Japanese Incense

24 Apr 2018 | Articles |

If you have ever used incense then the chances are that you started with Indian incense sticks, like Nag Champa. They tend to be quite pungent, smokey and have a very distinctive “hippy” smell. They are usually made by taking a very thin strip of bamboo and then coating it in a mixture of wood dust and oils and resins. My own journey started with Nag Champa, bought from stalls in Camden Market, but I never really used them much and in recent years I visited some Japanese shops in London and discovered a whole new world of incense there.

Japanese incenses are very different – they tend to have woodier, purer, and more refined scents. They do not have a bamboo core and are made from a paste of wood dust and oils and this is kneaded, rolled and extruded into sticks – Baieido have an explanation and so does KyaraZen. You can get plenty of floral and fruity scents in the modern products but the traditional products are all based around sandalwood, aloeswood*, cinnamon, camphor and traditional spices. They tend to burn with less smoke (there are even low-smoke products) and with a broader range of beautiful scents, which can take years to explore. Incenses can be very cheap at the “every day” domestic end (just a few pounds per box) but, like any artisan product made from rare ingredients, they can rise to whatever you want to pay – hundreds of pounds a box is not unusual for the high-end incenses made from the most expensive aloeswood.

Right now I am enjoying the fun of learning about new incenses, importing them from Japan and then trying to educate my nose to appreciate the scents and to pick out the different notes. I have to admit that it is very daunting and I have a lot to learn before I will develop a vocabulary to describe what I am smelling but at its most basic you can always just say whether you like the smell or not.

* Also known as agarwood or oud, this comes from the wood of an Aquilaria tree that has been impregnated by a fungus (Phialophora parasitica), which makes the tree defend itself with a fragrant resin. The infected wood is harvested and burned to make a unique and expensivefragrance. It is highly valued in the Middle East and Asian and has recently made it to Europe where perfumers use it in fragrances. 

Shoyeido ceramic dish with Encens du Monde and Kayuragi incense holders

Burning incense

As well as thin sticks you can get incense cones and also kneaded incense balls and wooden flakes. The latter will need slightly more preparation to burn because they need you to prepare a bowl of ash and to heat some charcoal onto which you will place a mica sheet and then onto that the piece of incense itself.

To me that’s a bit too much faff and so I just buy sticks and I have a few nice ceramic plates and equally lovely little incense holders. Some brands (such as Nippon Kodo Morning Star, Kayuragi and Encens du Monde) supply holders – just a little ceramic square with a hole in the middle, just big enough for you to poke a stick in and for it to stand upright while it burns. You can also buy many different types and styles to suit your taste on eBay or Amazon etc.

I just take a fresh incense stick, fire-up a simple lighter, hold the tip of the stick in the flame until it just starts to burn. Let it burn a few more seconds until you can see the tip is alight and then blow it out and put the unlit end into the hole on the holder. The stick will smoulder and the fragrant smoke will be produced and drift upwards and be carried by the air currents around your house. I often put my dishes on the radiator and the air circulation speeds up the distribution of the scent.

Japanese incense companies

  • Nippon Kodo (日本香堂) is by far the biggest brand and one of the oldest companies, tracing its origins back to the 16th century. They sell a huge range of traditional and modern, western-oriented products here in the UK (e.g. Morning Star, ka-fuh & Kayuragi) but they also have completely different products in Japan to cater for market taste, which you won’t find from UK sellers. Conversely some products found in the UK/US seem not to be available in Japan (e.g. the Koju 1575 series).
  • Baieido (梅栄堂) is probably the second most available brand, with their popular Kobunboku range of sticks, based around a very traditional recipe, dating back to the 17th century. They have fewer products than NK but they are all good – this is one of my favourite brands. Again, they have a few high-end products that are only available in Japan (e.g. the Jinkoya Sakubei series).
  • Shoyeido (松栄堂) are easy to find in the UK, either online or in some incense shops. I am not a big fan though and haven’t found many that I really like – the majority of their incenses seem very pungent and quite strident. Although the company started in the 18th century the ones I have seen are all long sticks, packaged for Western tastes with names in English.
  • Kyukyodo (鳩居堂) is one of the oldest incense and stationery shops in Kyoto, Japan, dating back to the 17th century. They were suppliers to the Japanese royal family and have a large catalogue of incenses ranging from daily-use to very high-end sticks, plus modern hobby-use sticks and even cones or wood chips. This is one of my favourite brands but I have only tried the traditional incense sticks so far. They get a lot of very good reviews from incense connoisseurs.
  • Kunjudo (薫寿堂) make some very popular incense sold under the French brand Les Encens du Monde, often under the name Karin – they are very easy to obtain in the UK. But, confusingly, they also make their own Karin incenses which are excellent and are well worth trying. I particularly like Tokusen Karin – a very fragrant and quite cheap incense.
  • Koyasan (高野山) have a limited range of products but their Takano Reiko line are beautifully presented in coloured boxes with silver flecks on them. Meiko Takano Reiko, based around aloeswood, is the stand-out product but all in this range are very nice.
  • Seikado (精華堂) is an interesting brand but I haven’t really had much chance to try very many of their products. All of the ones that I have tried have been very nice – especially Jinko Daikouboku and the Gohitsu (five brushstrokes) series. Presentation is in modern looking boxes but all aimed at the Japanese market.
  • Gyokushodo (玉初堂) is another traditional company which makes a range of interesting products. I have only tried Jinko Kojurin, which is a nice aloeswood but quite smokey. I need more time to explore these. I have a sampling set on order.
  • Kunmeido (薫明堂) is primarily known for its very traditional Reiryo Koh incense – quite a pungent and smokey incense but well made.
  • Kida Jinseido (貴田沈清堂) have a limited range of products but Kyarakunko is generally considered to be a really lovely incense. The boxes in this series are very bright with a silver and red/orange pattern – hard to miss!
  • Minorien (みのり苑) is a brand I haven’t tried but they seem to produce 4 main products based on frankincense, sandalwood, aloeswood & kyara (a very high grade, Vietnamese aloeswood) under the fu-in product line. Apparently they have a “damp” scent but I will report back when I have had a chance to try them. The boxes are all very plain and traditional – brown boxes with a beige label. I have a sampling set of these on order.
  • Daihatsu (大発) is a modern brand with modern packaging aimed at the Japanese market. I haven’t tried them myself but they seem to have variable reviews – some people like them, while others say they are boring and not worth trying.

Importing from Japan – tips & tricks

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the language because sites like Rakuten or AmazonJP can be searched using English but the results are usually awful and limited to very over-priced products. If you search using “kanji” (Japanese pictograms/characters) then the results will be much better but it is tricky to work out what to type.

The easiest way to get started is to look at the tables below and just copy/paste brand names or brand + product and see what the search finds for you. Another way is to copy/paste text from the product pages or photo descriptions into Google Translate (see below), deleting superfluous bits until you think you have pared it down to a product name – then try a search with that.

Next you will find that not all sellers on AmazonJP will ship abroad so you need to tick the “International Shipping Eligible” box. It can be a bit frustrating though when your huge page of wonderful products, which you have been looking for for months, is cut down to a selection of just 3 that you didn’t want! This doesn’t seem to be an issue with Rakuten – or at least it hasn’t been so far.

You’ll need to use Google Translate a lot – but usually not to translate because it makes a pretty poor hash of it and anyway the product names are not English, they are transliterated Japanese. Luckily though Google Translate will show you what your kanji actually “says” under the box where you pasted it. You can usually see brand names and product names – allowing for a few characters here and there. For instance:

  • 香 – Koh or ko – the Japanese pictogram for “incense”, which you will see all the time
  • 白檀 – Byakudan – “sandalwood”
  • 沈香 – Jinkoh – “aloeswood”
  • 乳香 – Nyukoh – “frankincense”
  • 伽羅 – Kyara – the highest quality Vietnamese aloeswood
  • 微香 – Bikou – “delicate incense”
  • 銘香 – Meiko – “fine incense”
  • 特撰 – Tokusen – “excellent quality”
  • の香り- no Kaori – “aroma of …” (as in Jinkoh no Kaori – aroma of aloeswood)

Remember that you’ll have to pay shipping (usually 1000-2500 yen, depending on weight) but as the weight of incense is minimal it pays to buy multiple products per order. At some point you’ll also have to pay Import VAT (20%) and any RoyalMail/ParcelForce “handling fees” (usually about £13).

Sellers

I have found the following sellers very reliable – they each have pros and cons:

  • KohgenWorld – an excellent website, in English, with great products and at reasonable prices. They will ship using Japan-Post which means you’ll get hit with both Import VAT and fees at the UK end, which can make it a bit expensive. Bigger orders make the process more cost-effective but the post is fairly slow to arrive.
  • Amazon.co.jp – really superb site to use. You’ll have to create a new account even if you have one in the UK version of Amazon. One big advantage is that they ship using DHL which means they collect the Import VAT in the checkout process and do not charge any fees. DHL ship to the UK in about 4-5 days too so you get your products very quickly and it is quite a cost-effective way to buy even small orders.
  • VectisKarma – probably the biggest incense shop in the UK with an excellent range of products & very fair prices. They are on eBay too.
  • ZenMinded – another UK seller with a great range of products – a bit more basic in range though. They are also on eBay.
  • eBay – there are quite a few good sellers on the UK eBay but the range of products is a bit limited. Good sellers include:
    • Mahobeauty_uk – based in Lithuania with a range of mainly cheaper end products but distinctly different from the UK companies
    • Ongnamoversand – based in Germany they have an excellent range of incenses in the main brands – more of a range than the UK companies too.
  • Rakuten.com – a huge and confusing Japanese retail website, like a hybrid between Amazon & eBay but more personal and very Japanese. You first add your items to your basket (it helps if you buy everything from the same seller) and when you are ready you give them your details and place your order – you won’t see any shipping listed (just a way to estimate it). The seller will email you when they have calculated the method and the price and ask you to email back “ORDER AUTHORIZED” if you agree. They usually send by international mail so you will have to pay fees and Import VAT at the UK end but the prices are pretty cheap anyway. I have used the following shops:

Crib sheets …

Empowered by those little tips you should now be ready to go shopping so here is a list of all the incenses that I have tried or which are on my wishlist (at the bottom), with the kanji where I have them and a few (hopefully) useful comments. I have tried to add in some *** ratings but this is quite new for me and I’m not sure really how to score then, except by how much I like them or how often I find myself burning them:

Brand kanji Name kanji 0-5 Scent My comments Price Quantity Price per
Asibe Kougei 2 Yuzu “less smoke” £5.00 100 £0.05
Baieido 梅栄堂 Original Kobunboku 好文木 3 Nice Kobunboku with slightly thicker sticks so a good long burn for the length. Fairly smokey and a little harsher than the Excellent quality but still very nice. £3.99 25 £0.16
Baieido 梅栄堂 Byakudan Kobunboku 白檀好文木 2 Sandalwood a nice incense with a definite sandalwood base and some edge on top from the herbs. Not annoyingly smokey though. £12.50 110 £0.11
Baieido 梅栄堂 Bikou (Delicate incense) Kobunboku 微香好文木 4 Really lovely daily incense with low smoke £20.00 250 £0.08
Baieido 梅栄堂 Sawayaka (Fresh & Clean) Kobunboku さわやか好文木 2 Cinnamon definitely has cinnamon in there along with a fairly harsh smokey bonfire note £10.00 80 £0.13
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kaden (Family secret) Kobunboku 家伝好文木 3 Aloeswood very nice Kobunboku with similarity to Baieido’s Kaiunkoh sticks £6.00 26 £0.23
Baieido 梅栄堂 Tokusen (Excellent) Kobunboku 特撰好文木 4 Beautiful, classic Japanese incense – agarwood, sandalwood & camphor £12.00 80 £0.15
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kaiunkoh (Good Fortune) 開運香 4 Aloeswood Very nice quality, square-sectioned sticks – nice oud mix with Vietnamese Oud and Indian Sandalwood £15.00 55 £0.27
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kokonoe 九重 3 Daffodil / Narcissus Really nice smooth, fragrant classic incense £10.00 80 £0.13
Baieido 梅栄堂 Jinkoya Sakubei – Kokonoe Koh 九重香 3 Sandalwood+ RAKUTEN1 – quite dry and pungent – very traditional £31.84 115 £0.28
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Jinko Kojurin 沈香香樹林 3 Aloeswood Huge, thick, square-sectioned sticks – quite nice agarwood – opens almost pine-scented but settles down to familiar notes … nice, smokey & very long-burning £14.21 20 £0.71
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Kaori no sho sample set RAKUTEN1
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Dento no Kaori sample set RAKUTEN1
Kenmei do Hanakonjiki – Golden Flower 2 “frangipani, rock rose and ylang” quite sweet and fragrant … nice £7.00 36 £0.19
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Kyarakunko 伽羅薫香 5 Aloeswood Really lovely, dry smooth aloeswood … different style though to normal aloeswood. Has a strong cinnamon in it. £35.79 450 £0.08
Kousaido 香彩堂 Hanga 1 Apple Not my favourite incenses but they are pleasant. They come in short sticks so burn time is low. £9.00 90 £0.10
Kousaido 香彩堂 Hanga 1 Bamboo Not my favourite incenses but they are pleasant. They come in short sticks so burn time is low. £9.00 90 £0.10
Kousaido 香彩堂 Hanga 1 Jasmine Not my favourite incenses but they are pleasant. They come in short sticks so burn time is low. £9.00 90 £0.10
Kousaido 香彩堂 Hanga 1 Lavender Not my favourite incenses but they are pleasant. They come in short sticks so burn time is low. £9.00 90 £0.10
Koyasan 高野山 Meiko Takano Reiko “temple scent” (dark blue box) 銘香高野霊香 5 Spicy Aloeswood? Very fragrant, woody and lovely – very very good £20.60 350 £0.06
Koyasan 高野山 Tokusen Byakudan Takano Reiko (red box) 特選白檀高野霊香 3 Sandalwood Very nice sandalwood – not special but nice £29.51 370 £0.08
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Karin 花琳 4 Sandalwood Very pleasant sandalwood with cinnamon £8.52 220 £0.04
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Tokusen Karin 特撰花琳 5 Sandalwood Very nice fragrant, cinnamon-floral sandalwood £10.42 220 £0.05
Kunjudo (Encense du Monde) 薫寿堂 Karin – Hien – ‘Swallows in Flight’ 飛燕 3 Aloeswood A nice smooth, sweet agarwood blend with a big incense holder in the box – loved by a lot of reviewers. Seems similar to some of the Baieido incenses with agarwood in them. £8.95 40 £0.22
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Reiryo Koh 零陵香 3 sandalwood, clove, foenun graecum A nice traditional incense – not overpowering. Needs more study. Fairly spicy and smokey but nice. £11.00 80 £0.14
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Reiryo Koh 零陵香 3 sandalwood, clove, foenun graecum ditto £10.11 100 £0.10
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Jinko Reiryo Koh 沈香零陵香 Aloeswood (jinkoh) Like above but a bit sweeter – needs more testing £16.09 100 £0.16
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Miyuki #203 (yellow label) “deep snow” 深雪 5 Sandalwood Very thin sticks – beautiful sandalwood fragrance £11.90 60 £0.20
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Seigetsu #201 (Clear Moon) 清月 5 Aloeswood Very thin sticks – really lovely mild aloeswood fragrance £20.37 60 £0.34
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Miyuki #208 (red-label) “deep snow” / “good fortune” みゆき 2 Sandalwood Quite dry and green – reminds me of garden bonfires. Quite pungent and not my favourite but still, not bad. £7.76 60 £0.13
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Benezakura #202 紅桜 3 Aloeswood (jinkoh) Nice – aloeswood base … smokey but without being too pungent. Very easy to use £16.49 60 £0.27
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Ryuhinko #153 龍賓香 4 Aloeswood (jinkoh) Really nice jinkoh – fragrant without being too pungent. £10.67 60 £0.18
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Umegaka #210 梅ヶ香 4 senkoh Smooth, almost nutty & sweet but very traditional – not a floral or artificial note in it. £7.76 60 £0.13
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Ichiyamatsu #207 (plain green box) 一夜松 3 Pine & Herbs Nice pine fragrance with a slightly soft floral note too £10.49 60 £0.17
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Kinbato #147 (green box, purple wrap) 金鳩 3 Aloeswood Very smooth, papery aloeswood & sandalwood – very nice £26.52 60 £0.44
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Kunshi Koh #145 “Gentleman’s incense” (purple label, paulownia box) 君子香 Aloeswood (jinkoh) A definite pungent aloeswood base but a nice formulation. Long, thin sticks. £20.98 60 £0.35
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 GyokuRanKoh #151 (green label, paulownia box) 玉蘭香 Sandalwood A nice sweet creamy sandalwood but with aloeswood in there too … very nice – almost vanilla-ish. Long, thin sticks. £12.40 60 £0.21
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Shinnyo #226 (modern purple box w rhomboid white label) 真如 4 Aloeswood Quite dry aloeswood – nice when diffused into a room – better than average and good for daily use. £28.42 220 £0.13
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Maigoromo #036 “Dancing Gown” (modern green box w white square) 舞衣 4 Sandalwood RAKUTEN1 – a very nice, smooth and sweet sandalwood £23.35 £220.00 £0.11
Minorien みのり苑 Sandalwood Fu-in 風韻白檀 Sandalwood RAKUTEN1
Bought as a sample set
Minorien みのり苑 Aloeswood Fu-in 風韻沈香 Aloeswood RAKUTEN1
Bought as a sample set
Minorien みのり苑 Kyara Fu-in 風韻伽羅 5 Kyara RAKUTEN1 – Gorgeous, strange and evocative “wet” kyara scent – woody, strong smelling but smooth and lovely. Can’t work out what it makes me think of – candles, oils and woods. Beautiful.
Bought as a sample set
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Byakudan Eiju 白檀 ?? 2 Sandalwood A nice standard, woody scent – pleasant and a little strident with average smoke £3.25 20 £0.16
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Meiko Eiju 銘香 ?? 2 Pine & Herbs Smooth pine smell, less smoke but still quite smokey. Fairly nice but nothing very special. £9.00 70 £0.13
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ka-fuh 花風 檜 5 Hinoki Beautiful Japanese Cyprus scent – very vivid and fresh – “less smoke” £10.00 120 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ka-fuh 花風 蓮花 3 Lotus Fresh and floral – nice – “less smoke” £18.00 400 £0.05
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ka-fuh 花風 沈丁花 3 Daphne Very fragrant, citrusy floral – beautiful – “less smoke” £10.00 120 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ka-fuh 花風 ラベンダー 3 Lavender Gorgeous smooth, sweet lavender – best lavender yet – “less smoke” £10.00 120 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ka-fuh 花風 白梅 4 White Plum Beautiful floral – just like blossom – “less smoke” £10.00 120 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ka-fuh 花風 アクア 2 Aqua Really lovely aquatic – reminiscent of Acqua di Gio but not strong smelling – quite light – “less smoke” £10.00 120 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 緑茶 4 Green Tea Very interesting green tea flavour – unique £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 檜 4 Japanese cyprus Beautiful Japanese Cyprus scent – very vivid and fresh £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 蜜柑 4 Mikan orange Lovely citrus £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 水仙 4 Narcissus Lovely floral £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 金木犀 4 Osmanthus Lovely floral £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 薔薇 4 Rose Very lovely rose £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 白檀 4 Sandalwood Very smooth sandalwood – the best I have smelled £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kayuragi かゆらぎ 白桃 4 White Peach Lovely floral £15.00 40 £0.38
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Mainichikoh 毎日香 3 Sandalwood Nice standard smokey daily incense. Mainichi-koh is the best selling daily incense in Japan £11.00 300 £0.04
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Meikoh Shibayama 銘香芝山 バラ詰 3 Woody floral Low smoke. Very nice smooth and floral incense. £27.99 430 £0.07
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Cinnamon All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Frankincense All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Gardenia All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Jasmine All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Myrrh All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Pine All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Rose All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Sandalwood All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star 3 Yuzu All incenses are pretty good quality, daily quality with some very nice flavours £4.00 50 £0.08
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Seiun 青雲 黒 バラ詰 4 Chrysanthemum Very sweet and pleasant low-smoke daily £15.00 220 £0.07
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Seiun 青雲 ゴールド バラ詰 2 Gold Floral Oriental broadly floral and quite light/fresh with a woody base – interesting scent – not high quality but quite pleasant. £3.50 20 £0.18
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Seiun 青雲 ? 4 Rosewood Beautiful woody, fragrant rosewood incense – simply but good for every day £16.64 480 £0.03
Okuno Seimeido 奥野晴明堂 Jinko no kaori 沈香の香り Aloeswood RAKUTEN1 – sample
Okuno Seimeido 奥野晴明堂 Ginsen Kunsui (Kun Sai) 吟撰 薫翠 (くんすい) Aloeswood RAKUTEN1 – sample
Seikado 精華堂 Meiko Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) 銘香五筆 3 Sandalwood Very pleasant sweet sandalwood with a slightly agarwood note … really nice. Feels like there is some pine in there too. £11.49 50 £0.23
Seikado 精華堂 Jinkoh Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) 沈香五筆 5 Aloeswood A sweet, cosy, warm & fragrant aloeswood/sandalwood blend – really nice – quite perfumed £13.79 50 £0.28
Seikado 精華堂 Jinkoh Daikouboku 沈香大香木 5 Aloeswood / floral Really nice smooth, sweet aloeswood – very very good £18.99 300 £0.06
Seikado 精華堂 Johin Jinko Ryoun (Elegant Aloeswood ?) 上品沈香凌雲 4 Aloeswood RAKUTEN1 – very smooth and traditional aloeswood blend £26.53 80 £0.33
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Gozan Five Hills 五山 2 Not bad but pungent & dry – sandalwood, patchoulli, clove & spices – long sticks £9.00 35 £0.26
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Haku-un White Cloud 白雲 3 Nice sandalwood – long sticks £15.00 35 £0.43
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Hoyei-koh Eternal Treasure 2 Not bad not not my favourite – sandalwood, clove, cinnamon & spices – long sticks £5.00 35 £0.14
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Kin-kaku Golden Pavilion 金閣 3 Nice sandalwood & cinnamon – long sticks £6.00 35 £0.17
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Kyo-zakura Cherry Blossoms 京桜 2 Woody but dry and pungent – sandalwood, cinnamon, benzoin, clove, spices – long sticks £8.00 35 £0.23
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Kyo-nishiki 4 Sandalwood, cinnamon, patchouli & spices Smooth and full of cinnamon so quite sweet too – very nice

Wishlist

Brand kanji Name kanji 0-5 Scent My comments
Baieido 梅栄堂 Jinkoya Sakubei – Horyu Koh #246 鳳龍香 Aloeswood Part of a high-quality series in memory of Baieido’s founder, in light brown boxes
Baieido 梅栄堂 Jinkoya Sakubei – Kunsho Koh #256 薫昇香 Aloeswood Part of a high-quality series in memory of Baieido’s founder, in light brown boxes
Baieido 梅栄堂 Tobiume 飛び梅 Aloeswood gets good reviews – refreshing
Baieido 梅栄堂 Syukohkoku 聚香國 Aloeswood seems to be well liked
Baieido 梅栄堂 Tokusen Syukohkoku 特撰 聚香國 Aloeswood seems to be well liked
Daihatsu 大発 Meikoh Wakaba (Young Leaves) 銘香 ?
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Jinko Hoen 沈香法円 Aloeswood Very popular and famous
Koyasan 高野山 Byakudan Takano Reikoh (green box) 白檀高野霊香 Sandalwood seems to be a higher grade version than pink box, using rare Indian sandalwood
Koyasan 高野山 Renka Takano Reikoh (grey box) 高野霊香 蓮華 Lotus cheap Lotus flower scent
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 ??? Aloeswood seems a nice aloeswood
Kunjudo (Encense du Monde) 薫寿堂 Karin – Forest of flowers – ‘Harmony’ unknown but part of the EdM range
Kunjudo (Encense du Monde) 薫寿堂 Karin – Ruby – ‘Freshness’ – Smokeless unknown but part of the EdM range
Kunjudo (Encense du Monde) 薫寿堂 Karin – Moonlit Night – ‘Creativity’ unknown but part of the EdM range
Kunjudo (Encense du Monde) 薫寿堂 Karin – Perfumed Prince – ‘Seduction’ unknown but part of the EdM range
Kunjudo (Encense du Monde) 薫寿堂 Karin – Pearl – ‘Sweetness’ – Smokeless unknown but part of the EdM range
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Karin Togetsu 花琳 ?? sandalwood, agarwood and a little spice One of the Karin series but no reviews and no recommendations
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Kozanmai, Byakudan 香三昧 白檀 Sandalwood Uses flavenoids to deodorize
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Kozanmai, Jinko 香三昧 沈香 Aloeswood Uses flavenoids to deodorize
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Rozu? ろうず Rose very beautiful rose scent in an everyday product
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Denpo #255 Aloeswood recommended but DISCONTINUED?
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Sho Ran koh (paulownia box) 笑蘭香 Aloeswood MUST GET – highly recommended by everyone – a beautiful aloeswood
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Sho Ran koh (purple card box) 笑蘭香 Aloeswood MUST GET – this is cheaper version
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Sho Bai Koh (paulownia box) 勝梅香 Aloeswood MUST GET
Minorien みのり苑 Kyara Fu-in 風韻伽羅 Kyara MUST GET – amazing
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 ??? Aloeswood
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Kyara Eiju 伽羅永寿 Aloeswood “Finest Aloeswood”
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Koju 1575 | Moegi ‘The Bud’ supposed to be one of the best NK incenses
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Koju 1575 | Odori ‘The Dance’ supposed to be one of the best NK incenses
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Koju 1575 | Kibo ‘The Pathway’ supposed to be one of the best NK incenses
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Mainichi Bayakudan koh 毎日
白檀香
Sandalwood a high-end Indian sandalwood – in their everyday range
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Seiun 沈香 青雲 Aloeswood MUST GET – the low smoke sloeswood product in the Seiun range – veyr well liked
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Oedo-koh 大江戸香 伽羅姫 Aloeswood not sure about this – very posh in a presentation box with holder but is is good incense?
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Oedo-koh 大江戸香 長寿菊花 Chrysanthemum not sure about this – very posh in a presentation box with holder but is is good incense?
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Tokusen Sakura Usazumi 特撰 淡墨 の桜 Cherry blossom Looks good – cherry blosson NK product in the same range as Meiko Shibayama
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Tsukasa Kaoru byakudan 司薫 沈香 Sandalwood
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Tsukasa Kaoru jinko 司薫 沈香 Aloeswood
Seikado 精華堂 Tokusen Byakudan Houn 特撰 白檀 ?? pure sandalwood ORDER? need to try more good Seikado
Seijudo Urawaka Very fragrant and nice
Shoyeido 松栄堂 ??? looks good but not sure
Tennendo 天年堂 Frankincense 乳香 Frankincense MUST GET the best Frankincense
Tennendo 天年堂 Renzan 連山 Aloeswood in the same line as the frankincense so maybe give it a go?
Kohgen Original Jinkai very popular in Japan but fearfully expensive
Kohgen Original Traditional Agarwood, medium box very popular in Japan
Kohgen Original Mini Sticks series very popular in Japan

Mo’s list of products

I really got hooked on Japanese sourced incenses when I bought a box of Kyukyodo Miyuki from a chap called Mo on eBay. He also sent me a few sticks from his own box of Kyukyodo Seigetsu and when we got chatting he sent me a list of incenses that he had tried (with their kanji) and told me which he liked best. He also gave me some great tips, which form the foundation of the advice I have given above, and permitted me to reuse his list – below. You’ll notice that he doesn’t give as much information but he does have quite a few more products that I haven’t had the chance to try yet.

 Brand kanji Product kanji recommended by mo
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kokonoe 九重
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kunsho 薫昇
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kobunboku 好文木
Baieido 梅栄堂 Byakudan Kobunboku 白檀好文木
Baieido 梅栄堂 Tokusen Kobunboku 特撰好文木
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kaden Kobunboku 家伝好文木
Baieido 梅栄堂 Sawayaki Kobunboku さわやか好文木
Baieido 梅栄堂 Kai Un Koh 開運香
Baieido 梅栄堂 Syukohkoku 聚香國
Baieido 梅栄堂 Tokusen Syukohkoku 特撰聚香國
Baieido 梅栄堂 Tobiume 飛び梅
Daihatsu 大発 Meikoh Wakaba (Young Leaves) 名香わかば
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Jinko Kojurin 沈香香樹林
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Jinko Hoen 沈香法円
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Kaze No Sho 風の象
Gyokushodo 玉初堂 Mori No Sho 杜の象
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Kyarakunko 伽羅薫香 Yes
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Kodaikoh 古代香
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Ranjatai 蘭奢待
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Sandalwood 白檀香
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Ka No Mori Sandalwood 香の杜白檀
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Joyokoh 金判浄養香
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Kingyoko Koh 錦玉香
Kida Jinseido 貴田沈清堂 Hanakokonoe 花九重
Koyasan 高野山 Meikoh Takano Reikoh 銘香 Yes
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Hien (Swallows in Flight) aka Encense du Monde – Swallows in Flight 飛燕 Yes
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Zuito (Golden Waves) 瑞涛
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Kifune (Royal Nave) 貴舟
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Togetsu (Moonlit Night) 渡月
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Karin (Forest of Flowers) 花琳
Kunjudo 薫寿堂 Tokusen Karin 特撰花琳
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Reiryo Koh 零陵香
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Shintokusen Reiryo Koh 新特撰零陵香
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Jinko Reiryo Koh 沈香零陵香
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Shoryu Koh 昇龍香 Yes
Kunmeido 薫明堂 Heian 平安香
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Murasakino 紫野 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Harunoyama 春のやま
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Akikaze 秋風
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Sho Bai Koh 勝梅香 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Kun Shi Koh 君子香 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Gyoku Ran Koh 玉蘭香
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Sho Ran koh 笑蘭香 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Shinnyo 真如 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Maigoromo 舞衣 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Kinbato 金鳩 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Seigetsu (Clear Moon) 清月
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Benizakura 紅桜 Yes
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Miyuki (深雪) 深雪
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Ryuhinko 龍賓香
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Ichiyamatsu 一夜松
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Miyuki 2 (みゆき) みゆき
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Umegaka 梅ヶ香
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Ikaruga いかるが
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Azusa あづさ
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Shirohato 白鳩
Kyukyodo 鳩居堂 Chitose ちとせ
Minorien みのり苑 Frankincense Fu-in
Minorien みのり苑 Sandalwood Fu-in 風韻白檀
Minorien みのり苑 Aloeswood Fu-in 風韻沈香
Minorien みのり苑 Kyara Fu-in 風韻伽羅
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Mainichi Koh 毎日香
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Chiyo Uno: Usuzumi no Sakura (Cherry Blossom)
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star Cedarwood
Nippon Kodo 日本香堂 Morning Star Frankincense
Okunaseimeido 奥野晴明堂 Ginsen Kunsui 吟撰薫翠
Seikado 精華堂 Meiko Gohitsu 銘香五筆 Yes
Seikado 精華堂 Jinkoh Gohitsu 沈香五筆 Yes
Seikado 精華堂 Jinkoh Daikouboku 沈香大香木 Yes
Seikado 精華堂 Daikouboku Byakudan 大香木白檀
Seikado 精華堂 Hitori-Shizuka Kyara 一人静伽羅
Seikado 精華堂 Hitori-Shizuka Agarwood 一人静沈香
Seikado 精華堂 Hitori-Shizuka Sandalwood 一人静白檀
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Gourmet Sandalwood
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Gourmet Frankincense
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Gourmet Spicy Chai
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Haku un (White Cloud) 白雲
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Gozan (Five Hills) 五山
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Nokiba (Moss Garden) のきば
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Kyo Zakura (Cherry Blossoms) 京桜
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Kin Kaku (Golden Pavilion) 金閣
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Kyo Nishiki (Autumn Leaves) 京にしき
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Daigen Koh (Great Origin)
Shoyeido 松栄堂 Hoyei Koh (eternal treasure)
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Chinsoku 沈束香
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Shun Koh Sen 春香線
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Yae No Hana DISCONTINUED
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Haru No Kaori 春の香り
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Zuika 瑞華香
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Yoshino No Haru 吉野の春
Shunkohdo 春香堂 Ranjatai 蘭奢待
Tennendo 天年堂 Nyuko (frankincense) 乳香
Tennendo 天年堂 Nyuko (frankincense) reprint 乳香ピュア
Tennendo 天年堂 Enkuu 圓空
Tennendo 天年堂 Karafune 唐舟
Tennendo 天年堂 Shingon 真言
Tennendo 天年堂 Kohrokan 銘香鴻臚館
Tennendo 天年堂 Renzan 連山
Tennendo 天年堂 Shorin 松林
Tennendo 天年堂 Tensei 天成
Tennendo 天年堂 Kuukai 空海
Tennendo 天年堂 Karafune Kahin 唐舟佳品
Tennendo 天年堂 Karafune Yuhin 唐舟優品
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Jinko Karaku 沈香華洛
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Byakudan Karaku 白檀華洛
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Shoren Karaku 青蓮華洛
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Seifu Karaku 清風華洛
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Hojo (extra) 鳳城
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Hojo (very superior) 鳳城
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Kumoyi 雲井
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Hyofu 縹風
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Saiwun 彩雲
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Shikun 紫薫
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Suifu extra 翠風極品
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Suifu 翠風
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Kagetsu 華月
Yamada Matsu 山田松香木店 Obai 鴬梅

Interesting websites

  • Olfactory Rescue Service is an old blog that isn’t being updated now but it contains a lot of very good reviews and discussion about all kinds of incense.
  • Baieido USA has a simple page explaining the manufacturing process.
  • JapanIncense is an American online shop which won’t sell to the UK but their list of products and photos is very useful when trying to identify incenses.