Best Incense – August 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land – The question du jour: When is Essence going to restock this? Yes, I know I haven’t come close to finishing up the box yet. Yes, it’s probably a waste to burn 50 sticks of this at once, but I won’t know for sure until I try. Anyway, while the answer is certainly ASAP, I hope my (mild) anxiety over this reflects just how totally and completely crushed over Holy Land I am. It’s quite likely to be my favorite incense for quite a while as only…
  2. Highland Incense – …is anywhere close to how I feel about it. In fact Highland here comes pretty darn close as a #2 and as the product of a retired Tibetan Medical College doctor, it’s not difficult to think about these two in the same breath. But where Holy Land gets the step due to its unbelieavable floral middle, which comes out the most when you’re not looking for it, Highland has such a balanced muskiness with a nice sweetness that it also constantly compels me to return to the box.
  3. Baieido / Jinko Kokoh – Every premium series seems to have its own character and style and the kokohs aren’t any different. In fact the defining aspect, at least of the Byukaden and Jinko Kokohs, is more so the ingredients other than the woods. Particularly the borneol and spices which seem to be at about the highest, natural level available in these incenses. They help to make these among the most penetrating incenses available. Would love to see these in long stick form.
  4. Baieido / Kunsho – I think it dawns on anyone using any one of the five Baieido aloeswoods (in Pawlonia boxes) that the series is strong from top to bottom, but it really takes a good half a box to realize just how great they really are. I’d been a little late grabbing a Kunsho box, but so glad I did as every stick is an exercise in reflection. Sweet, deep, classy, refined, this one may be just as good as the next step up Koh En. Or at least I think so this week.
  5. Shunkodo / Kyara Aioi no Matsu – I’m so enamored with Kyara Seikan that it occludes my view on the Aioi no Matsu. The other issue is the AnM suffers pretty hard with aromatic fatigue, given that so much of its majesty is in the very top spice notes. But when you get everything, it’s truly extraordinary with a dozen or so different aspects going on. A tremendously complicated blend.
  6. Samye Monastery / Samathabadra – This would have been a little higher earlier in the month when I was finding it difficult not to burn it a bunch. It’s an unusual incense, more consonant when you’re not paying too much attention but extremely diverse when you are, as you notice all the aspects to it. And there’s really no other incense quite like it, dark, rich, mysterious and ambrosial.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – I just can never get enough of this one, an easy all-time top 5 pick and my favorite Shoyeido premium. It’s dry and spicy/heavily resinated wood one-two attack gets me every time. The day I buy 135 sticks is the day it becomes a #1 pick for a few months.
  8. Encens du Monde / Meditation / Guiding Light – Probably because it’s fairly essential oil heavy, this incense does a fantastic job scenting a larger area over time. I really adore the smell of this one, especially after about half a long stick has burned. Even with all the oils this is at essence a very complex, very woody incense. Just one or two sticks a month tends to push it into my monthly best.
  9. Tennendo / Karafune Kahin-Gold – It took me a while to come around to this series, in fact had I written the review today I’d have compared them to the above-mentioned Baieido aloeswood series as they’re really that difficult to parse. Over time I’ve been noticing just how quality the aloeswood is in this and (in lesser quantity) the Silver. But now these are starting to really grow on me and I’m starting to notice more of the woody qualities. Sleeper hits for sure.
  10. Tibetan Medical College / Nectar – This one has fallen due to the Holy Land, which seems in comparison to be more of a B grade, but this is a B grade better than most A grades. The intensity of the spices isn’t as high and I suspect that’s due to juniper berry. But it’s still one of those incenses you can smell the musk straight off the stick and it only suffers in comparison to Holy Land

Best Incense – July 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Baieido / 350th Anniversary Sandalwood – This is arguably not even the best of the three incenses in this magnificent (and now deleted) anniversary set, but it was the most revelationary one to my nose, in that this is possibly the best sandalwood I’ve ever tried, with a quality of wood so high it’s like it becomes something else. It’s as if the aromatics and/or wood resins are so fine that they’re like an aged liquor. Given the incenses similarities to Baieido’s Kokoh series (at least the Jinko anyway), I wanted the Byukaden Koko right away. Without this entry I might have given the slot (if a bit lower on the list) to Kyukyodo Yumemachi, not quite as deluxe but still an amazing sandalwood.
  2. Baieido / Koh En – An incense I’ve returned to over and over in the last couple months, there’s something just at the edge of comprehension on this one. For one thing I believe this uses the Hakusui Vietnamese incense, a really gentle yet startling aloeswood, but the spices that accentuate the wood really bring it out. It’s like orbiting a new planet, no matter what spot you’re over there’s something new to look at. This line of aloeswoods might be the most sublime out there.
  3. Highland Incense – I’m over the moon with some of the higher end Tibetan sticks these days, and you really have to credit Essence of the Ages whose archaeological skills are unparalleled at bringing us these really legitimate and otherwordly monastery incenses. Highland’s one of the muskiest, most ever-present incenses you can imagine and will set off subconscious impressions for ages even based on the burn of an inch of stick. It’s about as deep and intense as a Japanese incense even if the aloeswood content is mostly a side note. But the musk here will redefine your experience. I hope they were gentle.
  4. Tibetan Medical College / Nectar (TPN) – If Highland really hit me the most the second or third time around, this Nectar hit between the eyes right in the middle of the third one. It’s an electric, intuition-triggering polyherbal blend like you wouldn’t believe. It reminds me a little of the Tashi Lhunpo Shing Kham Kun Khyab with a massive helping of lama juju. It’s clear, red and has a weird kind of kundalini playfulness to it. It made me want to order the entire college’s catalog.
  5. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – A three-way hit of animal depth, spikenard sweetness and aloeswood infinity, it’s the most inexpensive of the Premiums to have this much higher mind impact. Everything above this level refines this sort of sweet musk, but here it’s wild and uninhibited. Starting to become an all-time favorite.
  6. Samye Monastery / Samanthabadra – Soon to be corrected, this is the only high end Tibetan incense I have in stock right now, so the samples of the other high enders have had me returning to this all month. It was my first incense of this level, and found the depth of scent and purity of ingredients to be startling and over time almost addictive. I’m not even sure I could describe this one, except that it’s highly likely the pangolin scales have a real distinct and dimension-adding effect to the overall aroma. Definitely 5x the aroma of most lowest end Tibetans, humming with the essence of the inner planes.
  7. Dzongsar Incense – You get the impression with most Tibetan incense sticks are mostly wood, at least in base and while that’s still true for Dzongsar it’s such a thick and heavy stick one wonders if it’s not made from clay. Aromatically it has similarities to a lot of Tibetan incenses that have difficult (for the Westerner anyway) ingredients (think White Pigeon, the side notes to Mandala Trading Tibetan Monastery, Essence’s Ayurvedic ropes), but in this case they’re refined to the point that it’s a lot easier to see their brilliance. Tangy, rich and definitely multi-dimensional, I think I’ve only barely begun seeing how good this one is.
  8. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – I would feel weird leaving Shunkohdo off of a top 10 list given how much I use their products, many of them are virtual regulars around my place (Yae No Hana in particular nearly makes every monthly list). This kyara blend is always amazing to me due to how penetrating, sharp and sweet the aroma is. Like Baieido, no matter what Shunkohdo do, they never drown out the central wood notes. And I’m finding this one is complex enough to notice different things about it than I did when I first got a box.
  9. Tennendo / Enkuu – If newness wasn’t such a variable factor for these top 10 lists, Enkuu would likely make it every month, it’s quite simply one of my favorite incenses. I’m finding with some of the intense high enders like this that a little goes a very long way and have been finding myself taking out a stick and putting it in a burner and then burning it by thirds. Usually a third of the way down it’s scented the room like most incenses after a full stick. Shoyeido Sho-kaku is also perfect for this and could have interchanged with this selection easily. No doubt that one will be on next month’s again just based on one stick over the last few days.
  10. Lung Ta / Drib Poi – Ever proving the same rule that any incense this complex isn’t revealed in full until at least the fourth stick, I wanted to slip this fantastic, affordable Tibetan (or maybe Brazilian-Tibetan) in here due to its ever-revealing complexity. And it’s the most simple in the line!

Zuika Koh Revisited

I have had a box of Zuika Koh from Shunkodo for about 5 months. I got it, used a little, and then got caught up in some other incenses and only recently started burning it again. Really, I think I had to grow up into it
Mike reviewed it last November and in recently going back to look at the review( because, yes, he was and is one of my main sources for what is worth getting :0 ) ) I sort of rediscovered it. So I realized that it had gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle and decided to bring it back out to play.
The ingredients list on the websites seemed a little lacking to me so I wrote to Kotaro at Japan Incense/Scents of Japan asking for a little more input. He wrote to Shunkodo and they wrote back:
“Ross, I got mail from Shunkohdo. It is a company secret recipe. However, he mentioned to me that Zuika Koh contains some of following ingredients such as: Aloeswood, Sandalwood, Clove, Cinnamon, Star anis, Spikenard, Patchouli, Benzoine and Boruneol.”
Which are pretty much the standards of the Japanese incense world. Of course there is the “secret” part that makes up the difference and adds that certain something of uniqueness.
One thing that I am now noticing about this incense is the quality of the materials. The Aloeswood is really nice, and given the price of the stuff of late, that can become a deciding factor in scent and cost.
Also Zuika Koh straddles that fine line between spice and floral where neither one is out front and the wood element can still play such a big part. Actually in this incense they all sort of trade places through out the burn. This is a really pleasant and captivating grouping of scents. It is great for the reflective moment or perhaps study. It’s calming, not overpowering, yet at the same time can really get your attention once you start to discover all the subtle nuances it has. As Mike said it’s better to burn this one early on if you are going to be using more then one incense, then you can really enjoy it.

– Ross

Top 10 – June 2008

1. Tokusen Syukohkoku / BaieidoThe Aloeswood and spice combination of this mix just consistently has me lighting another stick. One of the truly great of the “Plum Blossom” style. There are no oils in this stick, it stands on just the woods, spices and awesome talents of the blender. I have blown though over a 100 sticks in the last two months. I may have a problem.

2. Kun Sho / BaieidoCambodian Aloeswood in all its glory. It’s sort of presented as a single note incense, but really the play between the Aloeswood and the very light touch of Borneol Camphor and some spices just make this a stand out. Its name “The Rising Scent” is very appropriate to how it reaches into the imagination, It’s an incense that I like to burn when I have the time to really enjoy it. There are so many levels to it but it is a very pleasurable learning curve.

3. Sho Ran Ko / KyukyodoThere’s not much more I can say that hasn’t been said already. It’s just a great classical, slightly floral, Japanese incense that is worth the investment (and really, it’s a deal considering the size of the bundle, it made me very happy when I first opened the box) I love this late at night before falling asleep, it’s so mellow and calming.

4. Ranjatai / ShunkohdoOne of my all time favorites. I find myself hoping one day to find a box of “extra thick sticks”. Just a great scent that has a very slight almost floral note , mixed with quality Aloeswood and musk, mesmerizing and tends to pull your attention right in. Beautiful.

5. Yoshino no haru – Long Box / ShunkodoI have what are called the “thick sticks” of this, which I really like. The scent is a wonderful, classical Japanese floral, somewhat sharp in nature yet with a gentle sweetness around the edges. The thick sticks put out quite a lot of scent. It is light, uplifting and just generally tends to brighten up the mood and energy of the room. There seem to be Essential Oils in this one but no synthetics so it’s a very clean smell, quite marvelous and each stick lasts for a long time.

6. Babylon / Mermade Magickal ArtsA Bakhoor style loose mix made for a heater or charcoals. Quite possibly the best rose scent I have yet found. The Aloes and Sandalwoods pieces in this give the rose scent a really nice boost. It’s not cloying or over blown, but it is very rich, smooth and elegant. If you are looking for a rose scent and have given up hope of finding something you might want to consider this. Really nice and the amount you get goes a long way.

7. Houshou / ShunkohdoThere are a lot of incenses from Shunkohdo in my list. They make really good incense at very good prices. Like this one! Aloeswood and spices. The overall impression I consistently get from this incense is chocolate ( and no, its not because I am hungry 🙂 )The scent can change up depending on what you had going before, but in general the chocolate comes through. This is a great one to use to introduce someone to incense. At around $20.00 for the roll it’s a great deal.

8. Ka Cho Fu Getsu / ShunkohdoThis is just a great all around incense at a very affordable price. Sort of Han style or Chinese herbs with Aloeswood. Lots of spices playing off the woods. Cassia, clove and a whole bunch more, At 200 sticks for around $32.00 it’s a really great deal and something you can burn at any time of the day. I really like it when I wake up, very refreshing and uplifting.

9. Deep Earth / Mermade Magickal ArtsThese are incense cakes, or little blocks/bricks of resins and woods made for an incense heater or placed nearby charcoal (not directly on top). This one is composed of Hogary Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal Negro, Aloeswood, Patchouli EO, Vetivert and dusted with powdered Aloeswood. It smells very clean and fresh and also very grounding. Not a bad thing to go with after coming home from work! These are pretty much hand made in small batches and smell as if they use very high quality materials.

10. Myo-ho / ShoyeidoI got the sampler pack of this five months ago. It blew me away then and still does now. In fact I lit this for some people in an incense class I was giving recently and watched them get, well, high 🙂 actually, just on the scent of the spices and Kyara. Pretty amazing. It’s not cheap, but it is really good and as someone said recently in the blog “I am glad I have had the pleasure of smelling it in this lifetime.” I think this is one of the masterpieces of the Art of Incense.

Best Incense – June 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – Was a real close call between the one and the two this month, but I’ll give newness an edge. The quality of wood in this stick is really impressive, an occasionally green or menthol edge to the kyara. It’s a thin stick and kind of delicate, but the aroma, as the blurb says, is quite sharp. This one’s been a real addiction this month, I have to exercise discipline not to keep going in the box.
  2. Shoyeido / Ga-Ho – This could be my favorite overall incense of the moment, it has the deluxe nature of all the high end Shoyeidos but without the sweeter notes you get in the top three. It may be the driest incense around and the way the floral and spice notes come out is continually impressive.
  3. Baieido / Jinko Kokoh – The very nature of the Baieido Kokoh series makes them pretty special, definitely for only certain occasions unless you can deal with half an inch at a time. The Jinko is the middle of the three and it’s a very complex incense and not only that but very different from any other line. This has a nice helping of camphor or borneol in the middle, but other than the strong wood hints, I get scents like cola, caramel or even cider in this one. The Kyara Kokoh just beggars the imagination with this as a promise.
  4. Encens du Monde / Kunjudo / Karin / Swallows in Flight – This has a such a strong musk scent to it that I’ve been pulling it out more and more, as I don’t have too many incenses that go in this sort of direction. I’d suspect there’s a lot of oil in this as it packs a punch, but it also has that interesting Kunjudo side note that I liken to hazelnut or something. Golden Waves also has this same note, in fact the two incenses aren’t all that far apart.
  5. Shoyeido / Premium – Sho-Kaku – Being the second most expensive incense in the Japanese Incense/American market means I’m continually playing with how I’d rate this. For most moods there are few other more perfect incenses and it’s one to stop your guests in their tracks (I love watching a table of people’s eyes start to light up when the aroma starts to spread out). Tastewise (and pocketbookwise) I prefer something like Ga-Ho most of the time, but when you start paying attention to how black the resin is on this one, how heavy the kyara is, it’s a hard incense to beat. Such a treasure this one…
  6. Baieido / Kobunboku – I’m still really hooked on this incense, it’s one of the most startling of the low enders in that even though it doesn’t have any aloeswood, it still seems so high quality. I’m curious about the Byakudan version of this because for an incense I’ve never been happier with the sandalwood content than I am with this one. No other plum blossom even comes close. I like it so much I have trouble even getting a bead on the Tokusen and Kaden versions.
  7. Tashi Lhunpo / Shin Kham Kun Khyab – I could have almost put Samye Monastery’s Samathabadhra here as my Tibetan of the month and maybe a few others, but this one is pretty fresh and new to my nose, and not only that but it’s quite high quality and very affordable. It has a really wet, almost cherry floral sort of scent that reminds me of some of the redder Indian durbars. Some really nice edges I’m still exploring as well.
  8. Shoyeido / Nan-Kun – Another Shoyeido aloeswood with a healthy spikenard note. If Misho matches up (roughly) to Horin’s Gen-Roku then Nan-Kun matches up to Muro-Machi. It’s got a lot of caramel and a very strong aloeswood presence. The sweetest of the earthy toned sticks in this series.
  9. Shunkodo / Haru No Kaori – My appreciation for Shunkodo continues to appreciate. 😀 In all of their incenses there’s a real quiet and subtle presence that gives them all long learning curves and even with their low enders they just seem to improve with experience. This one is probably the lowest end incense that uses aloeswood, but it’s sweet, evergreeny and very pleasant and I keep going back to it over and over. If this sold in smaller boxes over here Haru no Kaori would qualify for the hall of fame here easily.
  10. Encens du Monde / Kunjudo / Meditation / Guiding Light – Terribly addictive because there’s so much going on. I’m not always a long stick person, but it works the best for this aroma so that the cumulative effect of all the woods and oils. Quite the mosaic stick.

Your picks this month?

Shunkohdo / Ka Cho Fu Getsu, Kyara Seikan, Kyara – Aioi No Matsu

I would be the first to admit to an almost slavish love of Kyara, so my opinion here is not exactly unbiased. Also, I really like what Shunkohdo does which their blends. To me they seem to be one of the best around and their Incense Master is very skilled.

I had gotten the Kyara – Aioi no Matsu about two months ago and the Ka Cho Fu Getsu about one month later and have really grown to love them. As a matter of fact I happened to walk into Japan Incense the day after the shipment arrived and was (I think) the first person they got to unleash it on. (It was rough, but someone had to do it :)), Kotaro presenting a new, and what he is pretty sure is going to be a winning incense, is much like a magician with a great new trick. Showmanship and a love of turning people onto good things, plus a level of excitement that it very infectious.
Kyara Seikan: I must admit the first time I smelled the Kyara Seikan it seemed a lot dryer and sharper, and in the end I walked out with the Aioi no Matsu. However, right now, I noticed that there is a great depth and play going on between all its components. All that being said this time what struck me right away was a lot of similarities to the high end Shoyeido’s. That dry, yet at the same time somehow sweet play on spices (in this case a touch of Star Anise and maybe a tiny bit of Cassia, which hints of other things(Musk?) that is going to take some time to get a handle on!. You know right away there is some great Kyara in the blend. It is right there and happy to meet you. It is not as intense as the Shoyeidos, it’s also hundreds of dollars less, But wait…It just hit me what this is about, Ranjatai with Kyara.
Kyara – Aioi no MatsuThis has become one of my favorite Kyara’s. It as if they took something along the lines of Reiryo koh (Aloeswood) but based it on Kyara and added a touch of what, at times, seems to remind me of that Shoyeido Myo-Ho scent. Again, not as intense as the Shoyeido’s, but still holding its own and oh so good. One thing I just noticed is that the Aioi no Matsu is about a third again as thick as the Kyara Seikan. This could account for the price difference, because at this point to me, they are equally as good and also different enough to own both. One other thing to point out here. Many times when you open a box of incense you get the initial hit of the oils, this is not the case here. There is a bit, but not much. This would seem to say that the woods and spices are playing the major rolls in these incenses.
Ka Cho Fu Getsu: This may turn out to be one of the great incense deals around. $32.00 for about 200 sticks. It uses a mix of solid, middle grade Aloeswoods with a great array of spices. Think Baieido, that style that is known as Han or Chinese medicinal. There is a touch of Borneol Camphor (not as much as you usually find in this style) and a whole lot more. It clean, fresh, just the right amount of spice and smells great. After the first stick I remember opening the box again, seeing all the sticks left and smiling. I love to light this when I wake up. Then again, I also find myself using it many times though out the day.



Shunkodo / Yae No Hana, Haru No Kaori, Yoshino No Haru

Those of you who have tried Shunkodo’s incenses are aware that one of the best parts about buying a box, is that it’s likely to last you a long time. While the company does have some smaller rolls with different fragrances, their central line comes in these boxes with double flaps which generally contain well over 100 sticks. This means if you like a scent, you’ll be set for a long time with any of these boxes, and I’ve found over time that in terms of Japanese incense, the Shunkodo lines from top to bottom are among some of my most commonly burned incenses.

I’ve reviewed both Zuika and Ranjatai in the past, which are two of three highest end Shunkodo incenses currently exported from Japan. The three under review here contain the other of those three high line incenses and two you’d describe as being right in the middle. All three of these have become standards in my home and are extremely affordable for the quality. Yes, in most Shunkodo cases you’re going to be spending some money to get a box (although not all that much in two cases here), but once you do you’ll be glad you did.

The most expensive in the bunch is the Yoshino No Haru, which is Shunkodo’s second most premium incense, at least of those currently exported to the US. I’ve mentioned this incense frequently in top 10 lists because it is an exponent of what appears to be a fairly common high end Japanese aloeswood blend, a green stick whose woody qualities are sublimated for what is generally an incredible oil or spice presence. I’ve mentioned this in context with Kunmeido’s Asuka and Heian Koh blends. Asuka is the normal Japanese incense stick, Heian Koh a thicker, square cut and like these, Yoshino No Haru also comes in both of these formats. In the Kunmeido case and after some deliberation, I’ve come to think of the Asuka as the most premium quality in this style (and the price speaks to that as well), but certainly Yoshino No Haru is the most affordable exponent and a $60 roll will get you at least 110 sticks in the thin form. The thing is, I’ve found the Heian Koh’s thicker stick and more prevalent aromatic delivery to be the one I reach for the most, so i can imagine the thicker stick in this format is likely to be just as satisfying if not more so. The description of the incense with the quote about 30,000 cherry blossoms also hints at the scent here, getting a bit closer to what is a difficult aroma to describe. It’s sweet, rich, powerful and quite user friendly. You might be able to tell by now that I love all of these blends to bits.

Yae No Hana and Haru no Kaori both have one noticeable thing in common, they’re an attempt to harmonize or combine floral scents with woods and spices, sandalwood for Yae No Hana and aloeswood and Chinese medicine spices for Haru no Kaori. I’ve found both of these to be wonderful, relatively inexpensive blends that are both quite user friendly. Yae No Hana is both a purple stick and in a purple box and in some ways it’s sort of an every day style of incense, except the floral notes (rose? violet?) are more on top. Incenses like this often tend to show off notes due to the quality of floral oils used, but in this case Yae No Hana strikes me as a perfectly balanced incense. It’s strange but certain incense scents remind me of being very young and using Crayola crayons and this is one of them. For around $18, you’ll be set for a long time with a big roll of this stuff and quite happy too.

Haru No Kaori may be the most user friendly scent in the line, in fact it’s not all that far from Kyukyodo’s Azusa, except not nearly that distinctive or classic. It just has a bit of aloeswood that kind of quietly sits behind a very friendly, sweet floral smell. It’s not a particularly loud incense and took me maybe 10-15 sticks to really start noticing that it has the same sort of quiet sublimity that Shunkodo’s Zuika has. It’s really a charming part of the line that so many of the positive qualities of these incenses are on such a quiet and finely attuned level. I could really find myself having this particular scent become one of my standards as it does itch some of my high end sympathies while not being quite in that price range.

Overall, all three of these are well worth adding to your incense supply. Not only will they increase your stock significantly, but you’ll find yourself wanting to burn them more frequently as you get used to them. I should also mentioned that both Haru No Kaori and Yoshino No Haru also come in long stick forms via Japan Incense (link on right).

Ranjatai (Shunkohdo) vs. Ranjatai (Kunmeido Onkun Koh long stick)

If you click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll see what is a slightly iconic picture of what may be the most famous chunk of wood on the planet. One can only imagine that being within 20 feet of the scent from this wood would create spontaneous orgasms, heal millions, tear down the Veil of Maya and make kyara smell like swamp gas. Ranjatai, I covet thee.

So it’s not a surprise that this name would find its way to incense and in the US market it’s something you now see on two incenses, one the (apparently) company-less Jinko Ranjatai (scroll down third from bottom) and the other Shunkodo’s top line Ranjatai. And since this contest is stacked from the beginning, it’s easy to say it’s the latter that’s the most impressive. Unless you’re talking about cost, in which case it’s the opposite.

The label I have on the back of the box shows Jinko Ranjatai hailing from the Incense Sampler and since that’s not where I purchased it I’d assume that’s the incense’s US gateway. I’ve seen some “generic” Japanese incenses that have the same exactly boxes as some scents that aren’t exported to the US, so my guess is this is marketed differently depending on the incense’s destination. Jinko Ranjatai is a long stick and unlike you’d expect the aloeswood is really just part of a blend of a number of ingredients, sandalwood and spices, all making up what is a really nice and pleasant, woody, spicy blend with very little in the way of a front note. No, it won’t resurrect the dead or end world hunger like that piece of wood might, but it’s an excellent, affordable (approx $15 a roll) incense that I ought to burn more often.

Shunkodo Ranjatai on the other end is their deluxe exported line and will cost you a pretty penny (it might be worth taking a look at Japan Incense who are selling the long stick version a little cheaper). This incense tends to the aristocratic, bitter, heavily woody side of aloeswood, which initially made me compare it with Minorien’s Aloeswood incense, but Ranjatai is much more complex and is about as deep as the company claims. I’m still, after months of burning this, catching wafts I hadn’t before, some deeply musky, the occasional spice and that sort of wide range really good aloeswood has. Shunkodo Ranjatai may not cure cancer or solve the drug problems in urban areas, but it’ll definitely make you a little happier if this style of incense appeals to you.

The score, like the price: Shunkodo Ranjatai 100 – Jinko Ranjatai 15

Shunkodo / Zuika

Some incenses are like puzzle boxes to me. The first sample stick is lit and a mystery is presented. This is more true when an incense doesn’t have any sort of enhancement to its strength and the blend relies fully on the ingredients. Shunkodo’s Zuika koh is a good example of this sort of mystery stick. It took me maybe ten sticks to realize what a work of art this is.

Zuika (8th item down) is described as an “… elegant scent that comes from a careful blending of Vietname Aloeswood and Chinese medicinal herbs.” It’s an incense that will not stand up to aroma fatigue and is thus best burnt before anything else (and even better near ventilation). Most of the time it’s quite difficult to ascertain the complexity from the mix as it’s such a mellow blend. I rarely notice the slight floral nature that acts as an element of depth to the blend, but when I do it’s very impressive. Maybe a hint of spice and a very subdued aloeswood base makes up its presence. In some ways I find this very “air element,” perfect for mental activity, and it’s becoming a big favorite around here. Like most higher end Shunkodo blends, one must put down a chunk of change for a roll, but it’s well worth it, the more I burn the company’s incense the more I’m glad I have a lot of stock.

Shunkodo is clearly a Japanese incense company with many recommended lines, so it’s nice to see them become more available in the US.

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