Seikado Gokujo Kyara and Minorien Kyara Chogo No. 5 ( Five Notes)

Seikado Gokujo Kyara: There is a style of incense that, in the US, 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 Kohshi 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 Chogo 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.

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

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Seikado’s Gohitsu, Daikouboku & Keigado’s Jiyou Koh

Seikado’s 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: Fresh Citron, Water Lily, India Ink, Japanese Musk, Coffee, Green Tea (from Ross)

Scents of Japan has some pretty deep ties to the Awaji  Island incense makers and has had these scents custom made for them for their Awaji Koh-shi line. There was a lot of R&D involved as they wanted incense’s that could hold their own in the market as well as be unique. This is Part 1 with Part 2 to follow shortly.

Fresh Citron (Seasonal Yuzu)(Awaji Baikundo): I am not sure what Citron really smells like, but assume it is “citrusy” in nature. This particular incense is not like anything else I have sampled. There is a great citrus note combined with an almost pink pepper top note and way under it all a slight wood scent. This is really surprising and delightful in its delivery, excellent for an overall refreshing room scent. Very uplifting, light, and the pink pepper  really brings it up into another level.

Water Lily (Less Smoke)(Keigado): This is a very subtle and almost etheric scent. I think the name aims more at a concept rather then a true scent as I am not too sure that water lilies have a scent( well maybe blue lotus). All that being said this is a very pleasant light floral note that is very much a back round rather then in your face incense. Not particularly sweet, and it does invoke the feel of the name. A lot of people who would like to try incense but do not want something too strong will find this just right.

India Ink (Less Smoke)(Seikado): India Ink is famous for( well one of the things) its scent, which is a mix of many materials as well as Patchouli oil and camphor. This incense is a wonderful combination of materials that has a very soothing and grounding quality to it, much more going on here the just the Patchouli oil and camphor. A great back round scent that to me invokes far away places and times. Somewhat stronger then many less smoke type sticks. It is defiantly a distinctive scent and something that could fit in many different enviroments.

Japanese Musk(Daihatsu): Whoever figured this scent out is really good. The musk is right up front with a light floral/spice and cream back round. Its surprisingly strong but not over powering and every time I burn some I think of the colors magenta and violet, which sort of describe the scent characteristics to me. Very elegant and almost hypnotic at the same time, a solid winner. I think it will appeal to a wide variety of people.

Coffee (Less Smoke)(Kunjudo): This smells like a very good cup of French Roast with a bit of heavy cream, no sugar, to round it out. An very pleasant and friendly sort of aroma that is actually stronger burning then unlit. It is supposed to act as an air purifier and freshener. I was not at all sure what a coffee scented incense was going to do for me but ended up being quite pleased. I can see this could be very useful in commercial areas or at home as a back round scent.

Green Tea (Less Smoke)(Kikujudo): A nice medium tea scent. Not really sweet and with that subtle bitter edge that tea can have that, to me, gives it character. There is a green note that flows through the whole mix and kind of holds it all together. There are no forceful notes in this stick, rather it is a grouping of three or four delicate scents that work very well together to add a distinctive “Japanese Tea” scent to a room, in other words, it smells like its name.

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.

Seikado / Hitori-Shizuka / Sandalwood, Musky Bouquet, Floral Elegant (Ross and Mike)

Seikado are responsible for three exports, hefty (100+ stick) boxes of incenses that are decidedly in the modern camp and cover three very distinct aromas that are likely to cover many incense interests. From the looks of the boxes, I’d guess they were marketed even outside the usual koh circles, with smart, attractive and even department store-friendly presentations, all similar except for names and box colors. To start this off, it’s over to Ross for his report on the best of the three…

The Hitori-Shizuka Sandalwood is a very elegant and calming sandalwood, not in the more formal woody style of, say, Baieido but rather geared towards the spices and subtle use of oils. I get the feeling that besides the sandalwood there is a cedar element mixed in with a touch of, perhaps, ginger and a really elegant, very light blend of oils. This is a really calming blend, playful, fresh and approaching a real work of incense art. It is something that along the way seems to captivate your attention and all of a sudden you find yourself using it a lot. I personally like to burn a stick as I go to sleep. This is the epitome of pleasant. A great buy and it would also make an excellent gift.

The Musky Bouquet is reminiscent of one or two of the Daihatsu sandalwood blends that use perfume oils to create the scent. There’s definitely a sandalwood base at work here, although it doesn’t come off as traditional smelling as the Sandalwood blend does itself. Instead there’s sort of a mix of spice and musk elements, the latter of which gives it something of a dank, dusky scent to it rather than a musk closer to traditional or Egyptian/Nepali styles. In fact I’d probably grow to think of this as more a spice incense. There is something of a faint synthetic element at work in this, but like with the aforementioned Daihatsu blends it’s nowhere near being unpleasant. But overall, of the three here, this blend has the least distinction.

The Floral Elegant is quite a bit more successful with its pitch, with a fruity and floral perfume mix that is actually pitched quite well, smelling closer to pleasant perfumes with very little to no elements of soapiness or bitter tinges that often invade low end florals. Quite to the contrary it has some subtlety in the background, a slightly wet scent that provides a bit of lilt in the middle. The overall scent seems to cross scents like berry and grape with lily, rose and other mild floral scents that also give the overall aroma a fresh feel. Even as someone not generally drawn to florals, I thought this one was quite well done.

It’s unlikely one will get a feel for Seikado based on one or all three incenses here, after all they’re quite different. I’d base your purchasing decisions entirely on how much you like sandalwood, spice or floral incenses and buy accordingly.