On our day trip to Kyoto, we stopped by the Kyoto branch of Kyukyodo. It is located in a fun covered shopping arcade in downtown Kyoto.  Open-front shops line the arcade’s walkways, making the façade of the store the more impressive.  The store takes up at least twice the width of the other shops, and features dark woodwork that creates a sense of age befitting the incense house.  (I wish I had thought to take pictures, but I was steeling myself for my first major incense mission.)  Kyukyodo’s web site has info on where to find it, as well as a picture of the shop I visited (on the left).

Stationery and calligraphy supplies take up most of the shop space.  Most of the customers that day were browsing the selection of decorative cards and fans, so I had free access to the incense counter.  The incense was located on one end of the central counter, a glass case surrounding the cash registers and gift wrapping, which contained the high-end incense and better incense accessories.  On the surface of the counter, one could find the bulk incenses open and waiting for customers  to sample them, which I did.  Thanks to the research I had done online, I had a list of items to smell before making a purchase.  A sales associate helped me out by lighting individual sticks, to better get a sense of the scent.  (For future visitors’ reference, she spoke no English. That doesn’t necessarily mean that no one speaks English, however.)  Unfortunately, it usually takes me a few tries to get a handle on a scent, so that didn’t help me too much.  But this was no fault of theirs.

I hemmed and hawed over the selections, and finally decided that I’d pick up a few of the ones I definitely wanted as a souvenir of Kyoto, and visit the Kyukyodo counter at Keio department store in Tokyo to get the others.  What I got in Kyoto: Ryuhinko / Ryuhinkou roll (1155 yen), Umegaka roll (840 yen), Higashi-Yama bulk box (1365 yen), and Chitose bulk box (1365 yen).

Ryuhinko is available in the US, but at this price, I couldn’t resist.  I find it a refreshingly dry aloeswood that’s a nice change from the brighter, lighter aloeswood of Shiun.  At this stage of my olfactory journey, I can’t tell enough of a difference between this and higher-end Kyukyodo aloeswood scents.  I opted for the less expensive route instead of trying out the Miyuki, Kinbato, Beni-Zakura, Seigetsu, or other aloeswoods.

Umegaka is not one I’ve burned much, so I’m writing from memory.  It’s the stick form of Kyukyodo’s “house” nerikou (kneaded incense). It’s slightly creamy and slightly woody with a spicy fruit overtone.  Having never smelled nerikou, I have no basis to compare.  Umegaka comes in a roll and two sizes of bulk boxes, in addition to the several different sizes of containers of nerikou balls or pastilles.  I consider it a must-try, at least for this reason.

Higashi-Yama is lovely, a blend of aloeswood, sandalwood, and Chinese herbs with a refreshing vegetal aspect to it.  It’s almost like Shiun in the respect that you’ve got these musky overtones coming from the aloeswood, yet it’s light, with additional nuances.  In Higashi-Yama’s case, the nuances are sweet and greenish or herbal instead of cherry-ish.

Chitose is a blend of Old Mountain sandalwood, benzoin, camphor, and other scents.  This has been my least favorite of the purchases, not because it’s a bad scent, but because it’s too much like Yumemachi.  Yumemachi’s ingredient list is identical, with I’m guessing a higher percentage of the fine sandalwood.  Chitose is very much like a lighter version of Yumemachi, with less of a citrusy overtone.  That said, if you’re in need of a good sandalwood incense and you’re in Japan, consider Chitose.  It comes in two sizes, the larger bulk box and a bulk box of mini-sticks (840 yen).

I’ll post pictures of the incenses after I find the charger for my camera batteries.

Also, I plan on putting more info up about Kyukyodo’s non-export incenses after I’ve finished my travelogue.

Next time: Kyukyodo at Keio department store and tying up loose ends.