Awaji-Baikundo / Nyuwa, Byakudan, Wabi-Sabi

This esteemed company was founded in 1885. It is located on Awaji, an island in the Seto Inland Sea near Osaka, where about 70% of Japan‘s incense is currently manufactured. Here you will find burial mounds thousands of years old, and this may be the first island to have been settled in the Japanese archipelago. Legend identifies it as the landing place of the first pieces of aloeswood, arriving via ocean currents from Southeast Asia around 595 AD. As the story goes, the locals burned this driftwood and, realizing its amazing aromatic properties, immediately extinguished the chunk of wood and presented it to the Empress.

Awaji-Baikundo’s incense is unique because the base of their blends is not the typical sandalwood or aloeswood, but hydrangea flowers. This is a very important and historically symbolic plant in Japanese culture, used in celebrations and offerings, to clear the mind of misfortune, relieve tension, and grant one courage and happiness. This base lends Awaji-Baikundo’s incenses an overall light and uplifting quality, with a noticeable mood-enhancing effect. They currently have only five incenses available in the US with a much larger catalog available in Japan. Ross has reviewed Jihi here and Shoujou here. Every one of these incenses is unique, amazing, and well worth sampling. It is rare to find an incense company with a product so consistently high in quality. I have tried all five of their US offerings and enjoyed each one immensely.

Nyuwa is a hydrangea-fruit incense. Fruits are an unusual category and one I find myself really getting into these days! It is rare to find a predominantly fruit blend, especially one that avoids the use of synthetic aromas, so this is a treat for sure. At first I was going to say that this was like a peach, but no, on further contemplation I would say it is more like an apricot. Being a fruit incense it is very peaceful and, unlike some of the wood-heavy blends, achieves this without being too sedating. Fruits in general are energetically lighter than woods and this characteristic certainly comes through, with the apricot lending this incense a pleasant sunny disposition.

Byakudan is a blend of sandalwood and hydrangea. There is a lemony note in there and just a touch of amber. The play of the ingredients is balanced just so; no one ingredient dominates the other and each inhalation give a new angle on the complexity. If you like sandalwood incenses you should definitely try this one. What an unusual take on this traditional wood! Just beautiful! I am forever amazed at the adaptability of sandalwood, and here is yet another example. It is capable of blending flawlessly with an astounding range of aromas, from herbs and spices to resins and flowers. This is absolutely one of the most unusual and elegant sandalwood incenses I have ever tried. {NOTE: 7/2/21: This blend has been discontinued.]

Wabi-Sabi was a tough one for me to figure out at first. It was so strange and unusual, unlike any incense I had ever tried before. After burning quite a few sticks, however, I finally got it – coffee! There are other Japanese companies that make coffee incense, including Shoyeido and Baieido, a testament to the popularity of this style. As someone who does not drink this beverage, however, this incense was initially difficult to interpret. Still, I have always loved the rich and roasty smell of this bean. It is intensely aromatic, with a high quantity of volatile oils, making it the perfect ingredient for incense. It is the predominate note in this blend, rounded out with some sort of delicious caramel note and just a hint of herbs and wood. Just like the beverage, I find this blend to be subtly stimulating and a natural choice for social gatherings and casual conversation. Recommended!


Three Spice Blends (Daihatsu / Bodaiju, Keigado / Kaori (Discontinued), Awaji-Baikundo / Shoujou)

These are all gathered within the “spice” category of incense blends. They are all different and also different enough from other company’s offerings to be worth a look.  They won’t break the bank and would make great gifts to beginning as well as experienced users.

Daihatsu Bodaiju
This is listed as pure sandalwood and cinnamon. I can taste the Sandalwood, but must admit that the cinnamon is unlike any I have smelled before. However I am basing that on my experiences with the various Baieido blends that use cinnamon or cassia. It has a very nice spice brisk almost peppery quality to it and along those lines is really a winner. I believe there are some pretty high quality E.O’s at work in here also. There are none of the harsh or off scents that signify synthetics to me, so the overall feeling is one of a fresh, clean and lively blend. I think the green color of the stick sort of sums’ it up nicely. It comes in a rather elegant black and gold box and would make a great gift

Keigado Kaori
This is a green Sandalwood stick with honey overtones riding over it all. The honey plays within the middle and top notes while the base is a great herb and sharp spice blend. It is a very interesting mix because the scents keep moving back and forth as to which is calling out the most from moment to moment. Warm overall tone, with lots of Essential Oils playing their part, this stick smells wonderful even unlit. Nice way to set the vibe of a room with a warm, cozy and clean atmosphere. Again, a nicely done box and a great gift item.

Awaji-Baikundo Shoujou
This is part of Awaji-Baikundo’s Hydrangea Tea series, which I find myself really drawn to. The tea seems to provide a whole extra level of ( for lack of a better term ) goodness. There are a lot of different spices and oils at work here, you can tell as soon as you open the box. It is spicy, sweetish and almost floral yet never cloying or “soapy” as sometimes happens in these kinds of blends. At times I seem to pick up an almost tobacco note with the overall impression being a mix that is very grounding and very clean. I think the addition of the hydrangea tea tends to push the scent towards a brighter note. Their products all seem to make statements based on the different blends healing qualities. Great stuff from what is becoming one of my favorite companies. [9/15/21: Going to confirm Ross’s review here with more recent stock; however, I keep feeling like this is a bit differently configured from when it was first imported. But none of what Ross wrote here I’d disagree with. – Mike]

Awaji-Baikundo / Jihi

Jihi from Awaji-Baikundo uses hydrangea tea as one of the main components of this incense. It seems to me that it adds a rather clear and bright quality to the scent. There are three kinds to choose from. SHOUJOU, which I believe may be just the hydrangea tea and some spice, Byakudan, which adds Sandalwood and the one I ended up getting, Jihi, which has a major Amber note to it. There is also a big Borneol Camphor presence ( you can really tell when you open the box ). Taken all together this combination makes for a very unique and interesting incense. This is not the regular sultry Indian Amber I was expecting, it has a much lighter, cleaner almost fresher scent then any other Amber based, well anything, then I have experienced before. I find myself really liking this one. It is the sort of thing I would burn for special moments or to set a certain mood or vibration in a room (or me for that matter). It’s not inexpensive, yet because I find that I really enjoy the particular style of Amber that it presents it will be something that I keep a stock of. It has the unique factor in spades.
Most likely I will find myself ordering the other two because the hydrangea tea aspect intrigues me no end. So much so that I am checking out my neighbor’s plants and am contemplating a raid :0 )