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Daisen-In Incense:

While in Kyoto, we visited Daisen-In, the head temple of the temple complex Daitoku-ji.  I highly recommend a visit if you’re into zen gardens at all.  At the end of our visit, I bought some lovely incense made by Shoyeido labelled solely in kanji.

After buying it my husband and I were blessed by a cheerful monk who was there doing custom calligraphy for visitors: “Be Happy Always!”

The Daisen-In incense is very very similar to Shoyeido’s Nokiba, and someone has told me that he found someplace that said it was Nokiba.  (Thanks, Paul!)  I think they may be different, but I plan a couple of smell tests to see.  The color is very different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  Both certainly have the same lovely cottony benzoin sweetness tempered with the earthy aspects of patchouli.

I will post close-ups of the box and materials in another post, in the hopes that someone may be able to read them!  (I know that the kanji at the bottom of the front says “Daisen-In”)  The script that Shoyeido likes to use on all their boxes throws me off.

Daisen-In

Kyukyodo at Keio Department Store:

It turns out that the Keio department store attached to Shinjuku Station (as I wrote about earlier) has a wonderful Kyukyodo counter if you’re not wanting to travel to the head store in the Ginza district of Tokyo.  (It’s not the only other department store counter Kyukyodo possesses in Tokyo.)  It’s located straight across from the elevators on the 6th floor, which is why we missed it on our first trip to Keio.  I visited the counter to make my follow-up purchases after having mulled over my choices in the Kyukyodo catalog I got in Kyoto.  I believe that the Keio counter boasted all of the incense available at the Kyoto head branch.  I didn’t see the less expensive incense stands in Kyoto, but I may have missed them.

I ended up just purchasing a bulk box of Ikaruga (1100 yen) and a rabbit incense stand/holder (850 yen) that I couldn’t find at the Kyoto branch.

Ikaruga Bunny

On my previous trip (on let’s say, Tuesday), there was also an extensive selection of Awaji-Baikundo incense for sale down the aisle.  A young man dressed in traditional clothing demonstrated the various choices to the few passers-by shopping on a Tuesday night.  Not knowing what was going on at first, I approached the tatami-covered platform he and an older woman were occupying, and suddenly realized that it was Awaji-Baikundo.  Bulk boxes from 850 yen to 1500 yen.  I hadn’t expected to find any there, and so I couldn’t remember which kinds were the ones I wanted to try.  He showed me a few sticks, but I needed to get home.  I vowed to myself to research and come back as soon as possible.

Wednesday and Thursday passed (our trip to Kyoto), as did Friday (a return trip to Akihabara and several bookstores).  So Saturday rolls around, and the Awaji-Baikundo stand was gone!!

It turns out that the section next to the Kyukyodo counter carries regional goods that rotate on a weekly basis.  In Awaji-Baikundo’s place was someone selling amber jewelry of some sort.  So that’s my story of the Awaji-Baikundo that got away.

Narita Airport:

I managed to squeak in one last incense purchase at the airport of all places—a box of Baieido’s Imagine series Hinoki.  They were selling it in the Fa-So-La across from a food court.  Eh, why not?

And so my incense adventures ended way too quickly.  I can say that I expected to have to open my backpack up for inspection, but I got through security just fine.

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.

Shopping bag from Nenjudo

Nenjudo is a Buddhist altar supply shop just down the street from Sensou-ji temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.  We were able to find our way there by using the somewhat helpful photo tour located on their web site (entitled “is Asakusa at the top of a Mountain?” because you have to climb so many stairs to get to ground level from the subway).

Directions: Basically, when you arrive at Asakusa Station via Tokyo Metro’s Ginza line, leave the station from Exit 2 and turn left down the first street you come to.  Or just find Exit 2 once you’re above ground.  As this map shows, Exit 2 is right down the street from the outer gate Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) of the Sensou-ji temple. (The walking tour on the left is for the Toei Subway‘s Asakusa Line, the tour on the right is for Tokyo Metro‘s Ginza Line.) There are grayish air conditioning units on the wall, as shown in the walking tour pictures in the right column.  Nenjudo is not far down this street, on the right. (Note: when I visited, the façade looked different thanks to some sidewalk-sale style carts parked in the entryway.)

The store stocks just about all the whole Kunjudo range, as well as Baieido, Nippon Kodo, Kokando, Minorien, Seikado, Okuno Seimeido, Daihatsu, Shoyeido, Tenkundo, Gyokushodo, and so on.  If you’re looking for other altar supplies or pilgrimage supplies, they seemed well-stocked.

I orbited the central counter about 100 times before finally just getting what I had originally come to the store for: bulk boxes of Kunjudo’s Karin Hien (Swallows in Flight) and Karin Zuitou (Golden Waves), for 3200 yen and 5300 yen.  Pricey for me, but they will last at least until my next trip to Japan.  Well worth it, since they’re both exquisite aloeswood scents.

The person who rang me up also threw a free box of Gyokushodo Jinko Hoen into the bag, yay!

Golden Waves and Swallows in Flight

I had been looking for the Kokando incenses that Encens du Monde exports, especially Whispering Bamboo and 1000 Years of Wisdom (Shouchikubai and Sennenkou, respectively) but they were located outside the entrance, and so I didn’t see them until I had finished checking out.  They were around 1100 yen each for a bulk box, so my overly frugal side was kicking me for having missed out on a deal.  On the other hand, one can easily buy them in the United States, with the Encens du Monde repackaging.  For that price, though, I was hoping to share with other people.

While you’re in Asakusa, be sure to also check out Kappabashi-dori, where you can find all manner of culinary items, from food itself to cookware to dishes to plastic food.  I also spotted some of the air-purifying Baieido Imagine scents at the door of one store.

Next to come: Kyukyodo in Kyoto, more Kyukyodo in Tokyo, and tying up loose ends!

Tokyu Hands – Attached to the upscale department store Takashimaya (near Shinjuku Station) is the wondrous Tokyu Hands.  I only got to visit the Shinjuku branch, but other branches’ craft and sewing departments are legendary among DIY crafters online.  Indeed, find one and go there, especially for small gifty things like cell phone charms, fans, and packets of bath salts.  It’s a sort of general store, stocking everything you could think of.  The closest American analog that I know of (in my slightly limited Midwestern experience) is Target–you could buy everything from socks to toothpaste, mailing boxes to curtains or alarm clocks, luggage to furniture–all at reasonable prices for aesthetically pleasing items.
At any rate, I primarily came for the bath salts.  I ended up picking out a strawberry milk bath, a beauty enhancing bath, a volcanic hot spring variety, a Hokkaido milk bath, and one with the tiger-bikini-clad Lum on it (from Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura), just for the heck of it.  I’m hoarding four of my little packets still, but I can verify that the strawberry milk flavor made the bath look and smell like a strawberry milkshake.

Being a Japanese department store, Tokyu Hands also sells incense in its housewares department, at prices comparable to the rest of the store.  There were a number of Nippon Kodo incenses, including the Kayuragi, Fragrance Memories, NK Pure, and Seiun lines.
They also stocked a number of low-end Kunjudo incenses, such as the Kankenkou, Aromambiance, and  Bien Etre/Well Being lines.   (An occasion to play “spot the Encens du Monde”)  I purchased Kunjudo’s 88 Ya incense, which is supposed to impart to the observer all of the health benefits of the green tea it contains.  It smells quite a bit like macha tea powder, both on the stick and burning.
Likewise, several Shoyeido low-enders were for sale including the Horin and Xiang lines.  I purchased the lovely, sandalwood-based but benzoin-heavy Hori-Kawa in a cute, mini stick box–mostly because it’s the only incense my patient but bored husband said he liked on the whole trip (and without being asked!).
It was pretty easy to smell the sticks at Tokyu Hands, because you were provided with a tester box for each type of incense available.

I probably should have checked out Takashimaya’s tenth or eleventh floors, but we were running out of time and I had other places to go for incense.

Kyukyodo in Tokyo – A cautionary tale: never trust Google Maps to get you to Kyukyodo, especially if you know it’s in the Ginza district and Google Maps tells you to go someplace else.  The end.

More to come!

I didn’t keep track of when I shopped for incense (my family is largely uninterested in that portion of the trip), but I kept track of where I shopped, for my own and your future reference. My shopping adventure is thus organized by place and not chronologically.

Our hotel was a five-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. I highly recommend the hotel, if you can afford it or find a sweet deal like we did. (Drop me an email if you want to know more. Click on “Contact” above.) As such, it was also a five-minute-or-so walk from five different department stores of varying calibers.

I went shopping armed with a list of incenses, their reviews, and their name in kanji, as well as a document with various incense ingredients and manufacturers in kanji. (I plan to post the latter as soon as I’ve cleaned it up.) I can read hiragana and katakana, and planned on using the ask-and-point method, but as with the phrasebook we brought, I didn’t use it too much for that purpose.

As a shopping and general travel note, I would highly recommend learning the kana.

Odakyu –  The first day, I wanted to get right out and explore the department stores so the incense acquistion could commence. Odakyu is a department store attached to Shinjuku Station. The entrance is to the west (to the left) if you’re approaching the south entrance of the station. I wouldn’t really recommend this store if you’re looking for incense. The incense counter is waaay in the back of the eighth floor, in the Buddhist altar supplies department in Housewares. It was across from the small Toy department. The ambiance was rather creepy to me, but I’m not sure why. I felt unaccountably nervous there. That said, they stocked Baieido incenses in several sizes.

Lumine 2 – The department store Lumine has several locations, two of which are attached to Shinjuku Station as well. If you enter the South Entrance, turn right past the commuter train ticket machines and the “green window” (the office that sells specialized and bullet train tickets) and you will enter Lumine 2. I failed to write down the names of shops in here. To the left after you’ve entered is a shop selling cosmetics of all sorts. For your olfactory pleasure, there is a large display of fragrances just past this store. Ingeniously, all of the fragrances available (I estimate about 100!) are available for sampling by smelling the contents of an array of labelled plastic jars. We sampled the “24” colognes before moving on.  Jack Bauer never smelled so good!
In terms of edible smells, if you continue walking past the cosmetics store, there’s a fabulous-looking French style bakery serving soups and breads, and an adorable/odorable Gothic-styled coffeeshop further on, to the left.

Keio Part I – We visited Keio to scope out yet another Households department.  Circling the perimeter of the sixth floor, we saw bolts of fabric, kimono and yukata and all the trimmings you’d want, jewelry, eyewear, lovely gifty stuff, and an arts department (which I thought was the incense department–but it wasn’t).  I returned here later in the week, to scope out the actual incense counter (after discovering that it existed).

Part II to come: Things heat up when I actually find stuff to buy!