David Oller: In Memoriam

David Oller, consultant to Esoterics LLC and long time Baieido Wholesale Representative in the United States, passed away this weekend after a long and courageous battle with liver disease.

David had a profound reverence for Buddhism. It inspired and guided his studies and devotional practices, and was intimately connected with his long-standing and ardent love of incense.

A small glimpse of David’s knowledge can be found on Alice’s Incense Blog, in articles posted on Esoteric’s website, and at japanese-incense. com (http://www.japanese-incense.com/contents.htm). For a long time this site was one of the only sources to offer historical, literary, and practical information about incense, and kodo in particular, to Western incense lovers. Information on the site has been copied again and again, rarely citing David as its source. His studiously-researched knowledge was extensive and I hope that someday David’s writings, and the source materials he collected, will be made public.

I will miss David’s enthusiasm and reverence for the art of Japanese incense, and I feel very fortunate that he went out of his way to share his knowledge and passion with those of us with common interests. A friend to whom I mentioned David’s death lit an incense stick “in remembrance and honor of him”. I am sure that would make David very happy, and I hope that others who read this memoriam will do the same.

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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 🙂

Kohshi in GQ magazine

Kohshi(Japan Incense) is listed in this months GQ magazine as ” best 25 stores around the world”.

Very cool and well deserved and a major plus for the incense community. I figure Jay and Kotaro are responsable for inceasing the awarness of the differnt incense available from Japan to a huge degree. -Ross

Aluwwahs Last Breath-And Then Some :-)

I got quite a shock a month ago when touching base with my friend Simon at Alluwah, creator of such fine Bakhoors as Hajar and Ramlah, and more recently the much appreciated farm related Sheep and Lambs Breath. It seems that he has decided to take up farming fulltime for now, and was in the process of clearing his shelves. He did go out on a high note, after creating a creature that in name sounds as if it might devour those poor sheep and lambs, but whose nature is quite the opposite. The Black Pine Dragon arrived with a spicy smell exuding through several layers of packaging, making me fear it. However, upon heating, it became a beast more mellow than the sheep and lambs that preceded it. The spiciness from the Dragons Blood quickly mellowed into a dreamlike cloud of Black Pine, Red Cedar, Sandalwood, Indian Agarwood, and Jawee, accented by touches of Vanilla, Somali Frankincense, and Ambergris. After floating upon this mellow dragons back for what seems like a most incredible time, he belches out a super smooth, spicy sweet and lingering puff of Galbanum infused with Dragons Blood fire. While Al Misky considered this to be an extension of his Lamb/Sheep line, minus the honey, I would tend to think this would tend to have taken him in a new, and even more creative area. Also in my parcel was the last in his line of bakhoors, the bakhoor Majlis B. Much more than the traditional “splash and dash” Omani style bakhoor, this Omani styled bakhoor featured a typical base of an AB grade Indian Agarwood, soaked in a luscious mixture of Chocolate, Patchouli, and Labdanum oils. I also detected trace amounts of frankincense and Indian amber in this one, all of which serve to make it a hefty mix. This was quite nice as is, although I might have added a touch of Taif to put it over the top. All in all, two very fine creations, and hopefully Simon will tire of retirement soon.

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.

Sarathi Perfumery Works / Sri Govinda / Gopala, Keshava, Krishna, Madhava, Mukunda

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Sarathi Perfumery Works is responsible for Tulasi incense as well as this small, five incense Sri Govinda range. These five incenses all pair two different aromas in a champa style. While the link will take you to a page where you can purchase all five incenses, the incenses also come in larger boxes, although in my experience you’ll find each store varies in terms of what size and aromas they stock. Quality wise I’d say these are probably right above the Satya and Nitiraj ranges while still significantly below today’s premiums.

Gopala combines patchouli and vanilla, two ingredients fairly common in champa variants. In this case I’m far more reminded of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa than I am any patchouli champas, it’s almost as if the patchouli is something of a faint note in the incense. Overall the Gopala is quite dry as a result with the combination accentuating the sandalwood notes. It’s a bit one dimensional in the end but it does it nicely.

Keshava combines Rose and Geranium but as most incense veterans might guess, this is a lot more geranium than rose, although I’d even go as far to say that the geranium is actually kind of fuzzy, leaving the stick with a generic floral scent that doesn’t work particularly well with the sweet base. Overall it seems a bit too bitter or coarsely perfumed. It’s as if you’re burning two clashing incenses at once.

Sarathi’s Krishna mixes up honey and jasmine, two aromas that seem natural together, however like in the previous two incenses, one ingredient dominates and in this case it’s a jasmine scent somewhat reminiscent of Triloka’s. You can detect the honey but it sits below the jasmine as a subnote, probably as it marries with the base more. The combination doesn’t clash like the Keshava, but it’s not perfect, with a scent that strikes me as a little cloying due to a slight touch of soapiness.

Madhava is probably the most balanced of the three floral mixes in this group, combining violet and amber, which is a mix you don’t see very often if at all. At least in this case the oils don’t clash with the base like the Keshava did, and the violet sits on top of a gentle and sweet base. The amber merges into this, gently powdery and the combination gels, even if not in a particularly memorable way.

Mukunda definitely starts in the benzoin department with a decent quality scent (minus the rough and gravelly qualities associated with cheaper benzoin. The myrrh is difficult to pick out (an issue pretty common to myrrh incenses given how widely it can vary in scent) because it doesn’t have the individual qualities of good resin, but it does prevent this from being purely benzoin.In fact I detect a little more on the honey side in this one than I do with the Krishna.

I think in terms of whether you’d want any of these totally depends upon how deep you want your incense collection, as there’s a lot better and a lot worse. I think maybe these are a cut above Satya and Nitiraj because the base is better, in fact I often wondered going through these if some of the oils actually detracted from the base. But perhaps only the Madhava is memorable and even it’s not a perfect incense. The line has since been discontinued, but most of these incenses should still be locatable.

Highland/Samye Monastery

Incenses are back in stock at Essence of the Ages. These are among the best in Tibetan incenses.

Nathaniel’s Redolent Repository

http://www.etsy.com/shop/Nmusselman?ref=pr_shop

This is the new shop link for independent incense and perfume creator Nathaniel Musselman whose work we’ve enjoyed in the past.

Holy Land & Nectar back in stock

Essence of the Ages has the classic Tibetan Medical College scents back in stock (I think this is at least the second restock since they started selling these scents – they go fast), as well as the new range of Mother’s champas and a whole new range of Direct Help Foundation scents with new boxes.

New Shoyeido Website

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