Dragon): A great Aloeswood mixed with a wonderful “green” note, which seems (to me at least) to be this companies signature style. This one is much more forward in all these elements but also smoother than their Reiryo koh blend and costs much less than their upper tier blends. A nice balance point.

Seijudo Shiragiku White Chrysanthemum: One of the great deals in incense, with a distinctive “high end” style that mimics the much more expensive real Kyara sticks that this company also produces. It’s rich, powerful and you would swear, loaded with Kyara and musk. This is not the case but it is a great introduction to that world. This is a great treat for one’s self.

Shoyeido Muromachi: This has seemingly gone though some changes over the years but is still great incense and also a pretty unique scent. Nice, almost caramel note which is mixed into the woods. I use the coils, which seem to me to have a slightly woodsier note going for them then the sticks.

Nu Essence ABRA MELIN: These are small tins packed with a lot of scent. This blend has a strong rose note along with frankincense and other resins. There is a wonderful interplay between all the different ingredients and the scent can change depending on the length of time on the heater. Very nice to scent a room and a little goes a long way. I have encluded the makers link as it’s a very informative site.

Mermade Arts Pan’s Earth: Deep resin scent mixed in with the woods and the addition of Patchouli and Vetivert, which adds a lot more depth to the mix. There is also a slight edge to this incense, which reflects the idea of Pan to me. Pan’s Earth is always a winner but I think this batch is one of the best.

Deep Earth Premium-2011: These incense balls or nuggets have been aged for quite awhile which adds complexity and depth to the scent. They are very resinous with wood notes as well as a subtle blending of spices. There is a slightly sweet side to the whole thing and it is best used in an electric heater at a low setting.  This is a good choice for reflection and meditation.

Baieido Kokonoe Koh: I find this to be a really good and classic Baieido style stick. It has a great combination of Aloesood, Sandalwood and spices and is also very reasonably priced. This would make a nice gift for someone who is not into the sweet or floral scented incense’s. This is one of my “go to” or must have sticks.

Awaji-Baikundo Jihi – Amacha kou: One of the best amber scents around and it also has some serious Boral camphor along for the ride. It’s quite distinctive and very good. I use it a lot late at night. The scent lasts a long time and also works well for scenting clothing.

– Ross

Kunmeido / Gokuhin Daikunkoh

We’ve covered quite a few Kunmeido incenses in the past and have probably discussed this temple length “every day” stick in the past, because it’s a high quality, fairly notable work in a style that’s usually dull as ditchwater. Kunmeido, of course, are quite well known for using fenugreek as a spice in their incenses, which gives incenses like Reiryo Koh and Unkun Koh signature aromas. With the thick and long Gokuhin Daikunkoh, you get a something of a variation on Reiryo Koh. This is a firey, spicy sandalwood blend, so spiced with herbs even calling it a sandalwood doesn’t seem quite right, it’s entirely defined by that sharp note in the spices. Overall this feels quite a bit more deluxe than the usual “daikunkoh,” it’s perhaps most similar to Baieido’s large aloeswood coil, but not quite as refined. If you love the other Kunmeidos, don’t forget this one.

The Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25 (Mike and Ross)

Today we introduce to you the Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25. However, unlike our usual top 10s and last year’s combined top 20, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and a little bit tricky. This year’s top 25 is something of a meta-list, in a way we want to capture the best of incense by looking at things from a larger perspective. So instead of having one incense per entry, we’re just going for broke: full companies, sublines, incenses, incense materials, incense supplementals – everything we could think of that would lead to a top tier incense experience. In fact we started at a top 20, expanded it to a 25 to make sure we got everything and ended up with a pretty good group.

Please keep in mind as always that our best of lists are something of a lark. For one thing I think both Ross and I probably find it somewhat difficult to truly tier these in order and so while maybe we like the stuff at the top a little more than at the bottom, maybe, there’s no particular rhyme or reasoning to the ordering and we consider everything on here to be superlative work, perhaps with a few individual idiosyncracies we won’t mention. As a whole though, I think this is a good look at what we consider the best incense related stuff on the US market today and we’ve pared it down only to include what is available here. As each entry often includes several incenses, we’ve left off links to reviews and sites, but just about everything on here has been reviewed previously and links to them can be found in our Reviews Index. So, after the cut, the ORS Top 25. Read the rest of this entry »

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo (from Ross)

Kunmeido is a very well know and loved, not to mention respected, company who is the maker of such standards of the industry as Reiryo Koh, Heian Koh and the ever stunning Asuka. Japan Incense has now brought in their kyara blend called Kyara Tenpyo. It comes in both a small and large box.

Kotaro at JI gave me a sample that I have been slowly working with for about a week. It has similar scent characteristics to the Asuka as well as Shunkohdo’s Kyara Aioi no Matsu, more towards the Aioi no matsu then the Asuka. It has that sort of herbal “green” note layered on top on a much more predominate woods note then the Asuka. This, I think, is the kyara at play, lending overtones that are chocolate like under the green note and at times slightly ginger in quality. This is all very subtle, produces a  really  very complex and multi layer incense and it has taken me quite awhile to get to even a fraction of what I suspect is in there. Many of the incenses that use the green note( I have no clue as to what herb/spice creates this)do so with almost too much punch. This is not the case here. Every thing about this incense speaks of an extremely masterful hand in its making, exercising a lot of restraint and experience. This is not something to light and walk away from, it is much more suited to study and focus. Really, quite a master piece of the art

I should mention that they do not have a whole lot of this on hand at the moment, but are planning on getting more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAMPLER NOTES: Keigado, Seikado, Kunmeido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kunmeido / Reiryo-Koh, Reiryo Koh Aloeswood, Shoryu-Koh

I tend to get a little more inspired writing about high end incenses for the obvious reason that there’s usually more to talk about in terms of complexity and depth. Kunmeido’s one of those rare companies that manages to produce amazing incense at all budget levels, including what is generally considered one of the finest inexpensive incenses, the venerable Reiryo-Koh. It’s one of those scents I’d consider as a building block of a new incense collection as you only have to pay about $7 a roll and it has a complexity and depth that most incenses at the same price range are missing.

Reiryo Koh‘s popularity can generally be seen by the number of different sizes its available in, from small boxes to long sticks. It’s also burned at Eiheiji, one of Soto Zen’s two head temples in Japan. It also appears to be popular at American Zen centers. In a way it’s fame in the US is surprising as it’s a very traditional and potent incense, initially not particularly friendly due to the strength of scent and its highly peppery and spicy intensity. The main ingredients are sandalwood, clove, foenun graecum (reiryo-koh), patchouli, tarmelic/turmetic and borneol camphor, a line up not terribly far from many Korean incenses. It has a lot of herbal qualities such as dill, fennel, cumin and oregano, all of which seem to be byproducts of the reiryo root and the tarmelic. The intensity has a sort of cleansing sort of feel to it at first until the constellation of scents starts to fade and the complexity of the incense starts to become obvious. Behind all the spice is a sublime, occluded sweetness, a quality that comes out more so in the aloeswood variations.

In fact the Reiryo Koh Aloeswood incense is so different that it’s hard to believe the difference came from switching the base wood. Where the regular/sandalwood version is intense and spicy, the aloeswood version is mellow and subtle. It’s basically the most inexpensive incense in Kunmeido’s line up that introduces an aromatic quality that follows the line all the way up to Asuka (perhaps the only one missing it is Onkun Koh aka Jinko Ranjatai). It’s a sweet, spicy and tangy aroma that is not only pleasant at first but starts to become addictive after a while due to its increasing refinement up the scale (the note becomes intensely incredible in Asuka). This concentration on the quiet and subtle compared to the loud intensity of the original is an interesting yin/yang comparison, as initially it doesn’t seem the aloeswood version has a similar depth. But it doesn’t lose its poignancy, implying the incense’s depths are more interactive between incense and appreciator.

At least in the US, Shoryu-Koh, which moves the price range well into the 20s, seems to be sort of the middle ground incense, implying the heights of Heian Koh and Asuka, without the pungent green herbal qualities those bring with them. In fact Shoryu-Koh could easily be seen as the higher reflection of the Reiryo Koh aloeswood, with a lot of similar qualities and a greater degree of refinement. The sweet, herbal and grassy oil or top note on this incense becomes increasingly pleasant with experience, reaching for a very sublime place with a dark and sultry atmosphere. There’s quite a bit of spice in this one as well, hints of cinnamon and clove help to bolster the scent’s essential tanginess. If ever there was a sleeper hit coming out of incense, it could be this one. I’ve had a box for about a year now and it always surprises me. Perhaps it trades a visceral impact for more ineffable and deeper qualities, which makes it less obvious right out of the box.

Any incense appreciator who finds an affinity with Japanese traditional scents is encouraged to take a look at the whole Kunmeido line, which evinces a very powerful lineage of incense making. That their most inexpensive incenses would have qualities that make them competitive with scents 10 times their cost is a real tribute to the skill involve here. It might not be long until all three of these take their place in our hall of fame; certainly one’s exploration is incomplete without checking out the classic Reiryo-Koh.

Japanese Granulated: Kunmeido / Tenkun, Kokuichi; Daihatsu / Shoin; Shoyeido / Reihai-Koh, Hoetsu

This is a very different style of scent properties then the loose incense’s that I have tried before. This style is some of the oldest and most traditional from the Japanese ( or anyone else for that matter). They basically tend to stay with a certain set of traditional ingredients, up until a point, it seems to me, where something like perfumes or essential oil comes into play. I could be completely wrong here( which happens a lot in my life 🙂 ) about this, it is after all, just my nose.

The overall hit I get from these is that there are many different levels at work in each one of them that, like any incense, will require time to figure out. I have keep the price point at the low end ( except for the Hoetsu) so that one does not have to break the bank to try these out.

You can use coals or a heater, I used both my trusty Shoyeido “wood body” as well as the new one from Mermade Magickal Arts( it rocks by the way) I find the ability to regulate the heat to be very handy.

Enjoy!

Kunmeido: Tenkun
A light, pleasant, semi sweet floral scent, with a little bit of sharpness along the way, You might think of this as being what seems to be catorgized as a “classic Japanese floral” scent as opposed to the more perfumed, modern styles. Based on sandalwood and also, without any noticeable additions of Borneol Camphor. The floral scent seems to get used up pretty fast at higher temperatures.
It reminds me of something along the lines of, say, Kunmeido’s Heian Koh. Not as defined or elegant, but similar.

Kunmeido: Kokuichi
Similar venue to Tenkun but with more pronounced flavors or scents. There is also what seems to be a very small addition of Camphor notes coming up in this one. It has an overall sharper scent to it then Tenkue but then again, Camphor tends to boost everything up a notch( which is one of the reasons that it gets added to so many different incenses). Given the slight price increase I would think the quality of the ingredients is somewhat higher. Again, a nice, pleasant experience, something you could use to scent an area without smoke.

Daihatsu: Shoin
Sandalwood, Borneol Camphor, possibly clove and cassia and some other floral type scents, at least one seeming to be a perfume( could be wrong about this part). Usually I do not deal well with perfumes in incense, but whatever is in here works for me. There are many, many levels going on here, especially when you get your nose pretty close the “action”. A lot of bang for the buck, as the saying goes. Have become very partial to this one and its also does not hurt that it is pretty inexpensive. I can tell that I will end up getting the others in the line just to see how they progress up the line. I have high hopes 🙂 .

Shoyeido: Reihai-koh Prayer (4th down)
This is very different then the last three. Right off the bat, it is very heavy on the Borneol Camphor. So much so that it tends to dominate the woods and other spices. I could literally feel my sinuses clear up. Not to mention my focus seemed to become sharper, something I have not noticed this way before. Quite interesting and given the “Prayer” in the name sort of makes sense. A little goes a long way. I could see using this to rapidly effect a change in the energy levels of an environment, or to use it in a room first, before lighting other incense, just to clear the air. There is a great spice note behind the camphor, but it takes awhile to get there.

Shoyeido: Hoetsu (9th down)
Shoyeido lists this as having Agarwood, Other sites say Kyara. I have noticed that Shoyeido is a bit “coy” about ingredients. When I first got this, some 2-3 months ago it seemed so strong in floral/spice that for the life of me I could detect nothing except that. Right now there are a lot more levels becoming apparent. There really do seem to be some very good grades of woods in here as well as cloves and other spices. Some camphor and possibly a very (now)small touch of perfume or spice that really makes it special. Once the floral and spice top notes take flight you are left with the very nice wood notes, there is a very apparent scent progression going on here.
Hoetsu means Rapture, which might be pushing it somewhat. However I am having a revelation about this incense at the moment, which is a pretty good trade.
This particular incense is the most costly of the five reviewed here. I think I would have to tell you to start at the less expensive end and work your way up to see if you like this style.

-Ross

SAMPLER NOTES: Kunmeido / Tsukinowa / Blue Rose, Green Lily, Yellow Jasmine, Red Violet

If you scroll down just over half way here, you’ll see the four packages of Kunmeido Tsukinowa coils that come in four varieties, eight coils for $21.00. It should be said up front that like many traditionally minded incense appreciators, I don’t tend to go for floral aromas as much as woods or spices, so the four coils here aren’t really aimed at my tastes, except that I’m very fond of coils.

In terms of quality, I’d say these are definitely better than most under $10 floral incenses, but not quite up to, say, the Shoyeido Floral World Star line. Floral World Royal’s closer, but I’d say these are just under those in terms of quality. In the Shoyeido Floral World line, the better quality of aromatic oils seem to distinguish price and at the Star level you’re probably getting something very close to essential oil in the aroma, there’s actual specific definition of the aromas involved. When you move down to Royal the definition loses its specficity some while still being of very high quality. I imagine the Tsukinowas as another step down, where the aromatics aren’t quite up to Royal but have about the same amount of definition.

It’s fairly difficult to really describe these four coils outside of their base aromas, like many florals, it’s a matter of the top oils that set the tone for the scent. The Yellow Jasmine for example will be of little surprised to those familiar with Japanese Jasmine incenses. There’s definitely sandalwood in the base, but the overall aroma is driven by the powerful Jasmine oil. Like all the Tsukinowa coils, these almost have Indian incense-like strength and will have a room smelling like Jasmine in a matter of seconds. Perhaps, a little too strong at times, at least these are high quality enough not to have any noticeable off notes.

The Green Lily is also pretty definitive and while I prefer something like Encense du Monde’s Blissful Mountain, which combines a traditional Japanese sandalwood with Lily of the Valley essential oil, this comes pretty close in a more modern, perfumed sort of way. I’m not a huge fan of Lily to be honest, there’s a bit of bitterness or sharpness in the smell that I may just not be built to appreciate, but there are some sweeter notes in the base of this coil that help to make it somewhat user friendly.

The Blue Rose isn’t generally the most friendly of Roses, after all blue colored roses don’t appear in nature and as such a symbol around it has grown to mean an impossibility (think of the Red Rose symbol and the heart). I thought it was actually impossible I’d find a rose I’d like until I bought the Shoyeido Floral World Royal pack, but even then there’s an aspect of very red rose incense that’s a bit bitter or sharp for me, so I found this Blue Rose to be a bit mellower and more to my liking. It may not make a rose convert out of me, but I found the harsher notes to be muted here, so that you get the rose aroma but not in an overwhelming base. I found it to be the best of the four coils here, not something I would have bet on before sampling.

In fact I thought Red Violet would have been my #1 before checking the Tsukinowas out, but I’ve probably been ruined on the Shoyeido Floral World Star Violet, which is still my favorite floral. Very little compares favorably to it, but at least with the Tsukinowa you get a fairly definitive violet aroma. Here the aroma seems to be quite a bit different, at times reminiscent of violets, at others more like a general floral incense. I thought there was maybe a bit of tartness to this scent that didn’t make it work as well as I would have liked, but without a full box I’m not sure if that was an anomaly for this coil. Overall it may have been the most strongly perfumed of the four and as such approaching, if not getting to an off note.

Overall these four are a little above standard florals and those already prone to floral incenses are likely to enjoy at least one or two of these quite a bit. For me, so many florals have harsh or off notes, so it’s easy to celebrate incenses that don’t have those notes. And between $3 and $4 a coil isn’t too bad for this sort of quality. (Thanks to Ross for the samples) – Mike

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