Seikado / Meikoh Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood Blend, Daikouboku + Keigado / Jiyou Koh

Seikado’s Meikoh Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood: A nice, inexpensive Aloeswood blend from Seikado. It holds to a “middle of the road”  Aloeswood scent with a slight top note that is somewhat spicy. Which is not too say cinnamon like or anything along those lines. It’s actually quite different from other Aloeswood blends and is pleasant, easy to use as a background scent and a pretty good deal as an everyday incense. Fifty sticks in the box at around $14.00.

Seikado’s Daikouboku Sandalwood: This is a very nice straight up Sandalwood from the makers of Solitude line of wood blends. Seikado seems to big on the use of oils married up to Sandalwoods or Aloeswood to produce some pretty potent blends, almost ranging into what reminds me of Indian styles. In this stick they have not gone that route, opting instead to produce a very nice deep Sandalwood scent with a bare hint of spice/herb notes. I find it to be very easy to use and at the same time different then say the Baieido or Kyukyodo sandalwoods. This is another excellent everyday scent that will be merciful to your wallet.

Keigado’s Jiyou Koh: This is low smoke type incense, and it really is closer “no smoke”. Normally I do not like this style but this one I am finding pretty fun. When I first smelled it at Kohshi /Japan Incense it reminded me of something, about a week later I realized there were similarities with Shoyeido’s  Myo-ho in the top and mid notes. After looking at the ingredients list (Fennel, Cinnamon, Clove, Polygala tenuifolia (Polygalaceae), Angelica acutiloba) I realized that the first three are something I always associate with the scent of Myo-ho(along with Star Anise). All this being said I find this stick to be a pleasant backround scent, not very strong or prominent( like most low smoke stick) but it does add an interesting note to a room. Because it is a low smoke stick it will also tend to eliminate other scents, something to keep in mind if you want to clear the air.


Gyokushodo / Hanabishi, Eisenko, Tokiwa (all Discontinued); Koin, Kojurin, Jinko Kojurin, Keiun Koh, Jinko Hoen + Jinko Yomei (Revisit)

[NOTE 7/5/21: While the first three incenses may be available in Japan still, they are no longer imported to the US market.]

Perhaps the original distributor of the Gyokushodo line in the United States thought the company name might be a bit of a mouthful for the English speaking audience, as, until recently, it was largely unknown in the US which company created these incenses. Thanks goes to Kotaro Sugimoto over at Japan Incense for providing us with this information. This means that at most incense dealers, you’re likely to find most of these in the various or miscellaneous sections, without a company name. They seem to have been part of a distribution deal from Japan that came over with the Kyukyodo line and others miscellaneous incenses, a deal that seems to have unfortunately kept a great deal of information fairly obscure and a number of others incenses from these companies (Kyukyodo in particular) from coming to these shores.

Gyokushodo’s incenses may be somewhat obscure, but once you know where they’re from, a certain consonance appears and like Shoyeido, Baieido, Kyukyodo and many others, you start to get a feel for the personality of these incenses. Like Shoyeido, Nippon Kodo and Tennendo, Gyokushodo creates incenses with a strong oil on top, particularly with Tokiwa and Jinko Yomei whose top oils are quite memorable. As of today, nine Gyokushodo incenses are exported to the US, one of these I covered a while back. Two of these incenses are in the green “every day” sandalwood style, three are slightly more deluxe sandalwood blends and four are aloeswood incenses.

Like Kyukyodo, Gyokushodo appears to have a number of “green” sandalwood blends. These are basically incenses with a small or inexpensive sandalwood content blended with other woods and usually containing a mild top oil of some kind. Hanabishi is one of two very inexpensive incenses in this style, both of which come in rolls sold separately or in bulk in larger boxes. Hanabishi is fairly standard, with a citrus-like oil on top that reminds me of some of Kyukyodo’s unimported low end blends, but not really as smooth or considered. It’s a rough and ready incense with some off notes typical of cheaper woods and a bit of spice, all mild aspects that clash slightly with the oil.

Eisenko gets the balance a bit better, a somewhat sweet green sandalwood not unlike Nippon Kodo’s Mainichi Koh. The presence of oil is fairly muted and there’s a bit more spice at work leaving the results fairly standard. This is a very inexpensive incense, although one you can probably pass on if you’re already well stocked in this style. On the other hand it’s not a bad place to start if you’re not.

Tokiwa is the most deluxe of the three green sandalwoods with a far more intense and notable oil on top. It’s also quite a bit more expensive, the cost of the roll charting well into the teens. It’s somewhat similar to the Shunkohdo Haru no Kaori blend (although without the aloeswood content) in that it’s decadently sweet and spicy. The difference is that the oil has something of a limelike citrus note to it, as well as a touch of pine and like many more deluxe, green incenses a somewhat herbal note like sweet patchouli. It’s a very aromatic stick at the top of the sandalwood heap and well worth checking out. Of all the sandalwood blends in the Gyokushodo stable, it’s the most perfumed.

Koin moves to a blend style with a flatter box. It’s something of a hybrid, traditional due to its use of herbs and spices (although fairly light on both), but modern given a somewhat perfumed, floral aroma in the mix, a certain jasmine-like tinge that makes the scent somewhat reminiscent of Nippon Kodo work. Perhaps its closest analog would be the Encens du Monde/Karin blend Moonlit Night. Overall something of an unusual stick and not particularly impressive given that it seems to try to do too much at once.

Kojurin comes in a similar size box and also has an Encens du Monde/Karin analog, in this case the Forest of Flowers stick aka the one sold as Karin in the US. That is, it has a very pink, almost amber-like scent to it that will be considered quite friendly by most, except in this case there’s more of a sandalwood base (it seems unlikely it would have daphne wood like Forest of Flowers). Overall Kojurin is also slightly more floral and drier than Karin/Forest of Flowers, but it’s overall somewhat duplicative, so it’s recommended to start with one or the other. And given the choice I’d probably go with Karin by a hair.

Jinko Kojurin takes the Gyokushodo line into the aloeswood range, and isn’t anything like its sandalwood namesake. My immediate first impression was that it was very similar to the Shoyeido Haku-Un blend (which reminds me of a Buddhist Temple granulated Matchless gifts used to and may still offer), with a cloudy, musky under scents combining aloeswood, sandalwood and a nice heaping of benzoin. In the case of Jinko Kojurin, the aloeswood and muskiness are quite a bit more prominent, which only enhances the type of scent here. Overall it’s very sultry and mysterious with a nice, quality wood center and a light bit of cinnamon spice to liven things up. And it’s quite a bit different from the rest of the Gyokushodo line in its own right by not having an overt oil or perfume mix on top.

Keiun Koh is a pale green stick with a color I’ve never really encountered before and is one of the mildest aloeswood blends on the US market. It has slight green minty tones across an even lighter aloeswood (and likely sandalwood) blend. Like  a lot of green sticks, comparisons with patchouli or green tea are inevitable but even though the work of this incense is done with oils, they’re quite faint. A stick of this level of mellowness isn’t likely to offend anyone but at the same time it’s just as unlikely to impress. [NOTE 7/5/21: This may have been formulated since review.]

Jinko Hoen could be the woodiest of Gyokushodo’s aloeswoods, at least in the classic sense and shares some characteristics with the company’s US top line, Jinko Yomei. Those familiar with Yomei will recognize some of the same unique oils on the top, but where with Yomei they’re highly perfumed and quite strong, with Hoen they fade into the woods rather perfectly. Hoen’s a difficult stick to get at first, coming across somewhat mild, but with time one will notice all sorts of notes, like burnt toffee, turpentine, cinnamon and clove. There’s also quite a bit of muskiness in the middle, although in a different manner to Jinko Kojurin. A previous reader also mentioned its similarity in parts to the way books smell, a sort of library like paper aroma, to which I’d agree fully. A great stick overall, with a Baieido-like learning curve.

I reported on Jinko Yomei well over a year ago here and it’s certainly improved even more with use. It has a very distinct oil at the strength that you’ll find in some of Shoyeido’s high end blends, in fact I’d even propose that it acts as a sort of lower level analog to Myo-Ho or Sho-kaku. Jinko Yomei is not nearly as high quality or woody as either of those classics but the perfume is really nice on this one, tangy, decadent and distinctive against anything outside of the Gyokushodo line (only Hoen is remotely similar). The only warning I’d give is for what is advertised as a high end aloeswood, it’s not woody, acrid or hoary like you’d expect with a fine quality of wood, but fortunately the price reflects this difference. For a roll in the mid-30s you get a really good deal for the price. In fact it’s a great enough incense to have it on the Hall of Fame for its cost range. Those looking for totally unique incenses will find one here.

One wonders if Gyokushodo’s other treasures are wrapped up via contract like the Kyokushodos as the aloeswood>kyara levels found in most companies seem to be absent here. Overall the company does some fine work and compared to several other companies nearly all of these incenses are very affordable for what they do. Sandalwood fans are advised to give Tokiwa (and if you haven’t tried Karin, Kojurin) a try, aloeswood fans will likely find success with all of the blends, perhaps other than Keiunko (which is quite pleasant in its own right).

Tennendo / Scent of Kyoto, Yoshino Hills, Kohrokan Sandalwood, Karafune

Tennendo incenses are among the best price for the quality, perhaps throughout the line. For instance one can buy a roll of Renzan, an aloeswood blend, for about $6, perhaps one of the best deals in Japanese incense. Even the highest end stick in the same line, Kuukai, goes for just over $20 a roll, and it must be said that even at over $100, Tennendo’s magnificent Enkuu is a bargain for its quality. So it’s no particular surprise that the company’s lower end incenses are also rather good for their prices. The four incenses in question here include the two in the same range as Renzan and Kuukai that I hadn’t covered and two other lower end incenses that come in boxes, Scent of Kyoto and Yoshino Hills. It could be said that all four of these incenses represent Tennendo’s versions of four traditional scents. Scent of Kyoto is basically a cherry blossom incense. Yoshino Hills an every day sandalwood. Kohrokan Sandalwood aims for a more high end, old mountain level of quality pure sandalwood. And Karafune goes for a spice blend. All can be easily purchased for under $10. 

Scent of Kyoto is actually a rather excellent cherry blossom incense, featuring Tennendo’s usual hallmarks of grace, freshness and gentility. The obvious comparison is to Shoyeido’s Kyo-Zakura, what could be considered the standard for this sort of incense, however there’s something even smoother about Tennendo’s version, something that resonates with the rest of the line. While a box of this, due to the increased number of sticks, is likely to cost you more than one unit of Renzan, it seems to be a good buy. While the Shoyeido Daily bases aren’t always perfect for me, I really like the base of Scent of Kyoto. It speaks to the silence surrounding an orchard of these trees on a beautiful spring day.

Yoshino Hills is Tennendo’s analog to Nippon Kodo’s big yellow box of sandalwood incense, the prevalent “every day” style that nearly every Japanese company has a version of. While I really do like NK’s version and prefer, overall, Kyukyodo’s many variations on this theme, there’s something a bit bitter at the edges of this one. Over time it’s possible I may come to see this as a plus, but at the moment, I tend to like the sweeter aftertastes with this style – the bitterness seems like it might be more of a binder issue.

Kohrokan Sandalwood appears to be the company’s pure/high quality sandalwood entry. Think Kyukyodo Yumemachi, Baieidio Byakudan Kobunboku, or Shunkodo Sarasoju as incenses with similar concentration on top quality sandalwood. Like most of these incenses there’s a tiny bit of spice here, not enough to resemble Minorien’s sandalwood, but a little in that direction. Like the Yoshino Hills this too has a bit of sharpness to it that makes me think it’s an intentional note I haven’t gotten quite used to.

Karafune is probably the most low end incense Tennendo exports here, a spicy blend that combines sandalwood, clove, cinnamon and fennel. It’s actually fairly similar to some of the lower end Baieido blends like Syukohkoku or the Kobunboko series in that it’s all about wood and spice. The closest analog is probably Shunkodo’s Chinsoku Koh, except that the ingredients that make up the mosaic that are these sticks are more consonant as a unity in Karafune. In fact where getting used to low end incenses often means one gets a bit bored with them, I’ve found with Karafune that it improves with use, particularly as one gets used to it as an overall scent. It’s definitely less a sandalwood blend than a spice blend and it’s got a nice light smoothness to it that speaks of restraint and taste. One could imagine such a scent browsing Zanzibar spice markets, in fact clove might be the top note here, if there is one.

Again, if you already have incenses that are similar to the various styles on display here there would really be no need to duplicate by adding a box of something various similar. Yet on the other hand, the Yoshino Hill and Karafune in particular would make excellent new entries into the style, although I must say that with the green everyday sandalwood, the NK version makes a good base for comparison, and with the old mountain style I’d say it’s almost about even among brands.