Shoyeido – Nijo, Shirakawa, Genroku, Muromachi, Tenpyo

Nijo on first impressions is a heavily perfumed sandalwood stick, on first light I get a strong floral top note of jasmine and wisteria, with a mid note of fruit (maybe apricot or green grapes?) and a slight hint of vanilla amber and talcum.

Shirakawa is a stick with a rich, full bodied scent of vanilla and amber, with a hint of floral and dry sandalwood in the background. There is also a tiny base note of talc hiding out in the burn.

Genroku is quite diffrent from the first two, in that it has no overt perfumes or oils that I can tell, and insteads seems to be composed of a blend of aloeswood, with a top note of cambodian or vietnamese aloeswood and a base note of sweet agarwood.

Muromachi seemed to have a sweet spiced scent to it, with a blend of agar and dry sandal at the base.

Tenpyo is straight vietnamese agarwood, with the rich resiny aroma associated with such.

Shoyeido’s Horin series Shirakawa

Shoyeido’s Horin series has been a long time favorite of many here at ORS and has some real winners in its line up. Recently Shoyeido brought out a new member of the series called Shirakawa, which apparently is named after the White River Valley in Japan.

If you like Hori-kawa’s (River Path)amber scent then this will  be right up your ally as it also has a big amber based scent, along with the addition of a vanilla and slight coconut note across the top. There is a sweet quality to the over all profile and it reminds me  a bit of a perfume called “Pink Sugar”.

Like Hori-kawa, it is very strong; even a quarter of a stick will pretty well fill up a 12 X 12 room. This incense relies heavily on oils and perfume influences and while I think there might be some sandalwood in the base it is pretty hard to tell. I did notice that this seemed to be better as a first stick of a burning session, although burning anything after this is going to require a wait. This incense would be great for scenting large areas like gallery’s or showrooms. -Ross

February Top 10

It has been a long time since I’ve done an incense top 10 here and it has been a while since I visited some of my stock, so I’ve limited the entries to seven as you can more or less count the recent Dhuni group as four slots. This is basically a lot of what I’ve been using of late….

  1. Various Incenses / Mermade Magickal Arts – Let’s just call this first entry a salute to one of the US’s top incense talents Katlyn Breene. Mermade should be well known around these parts, but this is a reminder that there is an almost incredibly high consistency level in the work from this company from the art to the incense to the presentation. It doesn’t matter if it’s evergreen treasures like Earth Church or ancient blends like Kyphi, every item is delievered with skill, integrity and a dose of light. To be honest I’m not sure this site would even be here had I not been blown away by blends like Dream Snake and Dragon Fire over 15 years ago so it’s always a great joy for me to spread the word.
  2. [deleted]
  3. Dhuni / Frangipani, Lakshmi, Sandalwood, Temple – As I’ve said before Dhuni’s biggest weakness is their lack of 100g packages. Because honestly these 12-15 stick packages I can put down in a weekend. Anyway I reviewed these recently so check there for more but this is a terrific group. I might give Frangipani the nudge of the four just because it’s so florally gorgeous.
  4. Ross Urrere / Ocean of Night Sure this is highly biased, to put one of my cohort’s incenses on this list (and I should say it here too, there wouldn’t be an ORS without Ross), but if you go check out the sales page, you’ll see I’m not alone in admiring this incredible mix of high quality woods and herbs.  In 2030 we’ll be looking back at how great Ross’s “early work” was. 🙂
  5. Kyukyodo / Unkin  Of all the Kyukyodo items I put up for sale I think this could be the biggest surprise none of these moved as this is a terrific incense and one unavailable outside the five roll box. I almost think of this as something like the Kai Un Koh of the Kyukyodo line up in that I think for the price it’s a bit better of an aloeswood than you’d normally get. For a while I was lighting up two sticks at once which really increases the woodiness. It’s smooth, undeniably Kyukyodo in that there are some oils at work. And yes I have two rolls left, but not for long!
  6. Shroff Channabasappa / Sugandha Mantri – I’ve had a difficult time thinking or even talking about the batch Sugandha Mantri came with as they’re all very good incenses, yet to some extent most of them seem to be champa based with a mysterious and exotic floral/musk blend on top. This tends to mean it’s a group of incenses you haven’t really tried before and aren’t comparable to much that’s out there in the field. There’s really only a hair of difference between this and the others.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – There’s a pungent green exotic floral note to this that has always made it a favorite in my book, it’s like the beautiful flower you’ve never smelled in person before. Most of the Shoyeido premiums are amazing but I have a soft spot for this one, it perhaps has the type of aloeswood hit I like best.

Shoyeido / Floral World / Gold (Pine, Violet, Jasmine)

Shoyeido / Floral World / Echo
Shoyeido / Floral World / Royal
Shoyeido / Floral World / Star

It has been a while since we covered a Shoyeido incense and in that time I realized we’d never discussed the most inexpensive assortment of Floral World incenses. In the meantime it seems the company has discontinued either part of the line or the entire line (I couldn’t find a link to this one in the Shoyeido catalog, but Essence of the Ages seems to have stock still). so you’re left with what is a 60 stick box, 20 short sticks per aroma.

It’s probably helpful to look at the whole series in terms of its gradient. At the top end in the Star set you have some of the finest modern florals on the market. The ingredients used are extremely high quality and it gives a definition to the florals that is a really rare thing for any incense. This extreme definition is gone with the Royal set, but generally speaking you’re still getting very high quality florals with slightly more static aromas. With Echo you’re definitely a step down and getting close to more of what you see floral wise on the Japanese market. When you get down to Gold what you’re mostly smelling is the moden process involved in the work and the way that process makes the incenses sweet and friendly, however by the Gold they’re starting to lose a lot of individual personality.

For instance, I’m not sure Pine would even be something I’d get out of the set’s red stick, although this is not a suprise given the previous sets’ sandalwoods tend to the floral and not the traditional. This is sugary, sweet, loud and brash , unsurprisingly not bearing any of the subtlety of the higher ranges, while still being a friendly incense in its own right. At this level, however, I get subscents like berry candles and the side effects of the massive perfume hit these incenses are given. The incense in itself is actually not bad, but I think I get a bit of dissonance when I try to think of it as a pine incense.

The Violet is a little thin in the middle and it’s impossible not to think of how wonderful the higher end violet is in the Floral World series. It seems that some of the incenses in the entire series might use some resins to give it some middle, but whatever it is that causes that effect is missing here. Like the Pine, there isn’t so much a specific violet aroma as there is an approximation of it. Maybe in another company such lack of distinction would lead to a poor incense, but again this is certainly nice and friendly just not very specific.

The Jasmine feels like a fainter, less quality version of the Floral World royal jasmine, again the lack of distinction is what really sets these apart from the other incenses in the series. It’s puffy, sweet, overperfumed yet friendly and like the other incenses in the box, I can’t help but sense similarities to the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume line in terms of what they’re trying to do.

Obviously this Floral World line is priced so that the more you pay the better the quality of incense and really it’s much easier to recommend the better ones even at those prices. These are nice, but it wouldn’t shock me if this really was deleted.

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

October Top 10

  1. Mother’s India Fragrances – Om Nag Champa  I don’t mean to take much attention away from all of the other excellent incenses in the Mother’s series, but there’s something about this one that’s hit a bullseye with me, to the point where I ran out my first 20 stick package of this about a month or so after I received it. However in stocking it deeper in the smaller packages, I noticed the batches were a little different and it’s something I’ve been wondering about in terms of aromatic differences as the Om I started with really is something of a triangular balancing act and the small package scent falls perhaps a little short. But generally speaking this works for me because I love an incense with a perfect cinnamon/cassia note and this one, at least in the big package has that to an almost addictive state.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho  I find this to be one of the greatest incenses period, definitely my favorite of the top 3 premiums and I love the effect it has on company when they first get the aroma. The liquerish sweetness and dark kyara and aloeswood notes mesh just about perfectly in this one.
  3. Baieido / Ogurayama Aloeswood  I still find this a natural miracle, it just never ceases to astound me that you can get this much aroma from a small piece of this wood. I mean you can literally get 3-4 hours of it when you get the right temperature and I spend most of it double taking, going yeah it really is that little chip doing that. I might actually slightly prefer the Hakusui in terms of its spiciness but I think the resin might actually be a bit more intense in the Ogurayama. Anyway this is about as close to incense nirvana as it gets for me.
  4. Fred Soll / Red Sandalwood  Like many Solls this does have the penchant to not stay lit, but that’s really its only weakness. Like Shroff’s Red Sandal, this is a spicier take on a sandalwood incense, showing a totally different facet of the wood due to the cinnamon-ish notes. With Soll’s version you get that combination mixed in with that southwestern woodsy/resiny vibe to great effect. It’s also one of the mellower Solls and seems to have less powerful oils than they usually do.
  5. Tennendo / Enkuu  This is always a perennial favorite in my book, in fact long time readers might know that this is one of the most common incenses in the top ten lists here. I think that’s largely because so many of the top end incenses have kyara and are thus very sweet, Enkuu is more at the apex of the drier spicy end, for its kind there are really few better incenses. And even after a year or two since I first tried it, I still find it strikingly original and only find it mildly comparative to other high end aloeswood/spikenard mixes.
  6. Fred Soll / Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla  I don’t bring out the Soll champas very often as for a couple of years now they’ve shown nothing but delays in terms of restocking these scents, no doubt due to the usual shortages. But when I do I’m always completely bowled over by how great these are, particularly in the realms of the sugary sweet. This one’s about as rich and amazing as you can imagine, perhaps even too much so for a small room, but perfect for these late warm California summers outside where it can penetrate with even a small wind.
  7. Yamadamatsu / Kumoi Koh  Another absolute classic in my book, an oil and woods mix that is rich, spicy and animalistic, so strong that you can get an idea of its scent just from the fresh stick. It’s similar to one or two of the coils that haven’t been imported here yet that clearly use some ingredients you don’t usually find in incenses at this level of strength. Very exotic and heady.
  8. Kyukyodo / (several)  Clearly the top catalog whose entry to US shores seems to be problematic at the very least. Sure you can find Sho-Ran-Koh and Azusa these days, but there are just a good dozen incenses or so that just badly need to be imported that haven’t ever been over here, such as the incredible aloeswood Akikaze or even the stunning and much lower end Benizakura or one of the really great high quality sandalwood based incenses Gyokurankoh. Oh and RIP Shiun and Yumemachi, what a pair to be deleted!
  9. Nippon Kodo / Tokusen Kyara Taikan  Readers may not fully be aware that if you don’t count the regular Kyara Taikan or Kongo, which I don’t, this is actually the lowest incense on a scale that goes up to what seems like the world’s most expensive stick incense, the $2500 Gokujyo Kyara Fugaku. I think you’d only have to pay $120 something for the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which is actually an excellent stick in that it drops some of the more perfumy sweet aspects of the straight Kyara Taikan for a more elegant result. It’s a shame these are so breakable and thin, but they do pack quite a wallop.
  10. Shroff / Akash Ganga  I’ve always found this an odd scent because it’s one if not the only incenses in the Dry Masala range that shares the yellow boxes with the Semi-Drys, and I can see why as it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. I find this a very unusual variant on the “desert flower” sort of scents in that it doesn’t have the heavy camphorous notes they usually have or the sort of sickly sweet perfumes. And as a result it strikes me as a very mysterious scent with a depth that continues to make me go through my supplies very fast.

As always feel free to share with us what amazed you this month!

New Shoyeido Website

Shoyeido / Genji / Hanachiru-Sato, Yamazoto, Kikoushi, Ukifune

Genji / Otome, Momiji-Noga, Mio-Tsukushi
Genji / Enishi

It has been a while since we took a look at the rather sizeable Genji series that Shoyeido started to solidify in their US catalogs about a year ago. Partially this is because they’re almost as much gift sets as incense boxes, with all the various sets packaged in unique and striking containers that all bear the motifs of the famous Japanese Book of Genji. To get a better introduction to what this is all about I’d suggest taking a look back at Nancy’s fine write-up in the link to Enishi above. This book is often the inspiration for incense aromas and themes, even beyond Shoyeido and acts as fascinating context for culture and aroma. These are all very pricy sets and in many ways seem to me to be a further experimentation in the short stick style that has flourished within Shoyeido’s catalogs from the Horin series to the 12 Months, Angelscents, Floral World and many others.

The four in question here include two sets that feature one aroma and two others that feature two different aromas. All boxes range at 20 sticks in total, although Shoyeido has also imported Hanachiru-Satu in a much larger box set, in fact it was the first to come over. Hanachiru-Satu means Field of Blossoms and is a distinct, light and pleasant floral incense that will appeal to those with modern tastes. It’s distinctly fruity-floral, but given the stick type and format it ends up being a lot more complex and pleasant than most florals of its type. The scent evokes apples, daisies, gentle flower and a spiring breeze, with a very upbeat and freshening vibe. However for the type of incense, it strikes me as awfully expensive, especially when you consider many similarly prices Genji scents seem quite a bit more deluxe with the addition of aloeswood or fine sandalwood (whether these are oils or woods themselves). Hanachiru-Sato is certainly a pleasant incense and very pretty, but as many of these aromas go they’ll often tend to appeal more to the casual user, definitely more populist than traditional.

To my nose, the second floral here, Yamazoto (Mountain Valley), is much more successful and attractive. Where Hanachiru-Sato might invoke feelings of nostalgia and familiarity in the western user, Yamazoto is definitely far more exotic with the exotic perfume oils topping off a mix of aloeswood, sandalwood and spikenard to great effect. Like many of these short sticks, it will be evocative of any number of incenses in other ranges such as the 12 Months or Angelscents series, but even with the slight wood in the background this still is dominantly floral, sultry and bewitching. I found it quite fortunate that this happened to be a one-scent Genji box as this is a scent I could easily see myself restocking, it’s exotic, complex and won me over with a stick.

The Kikoushi (Young Nobleman) set splits its 20 sticks into two different aromas, with pink/purple and green sticks. As is true for many Genji scents, both these sticks have noticeable aloeswood contents mixed in with hard to identify floral characteristics and a nice helping of quality sandalwood. The former stick (the one with the pinkish purple color) also has a musk scent to go along with its brash, intense woody scent as well as some slight violet hints. This combination of purple characteristics with aloeswood seems fairly common in many of these short stick lines and always strikes me as youthful and aggressive, fulfulling part of the box’s theme memorably. It’s like a combination of elan with class and sophistication and the mix of florals and a slight berry hint with the heavy woods is quite nice.

The green stick is also sharp and aggressive, maybe even more so with a distinct and pungent aloeswood hit. I mentioned a commonality with purple aloeswoods along the short stick line, similarly there’s also a common thread among the green sticks, which often mix and match notes of evergreen, patchouli and mint in the mix. There’s so many of these I’m wondering if a comparison among them would be of better use, as I’m naturally sympathetic to this kind of blend. Nevertheless this too reflects the duality of the young nobleman, with a stick both elegant and impulsive. And it completes what’s another excellent Genji set.

The other two-scent set here is called Ukifune or Rowboat. The first stick, which has a carnation color to it is a very woody, aloeswood imbued stick that might be the most overtly high end incense among all these varying Genji sets. The wood tones are mixed with a very soft and subtle florals and the scent, like many of Shoyeido’s short sticks, has fleeting similarities to both the Horin Muro-Machi and Ten-Pyo sticks (in fact this aroma even leans towards some quasi-kyara like scents in the mix). I might guess at this being something of a carnation/aloeswood mix, and what might be interpreted as a marriage of feminine and masculine qualities reflects nicely the description of “… a young couple who enjoy an intimate time on a rowboat under bright moonlight night.”

The purple colored companion stick, on the other hand, is much mellower and only features aloeswood as a slight part of the bouquet. Compared to the heavier Genjis, this is very airy, with a touch of lavender or violet in the bouquet or at least the aroma holds similarities to the Xiang-Do versions of either scent. It’s even, perhaps, slightly wine or grape-like in an unusual way. It’s superbly balanced although it is so faint and subtle one wonders if a full appraisal can be made before the 10 sticks in the box run out.

As always, the Genji series seems to be made of excellent incense, although one will need to decide if the $16-$20+ asking prices (meaning each short stick is about a dollar a piece) is worth the fancy packaging. Indeed it at least does seem to be a place to go for the aloeswood lover who’s already gone through the Premiums and Horins, although I’m always careful not to fall too far for any of these scents as very few of them can be restocked in any sort of bulk form to make them worthwhile. On the other hand they do look like they’d make fantastic gifts, although the string, paper and carton packaging can be slightly frustrating in putting it all back together.

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 »

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