Yamadamatsu Shu-yu series:

The Yamadamatsu Shu-yu series has been around for some time but has never gotten much attention here. This is more in the realm of a heads up rather then full on review, there are no “lesser lights” in this line up. You might think of this set as a sort of “Laboratory Standard” in stick form as to what good wood based incense is supposed to smell like. To a large degree this smells like incense used to. The scents are the deep agarwood scent of high resin content that one might have found in a Rikkoku set from years ago. Each as a slightly different scent to it that is reminiscent of its name.

I think the current batch is pretty close in scent to the ones I have from five years ago but given that my older sticks were not keep air tight it gets hard to tell. It is, to my knowledge, the only series of its kind (at least on a major commercial level, Kyarazen’s single area sets are also along these lines).

Japanincense/Kohshi sells these at a remarkable price, one, which is pretty much at Japanese retail and  makes these a great deal. The Yamadamatsu line is one of the very few that is sold in this country at these prices and this includes their other incenses as well as their pure wood pieces.

The Kyara sticks tend to go out of stock the fastest which is somewhat humorous to me as the others smell just as wonderful but of course we all get stuck on the Kyara hype.

I highly recommend these, the 15 stick sets in the presentation case are a work of art and very affordable, plus you get the case they come in. -Ross

Forthcoming reviews: Yamadamatsu, KyaraZen and Nu Essence

So after making a recovery from about a three week fight with sinus infections and allergies I am about to put up some reviews.

Yamadamatsu’s Shu-ju line has expanded and it seemed like a good time to once again take a look at it. Also KyaraZen sent me two new creations done in a somewhat different style then what has come out so far, plus a number of agarwood blends. Last, but not least, I got a box with the entire incense line up from Nu Essence and will probably break this up into three reviews. Hope to get at least one of these out by the coming weekend. -Ross

Yamadamatsu Shihou Kyara

Where to start. A note on the name, Shihou in Japanese means ‘all directions’. I put some prep time in before I lit this coil to take notes on it, cleansing my olfactory senses with coffee beans and ensuring the room was free from other scents, etc etc.
This coil is all wood. It immediately hits you with concentrated, pure aloes wood scent, with a rich turpentine backed up by a light rosy cedar sweetness, mixed with a hint of ozone. This is by no means a 100-paces style incense, even though it comes in a coil. You will definitely want to sit down and listen to this one on a personal level.

Yamadamatsu Shoyo & Shigei

Yamadamatsu’s Shoyo is quite enlightening, hence the name as it is written here means “Shining Light”. This coil has a strong initial top note of both vanilla and a resinous labdanum scent, combined with at first a woody, salty aloes wood that eventually fades to a mid/base note of cedar. There’s not much else to say other than this is a wonderful scent well worth the price.

Shigei on the other hand is all about the wood. Unlike its predecessors, this coil forgoes any blend and instead contains a straight blend of Vietnamese aloes wood, with a top note of buttery, salty aloes wood to its scent. With a price of 10$ per coil, it is definitely a incense you will want to sit down with and study.

Yamadamatsu Gyoka

Yamadamatsu’s Gyoka blend is the lowest of the line of aloeswood coils currently available. It has a top note of strong, slightly sweet, spicy, peppery aloeswood, alongside a buttery mid note of medicinal herbs and a touch of lysimachiae herba. Overall it reminds me a lot of a Baiedo blend, but slightly sweeter. The fragrance of this blend has a bit of a learning curve to it, and after a bit of time spent with it, it begins to remind me of an old log cabin, with the rich turpentine and wood scents that one associates with such.

Yamadamatsu Fujitsubo

This will be the first of my reviews of several Yamadamatsu scents I recently picked up from the wonderful people over at Japan Incense. Fujitsubo means (in the way it is written here) jar of wisteria, and comes in two forms, stick and coil. I am basing this review off of my impressions of the coil variant as I write, and I am immediately confronted with a sticky sweet floral reminiscent of a strong perfume. I get top notes of vanilla and lavender, with mid notes of rose and a base note of talcum powder and a slight, slight hint of spice. There is not a strong learning curve to this mix, as all the scents are quite up front and easy to pull out. At the very lowest end of the Yamadamatsu coils, this incense should be a pleasing treat to anyone who loves strong, sweet in-your-face florals without breaking the bank.

Yamadamatsu now at Japan Incense

Kohshi/JapanIncense is now offering Yamadamatsu’s incense directly on their website. There are a lot of choices to ponder in a variety of incense styles. Perhaps best of all, the prices on all of it appear to be quite close to what amounts to Japanese retail. This is a first for US buyers and not to be missed. The Shu-ju  series of high end kyara incense sticks is once again being sold (they were sadly gone for about a year) in all three scents. I think these are some of the best on the market and are (or at least were, mine are about 2 years old at this point) a very classic scent without too much spice in order to let the wood notes really shine.

There is quite a collection in the raw woods section at many different levels and prices, including three different types or grades of kyara, about the same for the agarwoods and some of the best sandalwood around.

I have to say that at these prices it is a lot saner to buy here rather than over the internet in Japan and then go through the agony of shipping and the dreaded “What if it doesn’t make it through Customs?”. Not to mention wondering if you have actually gotten the Japanese to English translation figured out so that you really did order the right things and not destroy your bank account for the wrong stuff🙂

July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere🙂

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight🙂

April 2012 Top Ten

1. Dhuni Frangapani: Maybe one of the best flora’s around. It smells a lot more like the real flower then, say, as essential oil. It is also not cloying or overly sweet. A remarkable incense and well worth the price (actually it is dirt cheap compared to most Japanese scents, I am clueless as to how they manage to do this).

2. Dhuni Citronella: I really like the somewhat sharp top note in this one; it is unlike anything else I am familiar with in incense. The floral notes that follow behind are also very nice and like the Frangapani not cloying. A very nicely balanced scent.

3.Tennendo Enkuu: One of the last words in a dry scented incense. Very elegant and austere as well as a great mediation tool. Lots of Vietnamese Aloeswood make this unique and a real winner.

4. Kyukodo Murasakino: This comes in a truly beautiful wooden presentation case, inside of which is a scroll shaped tube covered in dark silk. The sticks are a deep shade of green and have a wonderful aloeswood base upon which a stunning, somewhat indescribable floralish/spice/perfume set of notes ride. I cannot think of any other maker that does this as well as Kyukodo. This is a real show stopper and is also a very classical “Old Japan” scent offering. They seem to have pulled out all the stops on this one, the word “flawless” comes to mind.

5. Kyukodo Seigetsu: A beautiful Japanese floral based on aloeswood. More overtly floral then Murasakino but less sweet then Azusa. Somewhat like Jasmine but with notes of Honeysuckle and some other white flowers. Like some of the offerings from Kyukodo there is a very slight under tone of charcoal (at least to my nose) but in this case the overall floral is so beautiful that it just does not matter.

6. Mermade Hougary Light Green Superior Frankincense: If you like Frankincense you should get this. It has been hard to get really top quality green Hougary and I am glad that Katlyn has found a source. This has a really clear citrus note riding across the resin backround that is pretty unbeatable. A winner.

7.Baieido Byakudan Kobunboku: One of the all time incense deals and still going strong. Given the recent price increases in sandalwood I was a little worried but having used this for the last ten days or so and compared it to an older box it still rocks. I tend to judge most other sandalwoods by this one. It has a very well done and classic set of spice notes (cinnamon, clove, camphor and lord only knows what else) that add to the blend.

8. Minorien Granulated Aloeswood Blend: A great loose aloeswood blend for the electric heater or coals. Very spicy with a big dose of Japanese/Chinese herbs mixed in at a very reasonable price. Somewhat dry in nature without all the overt green notes that can tend to be in these blends.

9. Yamada Matsu Firebird Select (Houjoukoh Gokuhin): There is a wonderful dry, aloeswood set of notes here on top of which clove, borneo camphor and a host of other notes are riding. The wood really makes this loose mix, which reflects the price. I have found my hand reaching for this a lot since I got it from Kohshi in San Francisco.

10. Baieido Kai un Koh: Because sometimes you just need an incense that can run with the big dogs🙂 Very deep, thick, strong, multi layered, strong and with an amazing balancing act between dry and spicy, not to mention strong. Not for all occasions but just the thing for some moments. There are a lot of reasons that this has been in so many Top Ten’s at ORS, all of them viable.

 


New Incenses

Beth at EOA has both the new Dhunis’s and Happy Hari lines listed now, both of which are pretty high on the “goodness” charts for Indian incenses. These are hand rolled and seem much more real (read natural) than anything else on the market (Mothers might be in this group also), at least to my nose. Of course, short of some very expensive testing there is no sure fire way to tell, and even GC/MS testing is open to interpiation. Go with what smells/feels right to you.

Over at Equinox Aromatics, Andrew has brought in Star Child from England. They look to be very faithful to some of the esoteric teachings as well as also being all natural. Real Halmaddi is also available at his site and not to be missed, it is very entertaining to experiment with if you are making your own blends.

Kohshi has some new scents in, one of which is Sanjusangendo Incense. It comes out of a temple in Kyoto. Nice woody/amber scent with a hint of cinnamon. They also have Kyukyodo and Yamada Matsu available. It is generally best to call the store and check what’s in stock.

Enjoy   -Ross

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