Kunjudo / Karin, Tokusen Karin Select, Karin Togetsu, Karin Kifune, Karin Hien, Karin Zuito

While this may look, at least in part, like a new review, it’s really something more of an update and correction all at once, an attempt to sort of set the record straight on Kunjudo’s main line which is available in the US through Japan Incense. Half of these incenses were originally introduced and reviewed as part of the Les Encens du Monde line, but either the regular Karin or the Tokusen Karen Select had been available in the US for quite some time. One of the issues I came across in cleaning up the old Encens du Monde reviews is that when I read my original Karin review it made me feel like maybe I had actually been reviewing the Tokusen Karin Select. When I restocked recently on both of those, I recognized the Select version but not so much Karin itself. This is part of the issue with reviews that have outlived my memory of them, I’m not always quite sure. But with the incenses in front of me, I think I can clear some of the issues up as well as reintroduce what I think are a number of excellent and affordable incenses that sit on both sides of the traditional and modern lines. And in most cases I’ve provided links to the original reviews if you would like to compare and contrast. But other than correcting errors, I believe most, if not all, of these incenses have survived with aromas intact over the intervening years.

So let’s start with Karin itself first. It’s an extremely inexpensive every day sandalwood based stick with a dark red color. You know it’s the regular Karin because it doesn’t have a more solid pink shade to it. Side by side the two incenses are very easy to pick out. The main ingredients listed are sandalwood and cinnamon, although one might sense there are some milder floral elements in the mix as well as it doesn’t lean overtly spicy. As Karin is said to mean “forest of flowers,” the mix of woods and slight floral elements does seem apropos. Overall, however, Karin is definitely something of a perfumed incense and like a lot of perfumed dailies there’s a chance that the oil mix can end up being cloying and this one sort of falls on the fence for me. But let’s face it, any incense that comes in this many sizes and is this well known as an incense is loved by many people and at least in a case like this you’re not taking much of a risk of trying a roll.

However, I might recommend starting with the Tokusen Karin Select. You’re not really putting all that much more money out for what strikes me as a much better stick. The Tokusen Karin blend may be the one I originally though of as just Karin way back in the day but the thing I always remember about it was its sort of amber-like candy sweetness. If you get a little lost in the mix with the regular Karin, the “excellent” version seems to present a lot of the same elements in a much more friendly fashion. The cinnamon seems a bit more pronounced now that it isn’t falling back into the oil so much and it feels like the wood has a more pronounced resolution as well. This is honestly a really good incense, especially for its entry price. It has a surprising amount of complexity and bouquet to it, a bit of saltiness and a nice gentle floral mix as well. It’s almost an essential as an under $10 roll. Oh and it has several sizes too.

The next four incenses leave this basic pink scent way behind and go through a number of permutations. For one thing I used to remember seeing daphne wood in the Tokusen Karin Select ingredient list and perhaps there still is a small amount but it is the one note listed for the green stick Karin Togetsu. I have not completely confirmed it but I believe Karin Togetsu is the same as the Les Encens du Monde Moonlight Night scent as they both share the daphne element and the olive green color stick. I’m not sure this shares any particularly profile with the Tokusen Karin Select. It certainly has something of a unique aroma on top of a sandalwood base that may be more of a subnote in the previous incense. This is definitely a more modern sort of floral blend, and as I mentioned in my EdM review it’s more akin to something in the Nippon Kodo line than most of the incenses that sit around it. I’ve always been a bit neutral about this one except for the fact that its central nature is really unlike any other incense. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled daphne in nature so I do like that this feels a bit different. However, there’s a bit of harshness to the burn, not enough you can’t overlook it but its certainly there.

Karin Kifune is imported through the Les Encens du Monde line as Royal Nave. Karin Kifune is really the first of three extremely wonderful incenses, especially now that you can buy a 90 stick box in the teens. I want to stress that even though these are largely oil-scented incenses there are still plenty of natural woods in the base and the creator of all three of these has made some really creative and wonderful scents with this trio. I used to be happy with all three of these at a more expensive Encens du Monde price so it makes them an extremely good deal for the money. Karin Kifune is probably what you’d call a sandalwood-based incense, but I think there’s enough hints of aloeswood and other ingredients to make it feel quite a but more deluxe. It has quite a bit of spice in the mix along with both of the base woods and a nice bit of saltiness. It is elegantly contoured in a way that is analagous to the way fine aloeswoods almost make you feel like you’re looking at the spiralling and patterning of the wood, and although it is relatively inexpensive it’s not unlike the feeling I get looking at and being around stained furniture. The only real difference from this review and my previous one as Royal Nave is this doesn’t feel quite as sweet. Which maybe puts its a little closer to the classic Kunjudo Hogetsu.

Karin Hien lies at the same price point as Karin Kifune, but I might like it even more. I believe it is marketed as Swallows in Flight in the Les Encens du Monde line. As I mentioned in my previous review, this is a very sweet incense, much sweeter than the Kifune. While Japan Incense moves the aloeswood to the front of the note list on the incense’s page, I would guess Karin Hien probably has a similiar mix of sandalwood and aloeswood hints as Karin Kifune does. It does introduce what I find is one of my favorite things about this incense and the next one, and that’s the sort of interesting nut or hazelnut aroma that’s in the oil mix, it’s something I absolutely love about it. Kunjudo are also really good at, if not making it super resolute, making an identifiable aloeswood note in terms of its more traditional woody but slightly bitter scent, so these also don’t feel like they’re the watered down sort of modern aloeswoods you might find in Nippon Kodo or midline Seijudo incenses. Like Karin Kifune this is a really good example of a modern meets traditional, with no small success. Its both confectionary, caramel-sweet and densely woody all at once.

Karin Zuito is the Karin high end and man is it wonderful to see the classic Golden Waves at such a great price (Japan Incense seems to have set this one on sale right over the $15 mark). This was my second favorite of the entire Les Encense du Monde line after Guiding Light. For one thing, it’s unquestionably the most fully aloeswood of the whole line with any of hints of sandalwood more or less submerged if there at all. In fact it feels like the Karin version of it might be a little woodier than Golden Waves is, even the hazelnut note I can still detect in Karin Hien is much more on the outside here. And of course this one isn’t even as remotely sweet as the Hien, and although it doesn’t lose an oil-based mix that compliments the woodiness it remains a fairly dry stick. It would be a superb entry even if it was a 45 stick box at the $15 point. With twice as many sticks it’s something of a steal and recommended if you need a lower budget option. I try always to keep this one in stock.


Encense du Monde (Florisens) / Karin / Pearl, Ruby, Moonlit Night, Perfumed Prince

[NOTE: Updated later 7/3. All incenses with Kunjodo equivalents available at Japan Incense have been linked. Links to the actual Encens du Monde incenses now go to Zen Minded.]

Reviews of the previous Encense du Monde/Kunjudo Karin incenses can be found here.

Karin is a strange line [NOTE: this refers to the Encens du Monde Karin line, not the Kunjudo one.] having so many differently styled incenses. Along with the amber-infused every day style of Karin and the decidedly aloeswood leaning Swallows in Flight, we have two less smoke incenses with square cuts (Pearl and Ruby), a very similar round cut but not smokeless incense (Perfumed Prince) and a floral yet traditionally styled incense (Moonlit Night). There really isn’t much of a qualitative difference among the six incenses, even the one you think would be the most expensive (Swallows) seems to get much of its impact from the oil, in a similar way to Tennendo’s roll incenses, like Renzan or Tensei.

The two less smoke incenses are quite pleasant surprises. Both use something of a charcoal formula for a base, yet neither have the slight bitterness that even the Baieido smokeless incenses have. Both are very modern perfumes, having little relationship to most incenses or even other florals. Pearl [assuming within Kunjudo this is the same as the Takara Pearl] has an almost vanilla or honeysuckle like perfume, sultry, mellow and reminiscent of modern perfumes. It reminded me a little of an old memory of daffodils, with hints of talcum powder and even tonka bean at times. It’s still surprising to me that such a mellow aroma isn’t cut through by its own base. Ruby [assuming with Kunjudo this is the same as the Takara Ruby] might be even more delicate, with slight hints of rose and carnation in the midst of what is a fresh, cleansing sort of aroma similar to Baieido’s Izumi but not as intense. There are some citrus-like notes in particular that help to separate it from the Pearl, not to mention it’s lacking Pearl’s creamier notes for something a bit more overtly floral.

Perfumed Prince might have been the third of this style if it was less smoke and square cut. It still has what seems like a similar charcoal base, although it seems to have the normal smoke content of a Japanese stick. Strangely enough, however, it’s an incense very similar in aroma to Pearl, with an almost coffee creamer-like aroma on top. There seems to be some strong vanilla notes involved, although it’s hard to tell if this originates from vanilla itself or a resin like benzoin. I also get a bit of jasmine or marshmallow in here as well. Like Pearl, it’s a very gentle incense that is likely to appeal to even those put off by traditionals. The only issue is there’s some slightly metallic hints that might come from the base, but these hints aren’t noticeable enough to be offputting. [NOTE: I am unable to locate, yet, the Kunjudo equivalent.]

Moonlit Night (I believe this one to be the same as Karin Togetsu) differs greatly from these three, being a traditional, wood-based incense. Inspired by the aroma of the Daphne flower it draws the obvious comparisions to Forest of Flowers, a sandalwood-based incense that also incorporates the Daphne aroma to fine effect (honestly Karin/Forest of Flowers is about as good as an inexpensive Japanese incense gets). Moonlit Night’s floral nature is much more overt, to the point where it reminded me of a lot of Nippon Kodo and other Kunjudo florals, however, Moonlit Night stops just before it gets bitter or offputting, leaving the incense’s floral nature rather pure. Unlike the other three incenses in this review, Moonlit Night has some wood base to it that prevents it from being a fully modern incense and in many ways bridges the three black stick florals to the other two traditionals.

I’m not a big fan of floral incenses, but have to say that the four in question here are among the best I’ve tried in that they are all rather original aromas without the problems associated with cheaper incenses: the bitter off notes, bad charcoal bases and inexpensive perfumes without any true depth. They really make the Karin line one of interest throughout the six incenses, and present some modern styles that one might be able to introduce to even the most casual appreciator of incense. Even at these travelled prices, these incenses are generally worth it. Were they to arrive in the US without a European side trip like Karin does, I’d be telling you about their high quality/low price ratio.