Seikado / Meiko Gohitsu, Jinkoh Gohitsu

Ross did a short review of Seikado’s Jinkoh Gohitsu in 2010, and my memory around the time is it was the only “Five Brushstrokes” aloeswood on the market and so I remember stumbling across the Meiko Gohitsu on the Japan Incense website and getting somewhat confused in that I think I asked for a sample but managed to request the one I already knew instead of the one I didn’t and eventually just ordered boxes of both of them. I would say that if I didn’t find the Hitori Shizuka incenses a particularly successful take on more modern leaning aloeswood incenses, I would say that it may be closer to the opposite with these two.

The Meiko Gohitsu is a green colored stick with a really interesting and somewhat fresh blend of aloeswood and spices, and likely a bit of sandalwood too. It’s a really lovely and elegant scent with some herbal content that tends to move this away from most scents you’d be familiar with. The description says that there are a blend of aloeswoods, but what you get is something more of a midline scent overall, a bit woody and maybe a hint of resin, although the latter seems to be a bit subsumed in whatever herbs and spices it is mixed with. I am also not sure if the point of the Five Brushtrokes line is to give the scent something of an India Ink profile but there’s some element of this scent that is also reminiscent of the incense or two I have tried with that in mind. It all adds up to something fresh and different and does have enough of a legit aloeswood scent to be kind of impressive at such a decent price. I am a big fan of incenses that take lateral steps as they are refreshing to the palate so this one is definitely recommended.

Jinkoh Gohitsu appears to be a slight step up and has a much brasher aloeswood presence than the Meiko. The sort of green herbal nature of the Meiko is gone, although there’s no move at all on the sort of aromatic ink-like quality it had. So it’s unquestionably a much woodier incense but still has the modern profile and cool artistic approach. I would guess this too has a touch of sandalwood to help contour the woodiness of it and it has a really vibrant freshness. While I’m not sure the aloeswood mix in this supersedes the Meiko in any appreciable way quality wise, I think it’s definitely a woodier incense. Which means these are really two different incenses rather than being grades. Honestly I’m not even sure which one I’d recommend first simply because the herbs and spices in the Meiko are so unique that it feels a bit more original than the Jinkoh, while the Jinkoh is still likely to appeal to those who like their scents woodier. For the price range I think both of these are winners.


Seikado / Jinkoh Daikohboku

Seikado’s Jinkoh Daikohboku is something of a cousin to the Hitori-Shizuka incenses I covered some weeks ago. It is one of those sort of cherry-sweet aloeswoods that’s sort of akin to the long deleted Kyukyodo Shiun, Tennendo Renzan or Nippon Kodo Zuiun. These are not aloeswoods meant to profile the more bitter, woody or resinous elements of the wood, but to use that wood as a bit of a contrast to the more polished, sweet elements of the overall blend. This is a very nice example of it, for me a lot more successful in style to the Hitori-Shizukas while being one hell of a lot cheaper. In fact there is a small box at $8 for 60 sticks that is an extremely good buy for the money. I would imagine this is meant as something of an every day kind of jinkoh stick that is sweet and friendly, so it doesn’t have the usual aloeswood learning curve. For me this is the kind of style I may not primarily go for but occasionally like to mix in for contrast. If you’re familiar with one of the other incenses I named in the style then this is probably somewhat redundant, but given Shiun has been discontinued this could be the finest example of it available now.

Seikado / Kyara Koh Hien

ORS has admittedly taken something of a scattershot approach to reviewing Seikado’s incense line. When I began restocking my Japanese incense collection late last year I sent for a Seikado sampler in order to do a sort of combined new incense and revisit check on the line. I may actually have to do this again at some point because outside of Zuiun Aloeswood, my memory is already a bit sketchy on some of the other scents. I found I didn’t like everything and amazingly even the two kyaras kind of left me somewhat nonplussed. Ross reviewed the Gokujo Kyara some time ago and was extremely flattering over it, so it’s perhaps not super safe to take my word on it after revisiting just a stick of it. But the implications here and what my memory tells me is that the two Sekiado kyaras we’ve seen to date are sort of more in the oil kyara vein, so more similar to the discontinued Shoyeidos or the Seijudo line. And I remember from top 10 lists that Seijudos were more a regular occurence in Ross’ list than my own. So I’m sure if you know where you stand on this issue, you’ll know if you’re inclined to those or not. I’ll end up having to take another shot.

But Seikado’s Kyara Koh Hien is a completely different sort of thing, this is a much more woody kyara and a scent that I warmed to immediately. I think you can put this right next to, say, the two cheapest incenses in the Yamadamatsu Hojo or Shunkohdo kyara line. It fits right in the mid 100s price range while managing to portray an authentic and noticeable kyara note as part of a blend. While Kyara Koh Hien doesn’t have quite the lacquer/turpentine-like power of a Hojo, it does have a lower volume of it in the mix, which helps to get a solid caramel note. The sweetness of the kyara has likely been amped up a bit with musk, but I’ve always found that to be a legit move on the creator’s part, you make a little go a long way. And whatever sweetness is found in that middle note is grounded in the wood’s overall platform. It is most importantly a very accessible kyara, honey sweet and woody both at once.

Overall it’s a tremendously gorgeous incense and I’m a big fan of companies who manage to deliver a legit kyara blend at this point. A new “Mike’s Pick.”

Seikado / Hitori Sizuka / Aloeswood, Kyara

It’s strange looking at the Japan Incense links for these two incenses because they show “less smoke” and I’m absolutely positive had I registered they were “less smoke” I would have just skipped over them. And while I guess it could be argued that both of these do have less smoke than the usual Japanese stick, it doesn’t really seem like a huge difference. Seikado have their own range of traditional incenses, but I don’t think these two really fit into that tradition and while they certainly look like they’re traditional, I think these are perhaps aimed at a more modern market.

The Aloeswood seems to be kind of similar to the old discontinued Kyukyodo Shiun or perhaps Tennendo Renzan. I describe these sorts of sweet aloeswoods as being somewhat cherry-like in their profile. That means that they’re really not going for the more deep, woody scent. This is almost a glossy scent in a way, regal and distinguished, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if much of the aloeswood scent is created through perfume oils rather than the woods themselves. If you’re quiet you can sense some of woodiness in the background, but it’s definitely faint. It might actually be better to just forget all about that it’s supposed to be an aloeswood and just take it as an incense on its own. In that sense there is an overall sense of wood in a more generic fashion, some powdery qualities that often come from a perfume base maybe a really slight touch of vinegar in the background. Unfortunately while this certainly isn’t unpleasant it just feels maybe a bit shallow. But on the other hand you’re unlikely to find a problem if you have company who might not be ready for a more challenging aloeswood scent. Perhaps its audience is one I’m not fully aware of at this point.

The Kyara, naturally, is more expensive but surely at $40 for 70 sticks, there’s no real kyara in it (or certainly only homeopathic levels). So you have to consider it an affectation rather than a description. Every time I see something like this it reminds me of that huge box of under $20 incense Nippon Kodo plopped a kyara description on. Yeah and this pebble in my hand is a diamond, sure. But hey there’s no fooling on the price. So what are you getting for $40? Well it’s a step up from the Aloeswood. It still has a lot of the same notes that incense has, but the oils they’re using are bit more noticeably woody. And yeah there’s a sweet edge in front that you’d expect from a kyara except that it obviously isn’t. One thing I notice about both of these incenses is that the woody smell and the perfume aren’t always unified like one breath I’ll get a whiff of one and in the next a whiff of the other. Which isn’t uncommon when it comes to modern incenses that feel like they’re trying to buff out some of the wildness of a traditional. Personally I like my aloeswoods to be a bit less polished and glossy than this one. I may have said it before but in case I didn’t, aloeswood just doesn’t really seem like the kind of scent you want to go modern with, it feels like those who like perfumed incenses aren’t likely to go for them and those who go traditional are going to miss the wood elements. So for me, interesting experiments, not particularly successful, certainly not unpleasant but if you’re going the wood route there’s different options at these price points that are likely to be more pleasing.

Seikado / Zuiun Aloeswood

So here’s another fairly recent acquisition and new love that I added to Mike’s Picks. I have gone on record as really loving green-style incenses. They’re a little hard to define, but something like Kunmeido’s Asuka and Heian Koh or Shunkohdo’s Yoshino No Haru are good examples. Sometimes it’s an evergreen scent, sometimes a kind of spice, but it’s the kind of incense a bit more redolent of pine needles and the power of pungent plant oils. Seikado’s Zuiun Aloeswood is kind of roughly in that space but it has an intriguing mint/menthol note that makes it a bit drier than these others and really fresh and sparkling. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a woody, in front aloeswood, this is a stylistic choice that has a bit of wood as background. And it still has its similarities to the above-mentioned green sticks. The $45 price, as a result, I think mostly reflects that it contains about 70 6 1/2 inch sticks and so it’s a bit more of an outlay issue than a pricy aloeswood. But again when you’re looking for something that hits a more specific spot, something that any other incense can’t quite scratch, this is a really good example of it. I actually dug this out of a Seikado Premium Assortment and found it kind of the odd one out in the batch. Maybe the picture can show just how deep I’ve hit this box (don’t worry, I’ve got a back up).

Seikado / Gokujo Kyara, Minorien / Kyara Chokoh No. 5 (Five Notes)

Seikado Gokujo Kyara: There is a style of incense that, in the US, Shoyeido Sho-kaku has come to be the example that we all refer to. Probably because it got here first and is also one of the greats. There are, in reality, a number of other Japanese incense makers who produce similar scents that Japan Incense has brought into the US by this point and Seikado’s Gokujo Kyara is certainly one of the best. It has all the wonderful musky notes dancing around the central deep wood/kyara somewhat vanilla scents that I have seen literally stop people in their tracks when first smelling it. There are none of the charcoal notes that some of these mixes have, which I find a little hard to deal with. I think this is a wonderful incense and worthy of anyone’s collection, plus it comes at a great price for what you are getting.

Minorien Kyara Chokoh No. 5 (Five Notes): Kyarazen sent me a stick of this to try some months ago; it was love at first scent! There are the “wet” notes Minorien is known for but they are much more restrained then in the Kyara Ryugen, there is also a much stronger or noticeable overall wood presence then the Ryugen. But what really sets it apart, at least for me, is a sort of honeyed scent that flows in and out of the overall mix. This is not dominating but rather adds to the refined nature of this incense. I think this is one of the best sticks on the market at any price point. Long Stick. Wee Box.

I am working on a Top 10-20 for sometime in December, stay tuned!

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 🙂

Seikado / Meikoh Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood Blend, Daikouboku + Keigado / Jiyou Koh

Seikado’s Meikoh Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood: A nice, inexpensive Aloeswood blend from Seikado. It holds to a “middle of the road”  Aloeswood scent with a slight top note that is somewhat spicy. Which is not too say cinnamon like or anything along those lines. It’s actually quite different from other Aloeswood blends and is pleasant, easy to use as a background scent and a pretty good deal as an everyday incense. Fifty sticks in the box at around $14.00.

Seikado’s Daikouboku Sandalwood: This is a very nice straight up Sandalwood from the makers of Solitude line of wood blends. Seikado seems to big on the use of oils married up to Sandalwoods or Aloeswood to produce some pretty potent blends, almost ranging into what reminds me of Indian styles. In this stick they have not gone that route, opting instead to produce a very nice deep Sandalwood scent with a bare hint of spice/herb notes. I find it to be very easy to use and at the same time different then say the Baieido or Kyukyodo sandalwoods. This is another excellent everyday scent that will be merciful to your wallet.

Keigado’s Jiyou Koh: This is low smoke type incense, and it really is closer “no smoke”. Normally I do not like this style but this one I am finding pretty fun. When I first smelled it at Kohshi /Japan Incense it reminded me of something, about a week later I realized there were similarities with Shoyeido’s  Myo-ho in the top and mid notes. After looking at the ingredients list (Fennel, Cinnamon, Clove, Polygala tenuifolia (Polygalaceae), Angelica acutiloba) I realized that the first three are something I always associate with the scent of Myo-ho(along with Star Anise). All this being said I find this stick to be a pleasant backround scent, not very strong or prominent( like most low smoke stick) but it does add an interesting note to a room. Because it is a low smoke stick it will also tend to eliminate other scents, something to keep in mind if you want to clear the air.

Awaji Koh-shi / Seasonal Yuzu, Water Lily, India Ink, Japanese Musk, Coffee, Green Tea

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.

Seasonal Yuzu (Awaji Baikundo): 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.

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. [Please note that the link now goes to a 70 stick for $7 bundle, rather than the old 370 stick version, I think this makes this incense more attractive given you’re not getting too many sticks. – Mike 7/6/21]

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 Bokusho 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 (180+) 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.

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