Shoyeido / Aesthetics / Shino-Nome, Miyako-Gusa

[As of 7/31/09, these two incenses have been discontinued]

Shoyeido have a number of smaller ranges that seem to fill the interstices between their normal ranges. The Aesthetics line itself seems to be sort of a mish-mash. It includes five incenses, three of which are smokeless and will be discussed later. The other two are Shino-Nome (First Light) and Miyako-Gusa (Botanica), one or both of which also show up under the “Classics” range. The versions I am going from are in the Aesthetics small boxes, the motif which is shared with the Heart series. Both incenses are sandalwood blends and very inexpensive.

Shino-Nome appears to be a limited edition, although I’ve seen it available for at least a year so it doesn’t appear to be going too fast. It’s the least of the two, a very subdued, mellow and traditional sandalwood blend with a light spice and faint oil. It’s leavened a little by cinnamon and benzoin, the latter in particular seemingly responsible for most of softness. It’s quite close to an every day sandalwood, but a little more deluxe. Unfortunately it doesn’t hold up as well to a lot of other Shoyeido traditionals, for instance the Heart series works with a similar style but with more distinct oils to set the various scents apart.

Miyako-Gusa works quite a bit better, it’s a definitive step away from a more generic sort of sandalwood bouquet. Perhaps this is due to the clove and patchouli, both of which spice this up a lot more than the previous blend and are actually more distinct than they are in most Shoyeido low enders. The spiciness is really well balanced with what seems like a very slight floral background note, however the name “botanica” probably implies it’s a bit more floral that it really is.

I find it fairly interesting that I tend to like the low end sandalwood blends Shoyeido do more outside of the Daily range than in it. Perhaps I find the bases of those incenses a little less interesting than the ones in this range or the Heart, Kyoto Moon and Zen ranges due to  their slight modern touches. Whatever’s the case, one should be able to check these out without too much financial damage.

Sampler Notes: Shoyeido / LISN (Part 2: Music, Direction)

As of 3/31/09, this line is discontined in the US.

Part 1 of this article.

The introduction to the LISN line can be found in the above link, but in summary LISN is a modern line via Shoyeido in a vein similar to that of the Floral World series. To date this incense has five subseries, the first two of which can be found in part 1, and the fifth of which (Visible) I have not taken a look (or sniff) at.

The subseries I was at least most initially interested in was the Music group, as the intersection of sound and scent is one of great interest and not really explored all that much from either side. So I was quite surprised to find that this was actually the subgroup I liked the least, with one exception. It might be said that in these four aromas are the lightest and most perfume-like in the series – very “pretty” florals. For example, Swing Your Heart (can’t say these titles are particularly effective in English either) is a rather uninspiring and pale floral, with a bit of honey sweetness to it. Overall it didn’t leave me with any particular impressions of distinctiveness, something even more pronounced in evaluating a very similar line of incenses. Sound on a Wave was also perhaps a bit too user friendly and in comparison to some of the other lines, a bit washed out between floral and fruity elements. It reminded me a little of some Indian jasmine sticks rather than the more high end Japanese florals with jasmine oil content. Catch Her Beat, perhaps another casualty of translation, ups the spice content in the blend, but still remains remarkably bland (especially for an incense described as “Sweet/Sour fruity floral scents (Lily, Bell Flower)”. I was asking myself at this point, during both sticks, if the goal here was to create incense closer to more well known perfumes and scents as even for LISN, thus was rather generic – perhaps too much going on at once. Fortunately, the final Music incense, Hit My Soul, had a lot more presence, with a very nice balance among spicy, musky and floral qualities. In fact I was at the point of thinking I had experienced some aromatic fatigue before getting to this one and was surprised to find its presence so much louder than the previous three in the series. Of course it’s description “Aromatic Wood with herbs from Premium incense” might be telling in why I liked it the most in this series, even if I didn’t detect much in the way of wood or premium herbs.

Although these comments are mitigated by not having tried any of the LISN Visible range, I thought the first incense in the Direction range might have been the best LISN incense I tried through all the ranges. Evening Moon has a lot of the sultry and somewhat erotic/exotic qualities you often get with night themed incenses, a powerful floral incense with qualities of honey and jasmine that swelters a little bit. I don’t detect the spicy evergreen or the aromatic wood in the description so much, but like with Hit My Soul, it should be no secret why I like this one. Likely my first revisit beyond the LISN sampler would be this one as it approaches the better (non-aloeswood) incenses in the Horin, 12 Months and Floral World lines. Scarlet Waltz isn’t quite as complex, but may be the most overtly floral incense in the whole line, like a boquet of roses and carnations with a little spice. It’s a terribly powerful incense overall, but doesn’t carry much of an end note. It may be because the next two were the last two LISN incenses in the sampler, but I found them to be a bit weaker. Samba Emerald actually reminded of a modern Nippon Kodo incense like Thai Memory, it’s quite a bit more mellow than most other LISN incenses and has that sort of floral/fruity combo that I find tends to work against its own potential for distinctiveness. It also reminded me a little of Primo incense, which may or may not be a bit of patchouli in the mix. And finally, Mystic Nostalgia. I was surprised I liked this one as little as I did given the “spicy evergreen with camphor” description, I thought this would have my name on the stick (and indeed there was room). It is one of the least overtly floral incenses in the series, kind of like a sweltery musky sandalwood. Unfortuately no tremendously overt camphor or evergreen notes, but given it was the last stick in the sampler, perhaps my nose had given up the ghost by the end.

Overall, I’d say the best sticks in the full range are probably Evening Moon, followed by Hit My Soul, Morning Breeze, Passing By a Lady, Crystal Winter and on the very outside Scarlet Waltz. However, I’d recommend going through the Horin series first and then going onto Floral World or 12 Months before checking out the LISN range, particularly if you’re looking for woodier, spicier and less floral scents. If you dig the floral, I’d start with Floral World first and then come here. I’d say overall LISN is even more modern or targetted at the nontraditional incense than most Shoyeido lines and may be the closest to similar ranges in the Nippon Kodo catalogue (like Yume no Yume, Free Pure Spirit, East Meets West, No. series etc.) It could be gateway incense so to speak and consequently less of interest to those looking for wood/spice/less sweet/drier scents, but the better incenses in the line do have some rather unique and finely crafted floral top notes that are impressive in their own right.

Sampler Notes: Shoyeido / LISN (Part 1: A Day, Four Seasons)

As of 3/31/09, this line is discontined in the US.

Almost three months ago, I made some comments on this Shoyeido “spinoff” line, which is pronounced “listen.” It’s a line of incenses that appears to be directed at the modern incense appreciator, particularly those who prefer floral and perfume aromas. In fact if there’s anything to connect all the incenses, it’s that every single one of them manages to have a fairly complex and involved floral aroma, most of them actually quite intricate. It’s not an incense series for the wood fan, although those who like the Horin, 12 Months, Gourmet etc lines will find these to be related – perhaps the closest of these is the Floral World series. Although the sticks are about the same length, they’re a little skinnier and come with the name of the incense actually printed on the stick (or at least they come this way in the sampler). I wouldn’t consider this a review in the same sense as most of what’s listed in the index, as I only had two sticks to sample here and it’s quite clear that it would take several more sticks to get used to some of the aromas. And like (most of) the incense ranges I just mentioned, LISN boxes contain approximately 20 sticks for about $15.

LISN break down their incenses into thematic groups: A Day, Four Seasons, Music, and Direction. All of these have four sticks each except for A Day, which contains three. There is also a LISN Visible line that contains five scents, but the sampler I had did not cover this part of the range so this may have to come down the line some. All come in various colors, most of which I’ve forgotten. This article covers the first two sublines and I hope to get to the third and fourth this week.

LISN’s first and only three-incense range, A Day, contains three very floral incenses that even bely their descriptions. Morning Breeze is described as pawlonia and green moss. While the slight muskiness of the stick works in that direction, for the most part I found this to be not too far off from the more floral styles in ranges like 12 Months, with a bit of amber in the mix. Like the entire LISN range there is a distinct and intricate oil in front and it makes this stick bright, complex, with a hint of fruit in the background. Overall there might have even been a bit too much going on and the washiness reminded more of some of Nippon Kodo’s modern products except more distinct. Passing By A Lady might be the best of the three, it has some similarities to Horin/Hori-kawa with its spiciness, but like Morning Breeze there’s also a bit of musk here. It’s described as a “bouquet of sweet flowers” and this time that’s a much closer description to what I’m experiencing. Like several other LISN sticks this one potrays an interesting floral oil in front that supply did not allow me to explore in full. Among Stars is described as sensual civet, but it certainly isn’t near any idea of civet that I had, without any sort of musky or animal tones. In fact this reminded me of the smell of valentine hearts candy, extremely perfumed and very floral and probably due to the color of the stick, I was thinking of some sort of pink cushy pillow. It definitely wasn’t what I expected, and perhaps that’s why I didn’t end up rating it highly, it struck me a little on the synthetic/perfume side.

As a subrange, Four Seasons is much more interesting, and in fact given its four stick, season-oriented themes, these four aren’t terribly far from the same ideas in the 12 Months range, particularly in that the incense gets hotter/cooler as they close on summer/winter. Showering Spring* uses rose and moss and does manage to smell like flowers in the rain. Its floral oil reminds me a little of both rose/floral and talcum powder, with a little bit of greenness. Sparkling Summer, unsurprisingly, is a pretty warm incense with spicy herb and citrus. Like most LISN sticks it’s still primarily a floral stick, but the spicy and herbaceous qualities (which remind me of vetivert) balance it rather nicely and make it one of the line’s highlights. Autumn Twilight isn’t quite so distinctive, although with its “image of chrysanthemum” I’m left more in imaginary territory. Perhaps due to the name of the incense, I get a spicey blend like patches of leaves, leavened by the underlying, perhaps chrysanthemum, perfume. Nice, but even now I’m having a hard time remembering it. Crystal Winter might be my favorite LISN in this front batch, a wintery, cool blend with a bit of mint and amber to it that seems less overtly floral than the rest of its line. It’s one I could eventually see myself getting stock of.

Soon to come: Music and Direction.

* (after break) Read the rest of this entry »

Nippon Kodo Ka-Fuh/Bamboo and Morning Star Gold lines discontinued

Today’s Essence of the Ages (link on right) update announced these discontinued items today (and it’s not too late to grab them). I haven’t tried any of these personally and none were really high up my “wish list” but I’m really amazed at the company’s revolving door policies with their scents. Perhaps that’s the price for having such a large international profile? I’ve only tried the Aqua and Hinoki in the Ka-Fuh line, but nothing from Morning Star Gold.

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