Seijudo / Kotonoha Indian Sandalwood Blends, Kotonoha Vietnam Aloeswood Blends

Seijudo are mostly known in the US for their very expensive aloeswood to kyara line that seems largely made from charcoal and expensive oils/perfumes rather than woods (much older reviews of these are in the Reviews Index link on the left and the few I’ve tried in last year or so were still about the same as I remembered them). The high ends of these incenses were probably comparable with Shoyeido’s now deleted kyara trio, so given that we are losing a lot of these high enders to aloeswood depletion it’s a bit surprising you can still purchase these. So if you were thinking about trying something deluxe now’s the time to do it (for example we just lost the top three Kourindo incenses to shortages). I can’t imagine most of these are going to last forever. However, these two larger box Kotonoha incenses (120 sticks) present both sandalwood and aloeswood incenses in a much more traditional form and accessible price (the remainder of the catalog available in the US seems to be low smoke incenses).

So where does the Kotonoha Indian Sandalwood Blends fall on the Japanese sandalwood spectrum? I would say at least mid-end. It may not quite capture the sort of crystalline resinous top of the best old mountain woods but it’s rather superb through the rest of the burn and very much avoids the pitfalls of the low end stuff that is usually full of filler wood and often other oil elements. It’s a very friendly sandalwood that really avoids any off notes, and it has a bit of coolness and freshness. To roughly compare, if I was to go up to what might be my current favorite Japanese sandalwood, the Kikijudo Koubouku Ginmi Sandalwood Mysore India, you would be basically paying up to four times more per stick to get that extra note. So I think, assuming you’re willing to pay a bit for bulk, this may be one of the better sandalwood buys out there and I would think at this price there’s a bit of creative magic to make this one work as well as it does.

The Kotonoha Vietnam Aloeswood Blends is a little harder to pitch because when we look at 2022 vs 2012 what we might tag as low, mid and high end aloeswood has changed drastically. This means the high end stuff is getting incredibly rare to where the mid end may be the high now in many cases. The prices haven’t changed much at all but it is worth keeping this in mind when you shop. So the Kotonoha Aloeswood at just $10 more for the same amount of sticks in the sandalwood box may not be the sort of deluxe aloeswood that you meditate on for deeper more profound notes, but it is a very nice and accessible aroma that sort of hints at the type of stick that has a bit of cherry on the top, except this is equally as herbal and is still resinous enough to be interesting. The comparison of this to the Koubouku Ginmi aloeswoods is not unwarranted either, and while those three are deeper sticks overall and priced accordingly, they still hint at the kind of stick you are getting in this box. Ultimately these are still aloeswood sticks and there is no attempt to make them something more than that.

I am not sure if the creators at Seijudo, like Kikijudo, are essentially trying new works with the sandalwood and aloeswood quality that remains accessible, but if they are I think they’re still doing some fine work as both of these are very pleasant wood incenses. I’ve had them out numerous times since I bought them last year and while they are not intended to be high end pleasures, they are still quite a fine quality for the price, so if you want something you can pull out more frequently and still get a decent incense, I would recommend both of these.


Nine Japanese Incenses I Burn PLUS a Wonderful Cheat

Seijudo Lotus Flower Kyara (Kyara Horen) – Light and sweet (quiet vanilla) and somewhat lacking in depth, but elegant and almost floral in its delicate fineness. It has a gentle and gauzy feeling that make me think of tender moments.

Seijudo Yeonsu Kyara (Kyara Enju) – Stronger, deeper and fuller than Lotus Flower, containing sweet notes of kyara and powdery, cushion-y musk.  It is heartier than Lotus Flower though they both feature Kyara from Vietnam.

Shoyeido Beckoning Spring (Shun-yo)- a very feminine, floral stick in that makes me think more of perfume than of incense. The name of the incense is very apt- it resembles a flower garden waking in the morning dew.  The scent is quite strong, without being suffocating, and feels very joyous and generous in spirit. I don’t think it will appeal to lovers of wood-scented incense, but it is one of few floral incenses I like despite its linearity and one dimensionality. It supposedly contains agarwood,, cloves, camphor and patchouli but I can’t smell the cloves and I would guess it contains other synthetics and/or perfume oils in addition to white musk. This incense really makes me sing 🙂

Shoyeido Hoetsu Rapture- a chip mixture with very strong notes of camphor, star anise and sandalwood (also aloeswood , cloves and probably other stuff, too). The sandalwood overshadows the aloeswood, but the blend is a pleasant combination of woody and floral notes. I enjoy burning it on Shoyeido’s portable burner. The gossamer floral notes that I think are a combination of camphor and clove make their appearance early in the burn; the woods predominate after a few minutes have elapsed.  I’ve tried a couple of Yamada Matsu chip mixes with similar ingredients that I prefer. I can’t figure out why the YM mixes seem more potent and more interesting since the ingredients, as listed,  are pretty much the same.

Kyukyudo Murasakino- I wish I knew how to upload a photo. The packaging is stunning-bluish/purplish and gold brocade, a wide, eggplant-colored cord and gold-flecked parchment label with black characters – the epitome of opulent presentation.  The sticks themselves are a bright yellow-green in color- a marriage of emerald and chartreuse. The incense is a less sweet than the above sticks. Although I can smell agarwood, borneol and herbs the individual ingredients don’t stand out as distinct entities but fuse together to form a complex amalgam with its own particular character. The scent is dynamic and energizing, and seems less “processed” and more natural than the others sticks I’ve mentioned so far. The stick is a little edgy without being harsh. It makes me think of a brisk woodland stroll through in autumn where campfires were recently burning and furry animals glide through the night. (There is a hint of musk but it is somewhat subdued).  Despite the fact that the separate notes blend together so effortlessly, the scent of the stick varies throughout its length. I like that- it keeps me guessing 🙂

Seikado Kyara- I think this one is worth mentioning because it showcases the bitter side of Kyara.  I like the dryness of the stick, though sometimes it smells a little earthy and muggy.

Baiedo’s 350th anniversary stick- I only smelled this once but it made a big impression on me because of its successful combination of seemingly contradictory elements. The stick smelled densely sweet with notes of cinnamon, cloves and the sweetness of  creamy woods, yet also crystalline, confident and sinewy. The juxtaposition of dignified strength, pastoral earthiness, suede-like skin scents and floral sweetness was as surprising as it was alluring.

Gyokushodo Nami No Sho-  I was sure this contained ambergris! There’s a mineral fizziness- almost like white pepper- that fooled me 🙂  That’s OK- I like the way it plays the trick 🙂  I’m a huge fan of ambergris because I love the salty marine notes and the many images they conjure up. If anyone knows of sticks that do contain ambergris, I’d be grateful for the information.

Kyukyodo Koroboh kneaded incense- Heavy on the borneol and plenty of plum-y, jam-y fruits.  I really love the way the almost eye-smarting camphoraceous notes collide with the juicy stickiness of dried fruits. The combination of heat and ice makes me absolutely giddy. That such seemingly opposite scents can get along so well gives me hope for mankind 🙂

The downside- not much carrying power

Cheat- Agarwood mix by Olfactory Rescue Service’s Ross Urrere- I’m saying this is cheating because Ross isn’t Japanese but I think it’s OK for me to list his incense here because I think the ingredients are ambergris, agarwood and musk- real musk. One of the major reasons I like this incense is because it starts off with a blast of animalic, brine-y ambergris that is unmistakable. That mineral note is so seductive- perhaps because of the images of harpoons, scrimshaw, bursting waves, one-eyed pirates, etc, that it immediately brings to mind. The agarwood is so sweet it almost smells caramelized, and the musk adds warmth and mellowness. I would call this an animalic/gourmand agarwood mix- perfect for a cozy winter evening 🙂

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. 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 🙂

Top Ten November 2011

1. Akikaze from Kyukyodo: This is part of what I think of as the “The Heavy Hitters in Wood Boxes” from Kyukyodo. You can get an idea about them at this page in our blog. With luck I will get a review of them out in a week or two. This one is a reasonable price (for what one is getting) with a really beautiful perfume note on top of the woods and a light musk back note. You can check with Kohshi/Japan Incense for availability. I think Kyukyodo does this type of style (perfumed floral’s mixed with quality wood) really well and it very hard to beat here.

2. Kyara Seiran from Seijudo: This is number two in Seijudo’s high end line up, based mostly on price point, not scent. I think it is a little less strong and more likable then the Kyara Enju while still being heavily laced with a very strong set of wood notes and spices with musk undertones. If you are in the market for a Kyara blend this is a great one. I find myself liking it more in the cooler months; it is also very relaxing and quite nice in the evening. It is right up there at the pinnacle of this style and not to be missed; it also comes in a number of different sizes and price points.

3. Byakudan Kokoh from Baieido: This is one of the very best of the “straight up” Sandalwoods, in other words, no perfumes and minimal spices or herbs. It is pretty dry in scent but very true to Sandalwood’s nature. Great for reflection or the post work chilling. Baieido really does the woods oh so well, it is hard to go wrong with them and this is a real winner in a old Japan incense style.

4. Enkuu from Tennendo: You can check in the blog for the notes on this one, it has always been a favorite here at ORS and with good reason. It is very much on the dry side of the scent spectrum, it is also has a very clean (not pine or camphor) set of notes to it combined with a very unique and clear wood base of Aloeswood.

5. Cracked Earth from Aluwwah:  Aluwwah is a Canadian Oud  oil and wood seller as well as an incense maker. He has a number of styles of real, hand made Bakhoors at his site. They use real ingredients and quality woods and oils. This one has a nice resinous note mixed with some woods and ambers. It is somewhat lighter in scent then the Bakhoors that I have tried before, which I like as it tends to allow me to check out the different aspects of the mix. There was also a mix called Deer’s Breath that was a huge floral/musk/oud master piece. It’s out of stock but I hear tell that a successor called Lamb’s Breath is in the works.

6.Deep Earth 2011 from Mermade Incense: For the incense heater or coals, but for sure made to be slowly heated up. Stunning deep resin notes wrapped around woods and herbs, I think the name pretty much says it all. Perfect for Fall into Winter.

7. Evergreen Forest Incense from Mermade Incense: This is, again, for an incense heater, you could also try Sacred Grove if you wanted something along the lines of a cone. Either produce a wonderful “in the forest” scent that freshens up the atmosphere and generates a wonderfully clean and very green scent. Very much a Winter forest scent and just a wonderful treat for the senses.

8. Jihi – Amacha kou from Awaji-Baikundo: Very strong and beautiful amber note with borneal camphor added as well as Hydrangea Tea. I think this is one of the most beautiful amber’s on the market, no matter what country you are from. It is a very clean and warm offering that really livens up a space and would also be great to scent ones clothing with. Very long lasting scent.

9. Meena Supreme from  Happy Hari: Easily one of the very best of the Indian incenses and in general this company looks to be a real winner all around. I have not gotten to try the newer releases yet but you can see Mike’s notes within the blog. This has all the deep floral’s along with the woods and spices. There is also enough separation between the notes to make it really interesting. It is pretty strong; you might not want to start here if you are going to be going through a number of different sticks at one setting.

10. Genmyo from Yamada Matsu: These are in the kneaded style or incense balls. These happen to have Kyara and Aloeswoods plus a spice and oil (I think) blended together for a more modern take on this style. There a sort of amber and caramel mix that rides across the woods. There are three different blends from YM that Kohshi has at their retail outlet in San Francisco. The Aloeswood blend has this same set of notes but the amber/caramel notes are stronger and the woods more backed off. It sort of depends on the day as to which I like more.

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

February 2011 Top Ten

This is, more or less, what I have been using this last month. It is winter so I find I turn towards some of the heavier scents. I also just got around to ordering some of the new Indian incenses that have come on the market but it was a late order so they didn’t make this list.

Onkun Koh by Kunmeido: I have had this for awhile; it got buried and then resurfaced recently. It has a deep, somewhat bitter, yet also smooth scent to it with a touch of green notes. There are lots of Chinese herbs and spices floating across a nice woody base. It’s not very expensive, lasts quite awhile and delivers a pretty well balanced ride.

Tokusen Syukohkoku by Baieido: Subtle, complex and a long learning curve make this a great incense. It also happens to use some of the best Aloeswood around. This is something that could easily be overwhelmed if not burned first. There are an infinite number of layers within  this blend, I consider it one of Baieido’s best.

Ranjatai by Shunkohdo: Deep musk mixed with a superb Aloeswood, this is one of my all time favorites, it is also(considering what you are getting) a very good deal. The bundle should last quite awhile, even with “excessive use”. It has made a lot of Top Tens for a good reason.

Sarasoju by Shunkohdo: This is a very good straight up sandalwood, with a minimum of additives. It delivers a very nice Sandalwood scent that is neither sweet,  wet or dry, just, you know, Sandalwood. Great stuff from a very traditional maker.

Kyara Seiran by Seijudo: On a Japanese site that I have seen, this is appears to have both green and purple Kyara plus musk, how can you not like it? But really it’s just stunning; it is also quit strong and potent with a huge amount of depth and complexity. It has all the interesting Kyara notes that twist and turn between bitter and sweet with the musk and spice notes somehow interwoven throughout the mix. I notice that Essence of the Ages has sampler sets from this company.

Tensei by Tennendo: This is another that I rediscovered. Tennendo makes some of the best incense around and this is one of their Aloeswoods blends. It smooth with a nice touch of herbs across a good grade of woods. It is not sweet nor is it bitter, yet at different times it just brushes those notes. Elegant.

Kyara Coils by Yamada Matsu: These are available from Kohshi and they are stunning. If you are similar with Shoyeido’s Tenpyo, they are along the same lines but this is much, much more. I am pretty sure these are using wood instead of perfumes/oils to achieve the scent, it is very deep, smooth and full of that Kyara scent that also has a touch of musk. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

EverGreen Forest & Sacred Grove by Mermade: These two are the deep evergreen, cedar and aromatic woods duo. They are the perfect scents if one has been indoors for too long. These are some of the greenest scents I know of and I use them a lot. They have both been reviewed and talked about here and are simply great. Katlyn goes to great lenths to use the best materials around and it show.

Dragons Blood by Blue Star Incense: Blue Star Incense makes some really nice blends at an incredible price, especially given that he is using natural ingredients plus real essential oils. This one uses a good helping of Dragons Blood resin to produce a very grounded and soothing scent with a nicely done woody base. It’s relaxing, smells great and does a great job of scenting a room at a insanely low price. He also puts samples in with orders. A winner.

November Top Ten

Welcome to the November Top Ten. As is usually the case for me these are not necessarily laid out in any kind of  “order of wonderfulness”! I like to use many different styles and types of incense so getting it down to ten is an interesting endeavor and something of a difficult task. I would also like to mention we try and hold these to ten selections so if you current favorite is not listed, remain calm and perhaps light another stick 🙂

Next months Top Ten will turn into our “end of the year, completely over the top, blow out list” which we hope to get up by mid December. We are holed up in the secret ORS testing lab wildly waving sticks at each other to back up our various favorites. It’s getting a little smoky in here and I hope the extra fire extinguishers show up soon.

You can find all the incenses listed below in past reviews at ORS unless I have added a link as they are too new to have a review. Enjoy  -Ross

Baieido’s: Rikkoku Aloeswood Set: Quite simply put this is a work of natural art. It comes in a wonderful presentation box that is stunning all by itself. All the woods are great and at the same time very different. The Kyara is mind bending, but then again, in their own way, so are the others. There is a lot of study potential here. Used in the recommended manner this set will last one for quite awhile. You can also sometimes find this in the “mini” size.

Baieido’s Kokonoe: This is one of my “go to” wood scents. I find it very enjoyable and the cost makes it pretty easy to use. It has a clean aloeswood scent and does a great job of showcasing the Indonesian wood. Its also a good place to start looking at specific examples of regional scents within aloeswood as any extra spices or resins in these sticks is there to highlight the wood.

Nippon Kodo’s: Gokuhin Kyara Taikan: This is the second rung up in NK’s high end Kyara ladder. It features a more distinct wood note as well as more refinement in the top notes then Tokusen Kyara Taikan. It is a very elegant incense and quite potent at the same time. There is a sort of resin/floral/powder feel in the overall scent that is a wonderful counterpart to the wood notes. It’s only draw back is that it makes you start wondering how you can afford to get the next one up, which is much more money.

Kyukyodo’s: Sho ran Koh: This one is on our Top Tens a lot and with good reason. It is a very beautiful scent, an elegant floral that is not overdone and has some quality Aloeswoods backing it all up. Not to mention the roll is very large, just opening the box is a huge treat. Koh Shi in San Francisco tries to have this in stock.

Seijudo’s: Kyara Horen: Seijudo decided to create the best Kyara blends that they could for as long as they can get the materials to do so. The top three in the line up actually use Kyara in their blends while the other 4 have very similar notes but use aloeswood. Sometimes the differences seem very subtle. This one is the third from the top. I find it the easiest to get along with, it has tons of Kyara notes mixed in with spices and maybe a hint of musk. It is refined and elegant, but still friendly. It’s also something to be burned first and savored. There is quite a lot going on here and you will get the most out of it this way.  Not inexpensive but a real treasure as well as a treat for the soul.

Mermade’s Scared Grove: Lighting this will almost instantly surround you in the scent of a very large forest. It is very clean and for this time of the year I find it a great way to sort of “open up” the room it’s burning in. High quality and natural ingredients play a big part in Mermade’s success. I notice that there is a bunch of new offerings listed on their site right now.

Daihatsu’s Kaizan: Not only does this has a very nice amber note but the story I was told is that it was formulated by Daihatsu’s Ko Shi ( Fragrance Master) to mimic the scent that geishas used in their hair. Nice scent and a great price. A strong and long lasting aroma that can easily fill a room. Just the thing for all us amber fans.

Shunkohdo’s Houshou: A quality aloeswood at a very reasonable price. It has subtle top notes of chocolate that play with the aloeswood. Quite a beautiful combination and at the price($20) is a great deal not to be missed. Great gift for the incense people in you life.

Incensio’s Palo Santo Wand: If you like Palo Santo then you will be in heaven. The incense look’s sort of like thin cigars on a stick. They are packed with a wonderful and very woody scent that is particular to Palo Santo. These are available at Mermade and a full review of the line is in the works. By the way, using just a portion of a stick will do the trick; these people did not mess around when they put the woods in! Very interesting and at a good price.

Blue Star’s: Lavender: This is from a small producer in Canada (I can hear Anne getting excited). He uses all natural ingredients and the sticks are done in a sort of Tibetan Japanese fusion style, so they are thick and go for around 30-40 minutes. This one stands out for me as it has a nice light wood base note overlaid with a very clean and clear Lavender scent. Just a tiny bit sweet and really beautiful. Lavender Essential Oil is used and then the stick is rolled in Lavender flowers. This one is a winner and a review of the lineup is coming soon. Not to be missed and you get 10 sticks for around $4.00

Seijudo / Kohshu, Shogetsu, Nichigetsu, Kyara Horen

[NOTE 9/28/21: Please note that all Seijudo incenses have 6 stick, 15 stick and larger boxes, so it’s worth checking the Seijudo link for all variations. I have linked everything to the 15 stick rolls. I would add that I recently restocked 4 or 5 out of the 7 aromas in this main line and don’t notice any big differences; however, I am not sure how old the stock is. – Mike] The first time I tried Seijudo’s Enju, one of three new Seijudo imports Ross reviewed here, I actually thought I was trying a sample form of Shoyeido’s Shokaku. Like that venerable and expensive incense, it was a black stick drenched in extremely high quality kyara oils and it was hard not be impressed. And in many ways the Shoyeido premium line is the easiest line to compare all of the Seijudo imports including the four I’m going to discuss today, because the Seijudos are very pricy incenses and they’re all aromas with very high quality aloeswood oils in front. Unlike the Shoyeido line, however, all seven of the current Seijudo imports are all black sticks and they all seem more shades of one personality than having the distinct and individual scents of the Shoyeido Premium line, where Ga Ho is as different from Nan Ku as two incenses could possibly be.

So in the first wave of Seijudo imports, courtesy of the venerable Kohshi, we witnessed what appeared to be the top three scents in the line, only for this newer quartet to slot right between the two Kyaras, Enju and Seiran, and the (surprisingly) most inexpensive scent Shiragiku. All seven scents come in two different sizes here, a very small, compact six stick “sampler” in a tiny little cardboard foldout virtually incapable of protecting the sticks from breaking without being really careful, and the more standard tube within a box that carries 24 sticks in 4 1/2 inch length.

I have to admit to having great difficulty with these incenses, because while they all use what’s obviously the most incredible aloeswood oils and seem to be as high quality as what you’d hope for given these prices, I also find them fairly difficult to tell apart from one another. I’m not sure if the heavy oil bases in the samples I worked from had faded some, or if this is just the nature of these scents, but over several sessions I noticed that even one of the small sticks could deaden my sensory perceptions quite fast to the point that subsequent evaluations of the others in line were made more difficult. I think it’s worth noting Ross’ quote in the above mentioned previous write up, “When I first smelled [Shiragiku] I assumed it was Kyara based.” I agree with this observation, and when you add in this new foursome, the whole line starts to look more like shades of a common theme than seven distinct incenses, it’s almost as if from Shiraguku to Enju, there’s just an incremental improvement in aloeswood quality along with variations in spices and other perfumes that only barely modify the central woodiness of the incenses.

Kohshu (Fleet of Scents) fills the tier just about Shiragiku and if Shiragiku played around with kyara like tendencies, Kohshu is more distinctly an aloeswood oil that one might think would fill this price range, with the bitter (pleasantly so I might add) end notes one might find in Tennendo’s Shorin, except executed as an oil scent rather than deriving its nature from the ground wood. The mix of spices in this one also tend to the greener, almost medicinal variety, which also sets itself apart from the Shiragiku. It’s such a potent, damp and intense oil scent that I found it overwhelmed by sense of smell for a while after, leading me to have to stagger subsequent evaluation sessions as it played havoc with the next scent.

Shogetsu (Pine Moon) seems almost a variation on Kohshu and as I just mentioned, it was very difficult to evaluate this scent on that incense’s heels. After time, I have to admit that I was finding it difficult to suss out Shogetsu’s personality, of all the incenses in this line it’s probably the woodiest. It’s missing the bitter afternotes of the Kohshu and doesn’t go for the damp, green spice mix, leaving the scent almost pure wood and slightly lacquerish, as if someone just added finish to a small table made of aloeswood. It’s description gives “deep and spicy scents” and I have no argument to make over the deep part, except that it might take a while to really get that part of the incense. I think that there’s perhaps so much aloeswood in this incense that it’s almost overwhelming. Of all these incenses, the jury remains out on Shogetsu.

By price, Nichigetsu (Daily Moon) is the highest of the three non kyaras in this line and seems to fill the spot most analagous to Ga Ho in the Shoyeido premium line. Like Ga Ho, this also plays with a much more drier aloeswood scent, almost anticipating the switch to the decadent sweetness of the kyaras. Like Shogetsu the strength of wood oils here is so intense that it gives the scent an almost lacquer or turpentine like finish to it, and even more so this has the scent of newly finished furniture glossed with polish. Again, it really seems like the potency of the wood oils had the tendency of blocking my impressions and I was left with the feeling that this seemd more like a slightly more deluxe version of Shogetsu. Undoubtedly without further evaluation I’d say one would probably need only one or the other at first.

If Nichitgetsu was Seijudo’s Ga Ho, than Kyara Horen (Lotus Treasure) must be its Go-Un and the analogy seems to work in that kyara seems more a part of the bouquet than the dominant force it is in Seiran or Enju. And as such it does seem to strike the middle ground between Nichigetsu and Seiran, having some of the drier qualities of the former and only a touch of the sweetness of the latter. However, where I felt a bit overwhelmed by the extreme woodiness inherent to Shogetsu and Nichigetsu, the balance here allowed the finer qualities to come through a bit more and there’s a definite floral oil in the mix that helps to give the scent a little more personality. I suspect this is part of where lotus comes into it, but I would think the delicacies of the lotus scent, which is often approximated, are somewhat cancelled out by the heavy wood oil.

Overall this is a very tough line to evaluate. There’s no question that some very fine wood oils are being used here across the spectrum and not only that but they’re based in the most fragile of stick sizes as if the creators were fully aware of the potency of aromatics going into the making of these. The fortunate side of all this, of course, is the small mini samplers, which should allow those who reach the price range to sample most or all of the range. In many ways I think these perhaps are the type of incenses that might be evaluated best on their own, that is, to pick one scent and keep with it. Indeed my favorite in the line might actually be the most inexpensive, Shiragiku, which also happens to be the one I’ve lived with the most. So this is probably yet again an example of a series of incenses that I might be even more favorable with a year or two for now. They’re all certainly good enough that I’ll probably eventually try the full tubes, but on the other hand if you’re looking at your pocketbook and wanting to know what to try at these prices, I might very well suggest something else … first.

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 »

Seijudo / Enju, Seiran, Shiragiku

[NOTE 9/28/21: Please note that all Seijudo incenses have 6 stick, 15 stick and larger boxes, so it’s worth checking the Seijudo link for all variations. I have linked everything to the 15 stick rolls. I would add that I recently restocked 4 or 5 out of the 7 aromas in this main line and don’t notice any big differences; however, I am not sure how old the stock is. – Mike] Seijudo has been involved with incense since the mid 1800s. Much of it, apparently, as suppliers of raw materials. Judging from the quality of these three incenses they must have saved up some pretty deep stock piles of materials to use in making their own sticks.

Quite simply put these are amazing, two of them, the Kyara Enju and the Kyara Seiran are heavily kyara based with that oh so wonderful smell in great abundance. The third, Shiragiku, I would have bet was also kyara, but Kotaro at Kohshi has said this is not the case. It is however a great aloeswood. I have seen incense shops write ups from Japan that wildly praise this line, with good reason. As one of my motorcycle friends says ”Man, these just RIP!”

Kyara Enju (Long Life) This has the classic Kyara scent in huge quantity as well as quality. Rich, deep and multi-leveled, not something for the casual moment, rather something to focus on and just let it take you away( why yes, there are aspects of the way of incense that are quite similar to the way of the stoner 😮  ) Really this is superb. It is pretty much what most of use have been taught to be the “real” or “best” Kyara scent. A little goes a long way, very potent. Not to be missed.

There are a lot of comparisons that can be made with Shoyeido’s Sho-kaku (Translucent Path). To my nose they seem very much alike. But since I do not have a stick of Sho-kaku handy I will have to rely on memory. In Japan this seems to win out, but I do not think my nose is so well trained or sensitive to be able to tell which might be “better”, which is most likely a personal preferences call.

Kyara Seiran (Heavenly Orchard) Perhaps a bit lighter in scent (but not much) with tons of that kyara/musk perfume mixed together with a huge wood presence. Somewhat easier to deal with in that it is not quite as dominating as the Enju. Still captivating though, something to be savored for a special moment. There is mention of different kinds of kyara in this mix, purples and yellows besides the green. Having never knowingly smelled any of them (in other words, that were labled as such) I can not say for sure. But whatever, it is a really beautiful mix and borders on being psychoactive.

Shiragiku (White Chrysanthemum) This is, in some ways, the most interesting to me. When I first smelled this I assumed it was kyara based. Kotaro at Kohshi says its aloeswood (and since he is and can read Japanese I am going with his call). That being said, there is a very distinct resemblance to the two kyaras mentioned above, for a lot less money. It is a little less smooth, not as strong yet still really good and very lovely. A great buy and a really classic scent. I highly recommend this one, especially as a place to start your journey into high end Japanese incenses.

I read a review from a store in Japan that said basically this company had decided to make these with the best materials they could get for as long as the supply held out. These are all really wonderful and priced so one can actually afford them, especially the Shiragiku (White Chrysanthemum). Thank you Kohshi for bringing these into the US!