Hall of Fame: Japanese Incense

[Page under reconstruction] This is basically an attempt to list the great Japanese incenses under different price categories, including notations when incenses are of a higher quality than their price bracket. This list includes four categories: Luxury (boxes are $150.01 or more), Premium ($50.01-$150), Standard ($10.01-50) and Bargain ($10 and under). Incenses without links have not been reviewed here yet or are newly added to this list, you can also check the Top 10 lists in the index for comments on unreviewed incenses. If you have suggestions to add to this list at any time, please use the comments section.

LUXURY ($150.01+)

PREMIUM ($50.01-$150)

STANDARD ($10.01-$50)

BARGAIN ($10 or less)

NOTES: Most if not all of these incenses can be found cheaper in samplers. Certain incense suppliers also break down some larger boxes into smaller bundles that often would move an incense into a lower bracket. I’ve notated these by asterix (*). Both Kyukyodo Shiun and Yumemachi could be considered to be on this list based on informal divisions at certain incense stores.

A new notation (^) has been added to this list, enabling its considerable expansion in the lower two brackets. For each ^ used, the incense could be considered of a quality high enough to be in a bracket above. Thus incenses marked ^^ or ^^^ could be considered the best incenses for the price on this list. An incense without this symbol would not have made this list in a higher price bracket. Incenses with only 20 sticks have been adjusted one symbol down. The grid looks like this (with A being the highest tier and E the lowest):

L / A B
P / A B C
S / A B C D
B / A B C D E

In the Luxury category, a ^ indicates an A tier incense. A ! indicates a larger stick bundle and is also an extra indicator for value for money, using 30-45 stick boxes as a baseline.

Updated Wednesday, June 8, 2010



  1. nonabaltazar said,

    October 31, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks for this amazing site; I am really enjoying your wonderful writing and am learning so much. I currently have 4 of your recommendations in my cart 🙂

  2. Khanh Phan said,

    November 16, 2015 at 1:37 am

    I am now very eager to own forum KYARA form sharing experiences and classification.

  3. ali wilson said,

    September 2, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Great site,l’ve loved and made incense for years and having just joined the 21st century(got online)this site has been one of my first stops.A lovely olfactory oasis in the desert of digitosis

  4. April 20, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    Hello, I am looking for recommendations of the top 4 or 5 ones to try first. If I am going to spend $100 on a few different ones, which ones should I definitely try?? Thank you!

  5. billyadeg said,

    July 7, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Amazing Web site! I am so happy to have found this site. I have been working my way buying the hall of fame incense in all categories! Incredible recommendations explained in such an intricate manner. I am happy happy happy! I will not stop until I have tried them all. Many many thanks!

  6. Monty said,

    March 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new
    to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  7. italiano215 said,

    August 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Hello i have started a group on Basenotes.net

    Japanese Incense Loverz

    if you have a Basenotes account please join!!!! 🙂
    And lets get the conversation join’ Thanx


  8. Becky K. said,

    March 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Hi I just got my first 3 incense from the recommendations here. Love the Baieido Kobunboku, and the Holy Land, the Happy Hari oud masala not so much. Like sitting next to an old guy with too much bad cologne on for me. The Japanese one is WONDERFUL!, I will be getting more from that list for sure.. The Holy Land I really like too. It has a soothing rich evenness to it that does seem holy, It’s a nice one to burn outside when I am out doing yard work. Smells so good on the breeze. I sure appreciate this website. Becky

  9. Carrie said,

    June 1, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Yesterday I received an order including Shorindo’s Chabana Aloeswood, which cemented an incipient aloeswood addiction, and a Shoyeido Horin sampler.

    Now, not to say that Kai un Koh, and Chabana Aloeswood aren’t wonderful because they are, but I burned the first stick in the Horin series, the Nijo, and for me this was the first inkling of just how wondrous Japanese incense can get.

    It makes me afraid to burn the rest of the series, especially seeing as how I know the last stick has kyara in it and maybe I don’t need to be going there.


  10. clv said,

    April 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I have a question for you Mike.

    I’d like to try one decent Japanese incense. If you were to suggest one in the $25 or less price range, which would it be?

    • Mike said,

      April 11, 2011 at 9:20 am

      clv – try Baieido – Kai Un Koh, I think you can get a roll of it for about $15.

      • clv said,

        April 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm

        Thank you!!

        I looked it up at Essence of the Ages. It sounds wonderful! I am so excited to find out what aloeswood smells like!

      • clv said,

        April 14, 2011 at 11:29 am

        Just received the Kai Un Koh and lit one up and I like it very much! There’s something about it that smells really familiar. Like something I smelled ages ago and don’t remember. It’s tweaking me in my scent memory somewhere.

        This is a wonderful incense! Thank you so much for recommending it!

        • Carrie said,

          May 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

          I love this incense, but I couldn’t smell it unless it was pretty much right in my face.

          So I quit smoking. 🙂

          I figured, if I’m going to be collecting all this wonderful incense, maybe I should be able to smell it properly.

          Today I noticed my sense of smell is coming back, so I am going to go read in my room and light a stick of Kai Un Koh.

  11. glennjf said,

    May 30, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Mike, It’s pure gold this place 🙂

  12. Mike said,

    January 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I’ll be splitting the Tibetan and Japanese Hall of Fame pages up in the near future. A USA one will be eventually forthcoming.

  13. Mike said,

    November 4, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    11/4 additions: Baieido Tokusen Kobunboku, Tibetan Medical College Holy Land Grade 2. Other Kobunbokus (Kaden, Byakudan) may well follow.

  14. Mike said,

    August 26, 2008 at 8:04 am

    No word yet, but we’re actually not really finished with the project yet, so I haven’t even asked. 🙂 Thanks Steve!

  15. Steve said,

    August 25, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Good job on the changes, Mike! The expanded notation is quite useful. Haven’t had a chance to digest all the new entries since I last studied the list a couple of months ago, but look forward to doing so throughout autumn. Also nice to see such a robust Bargain and Standard compilation. Any word on folks’ reception of your sampler sets on EotA? Between the Hall of Fame and, now, the samplers, it should be a lot easier for folks to dive in! Bo-rim stick on the burn right now…


  16. Ross Urrere said,

    August 25, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Like the new system Mike. It helps give some perspective

  17. Mike said,

    August 24, 2008 at 3:40 am

    8/24 Changes.

    * Considerable additions to the lower two brackets as part of a list revamp to help portray quality for price.
    * A couple deletions also based on this formula.
    * Under consideration in the lower bracket: Encens du Monde/Virgin Snow, Encens du Monde/Whispering Bamboo, Nub Gon/Lama Chodpa Meditation, Nub Gon/Lama Chodpa Flower, The Direct Help Foundation/The Druid, The Direct Help Foundation/Amberlin.
    * Removed Kyukyodo/Shiun and Yumemachi from the list and added them to a footnote as the large boxes aren’t formally broken down into rolls.

  18. Mike said,

    August 12, 2008 at 9:31 am

    8/12 Changes. Added Baieido Kun Sho, links to recent reviews.

  19. Mike said,

    August 11, 2008 at 10:35 am

    8/11 Changes. Deleted Dzongsar, which is very borderline because it’s a difficult incense, possibly too much so for most Westerners. Added Drib Poi, you can’t buy incenses at $5 much better than it. Added Samanthabadra, should have done so ages ago. And the Traditional Mandala Incense is quite a steal at $8, very resinous. Drib Poi is already reviewed, the other three are forthcoming at some point.

  20. Mike said,

    May 30, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Azusa’s a stick I don’t reach for as much (which might partially be the smaller rolls/longer sticks) but it’s one I enjoy immensely when burning. For florals I think I may prefer the Shoyeido Floral Worlds a little more, but it’s basically on par.

  21. Steve said,

    May 30, 2008 at 10:01 am

    In a spirit of confusing openmindedness (or perhaps the power of suggestion again!), I have sat here smelling (almost said listening, but didn’t want to push it) another stick of Azusa. My earlier comments above now seem premature, and while I may never be an Azusa power-user, I have to say it is a thoroughly enjoying change from the more woody, spicy scents I tend to prefer. Will never be a big floral fan, but this is warm and smooth and would not be hard to describe as perhaps sweet and confectionary in addition to just a straight floral. And it is strong/sure, but never overbearing.

    You may not be a daily visitor, Azusa, but you are welcome any time 🙂


  22. Steve said,

    May 20, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks, Mike! We are very excited and happy! Ingredients functionality sounds like an ambitious and very helpful addition. Will certainly await for that to appear down the road.


  23. Mike said,

    May 20, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Steve, Congratulations to you and your wife! I haven’t pointed out the ingredients on this page because at some point that’s a functionality I want to add to the site and I’m not sure if I’m going to add them here or just sort them by categories.

    For the record, everything in the luxury category contains kyara, except Sho-Ran-Ko and Ga-Ho. Given that Ten-Pyo’s price did not go up in the recent increases, I do wonder how much wood it contains, but at the very least it definitely has a kyara scent as part of the blend.

  24. Steve said,

    May 20, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Recently returned from getting married and 3 weeks of honeymoon. Of course, packed my trusty Kai un Koh, Reiryo Koh and Ikaruga to keep us company – even the room housekeeping liked the scents! Despite my explaining historic precedent of scenting garments, however, my then fiancee wouldn’t let me burn anything until after the wedding, not wanting to impart the fragrance to her wedding gown 🙂 Wow, Mike – you’ve been so productive here the past few weeks. Lots of comments, too, and I’ve got some catching up to do. Enjoying a stick of Tibetan Monastery Incense right now (‘fraid to light that one in a hotel room!!!) Anyway, excited to see new entries to the Hall of Fame, especially my happy green stick Ikaruga in the orange floral wrapper 🙂 A truly modest and worthy addition – let’s tip our hats to Ikaruga!

    Would it make sense, Mike, to indicate which selections in the HoF contain Kyara? I believe the only incense I currently have that (may) have it is Ten-pyo, but I am very interested in learning to discern and appreciate this most prized wood. Or perhaps would this be over-valuing the ingredient and ultimately not serve to add value to the HoF?


  25. Mike said,

    May 20, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    A few inexpensive incenses under consideration here:

    Baieido/Kobunboku, Koh
    Kunjudo/Karin (aka Forest of Flowers)

    Also inclined towards adding Gyokushodo/Jinko Yomei and Jinko Kojurin to the list, as well as the Samye Monastery Samanthabadhra. Any extra votes or agreement will help in tipping the scale.

  26. Mike said,

    May 8, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Want to make a quick note re: the Baieido Kokoh series. I suspect they all belong here, but don’t feel comfortable adding them until I try them myself or get enough thumbs ups from people who have.

  27. Mike said,

    April 9, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Steve, Loved reading your impressions on all the various incenses and found your comments unique with some pointers to look for next time I stop by the particular scent. Some comments:

    Definitely not finished with the links quite yet, I think more content will be coming next week probably.

    Glad you liked the Sho Ran Ko. It’s really stupendous and I think over time you’ll probably find it as playful as I do. I think of it as a very Mercurian incense, both the yellow color and scent and it’s impish, changeable nature. It’s a very hard one to pin down and I’m probably half way through my roll now.

    Glad you made some guesses on the Heian-Koh as I’ve had a hard time figuring out the oil components on that one. Will look for them next time.

    Himalayan Herbal is definitely what I’d call a sleeper hit. When I was where you were at with both those incenses I felt exactly the way you did. And then the HH impressed me one day when I’d walked out of my place for a quick errand and when I walked back in the whole place smelled incredible. Was completely won over at that point. Lately I prefer it and that’s no small thing.

    I’m not sure I’d call Azusa a complex incense (it uses a complex oil though) as much as I’d call it distinctive. The floral oil is very in front and dominant, and it gives off a lot of smoke for a stick than thin. But I still have not smelled anything outside Kyukyodo that reminded me of it. Like yourself I’m not a huge floral fan, but that was one of the first that really made me start to appreciate the style (the incenses in Shoyeido’s Floral World/Star box increased that appreciation) and I think success depends more on the quality of the oil than the wood than many other styles.

    Thanks again for the compliments. 🙂


  28. Steve said,

    April 9, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Hey Mike! Just noticed the hotlinks from the Hall of Fame to the reviews – I think that’s new, and a helpful addition. Thanks!

    Slowly working through boxes, tubes and samplers largely chosen based on comments from this site. Overwhelming to try to describe everything, but pretty much across the board your descriptions are right on and heaven knows I can’t add to ’em…

    Sho Ran Ko really is fantastic. There was almost something feminine to me about it – perhaps that aloe.

    Heian Koh has a great presence thanks to the thick square cut. I smell star-anise or cinnamon. Another 10.

    Kai un Koh – 10!

    Tibetan Monastery – so unique and addicting. This has triggered an all-Tibetan order for me from EotA. Himalayan Herbal is very nice, but just doesn’t have a punch like Tibetan Monastery (but then what does?!)

    Ten-Pyo – a got a slight green tea and slighter agar note. 10.

    Shiun – a cinnamon note? Awesome!

    Gourmet Frankincense – enjoyed this one right away, and it seems to get sweeter and more caramel with each stick. I think Tennendo Frankincense is the most amazing frankincense ever, but I understand why Gourmet is on your list.

    Tokusen Syukohkoku is another winner.

    Reiryo Koh is very good and is so inexpensive that it seems like an amazing deal. I discovered Kyukyodo’s Ikaruga from comments here and at the same price point, slightly prefer it as a daily guilt-free burn, but can see stocking both going forward.

    Of what I’ve tried so far, only one Hall-of-Famer hasn’t registered yet, and I feel blasphemous for saying it – Azusa. I have never been a floral fan (usually overpowering or fake) and my initial strong inhale hit me with floral and perhaps talcum. I left a stick to burn in the bedroom, left, then snuck back in a bit later and the effect was more subtle and I realized it was more complex than your usual floral. Maybe this will continue to grow on me 🙂

    For anyone new to Japanese incense who has stumbled upon this Hall of Fame, you cannot ask for a better starting point than this list from Mike. It will quickly introduce you to great offerings without needless and expensive wading through the countless varieties out there. Of course, once you find a couple you like you will want to jump off and explore some on your own, but you’ll be better trained/experienced as you do so! Thanks again, Mike.


    • glennjf said,

      May 24, 2010 at 4:19 am

      I’ll second completely what Steve wrote in his last paragraph.

      It’s totally empowering this place, the reviews, Mike’s, everyone’s posts, the comments, reviews and the feedback.

      It’s only just six months since I lit my first Japanese incense and today I’m happily hooked.

      I’ve also taken some tentative steps towards being confidently engaged with some Indian Incenses and that’s for the first time in my life, something I thought I’d never ever be able to do. as for the Tibetans, I knew not a skerrick about them six months ago, it’s sure been a lovely learning curve!

      I’ve read right through the “Ask the Olfactory Rescue Service” from end to beginning, finished that delightful task today. I figure next I’ll try reading more of the reviews, the Japanese first as they’re the incenses closest to my heart.

      • Mike said,

        May 24, 2010 at 11:28 am

        Glad you’re getting a lot out of the site Glenn!

    • Becky K. said,

      March 2, 2012 at 12:23 am

      Love this web site! I will try new ones from the lists you have . I have a favorite that I don’t see here. It is called Shikobai, I was wondering if there is a review of it somewhere.

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