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As reported on Alices Incense, Tobiume, Baieido’s newest addition, has arrived in the US.  (Old news, but I’m still catching up.)

I wanted to share a picture of the actual Flying Plum Tree, the legendary namesake of this new blend.

The trees haven’t started blooming here yet, but I’m looking forward to similar displays in a short while!

Photo by David Chart.

You can visit the home page of the shrine if you’re interested.

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Today marks the Autumnal Equinox, when the days begin their slow descent into winter darkness.  It also marks one of the first cool days we’ve had since July in my part of the world (US Midwest).  The sky outside is an even, pale gray.  Rain has been predicted, but none has fallen.  My tomato plants haven’t wilted yet, but the first average frost date is rapidly approaching.  The corn field I can see from my deck has gone past the gold of harvest into the brown of decay.  The leaves have not started to turn yet, but I anticipate they will soon enough.  It’s a perfect time to start talking about scents that help one start cocooning against the elements.

Incense:

I think spicy scents form a good bridge between the lighter woods of summer and the richer scents of winter. Shoyeido’s Kyoto Autumn Leaves is an obvious choice, featuring a spicy, rich blend of sandalwood, cinnamon, patchouli, and benzoin.  Shoyeido’s Golden Pavilion is similarly spicy, but adds the pervasive note of cloves to Kyoto Autumn Leaves’ blend.  Baieido’s Sawayaka Kobunboku / Imagine series Koh serves cinnamon lovers well with its toasty blend of aloeswood, cinnamon, and Chinese herbs.  Shoyeido’s Incense Road series may also appeal to spice-lovers, especially its Spicy Chai scent.

I don’t usually pay any attention to Martha Stewart, but she seems to love Halloween just as much as I do.  She’s got an interesting project for a “pumpkin incense burner” that allows one to fill one’s living space with the scent of spiced, baking pumpkin–specifically, pumpkin pie, for those readers who are familiar with this autumn treat.  I’m curious about how the project would turn out, but the amount of time needed to complete it gives me pause.

Autumn is also time to be outside amongst the falling leaves and chill breeze.  Scents that evoke earthy loam and bonfires are perfect for autumn.  Mermade Magickal’s Pan’s Earth is awesomely earthy and slightly musky, bringing together aloeswood, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, labdanum, Hougary frankincense, and Himalayan juniper wood.  Mermade Magickal’s Sacred Grove and Earth Church both evoke the scent of the wild woods and nighttime bonfires.  Both feature a good proportion of fragrant woods and evergreen wood and resins.  They bring the scent of the ideal bonfire to your house.

(Sacred Grove’s ingredients: Hougary and Oman Frankincense, Turkish Storax, Labdanum, Fir Balsam Essential Oil, Western Red Cedar Wood, Powdered Grand Fir Tips, Himalayan Juniper Wood, Pinon Pine Resin, Copal Elemi Resin)

(Earth Church’s ingredients:  Poplar Buds, Fir Needles, Port Orford Cedar, Juniper, Oman Frankincense, Pine Resin, Salupati, Rose Petals, Bay Laurel, Cedar, Labdanum , Ylang Ylang)

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.

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!

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!

I’d like to say that every single thing I bought was unavailable in the United States, but that wasn’t the case. Given my limited budget, I couldn’t afford to buy stuff up willy-nilly. A marked difference in price from the US-available stock was also a major factor for me, if it was something I wanted to try or to acquire. That’s not to say I didn’t make some random purchases, but they were usually in the 500-700 yen range. At any rate, I’m fairly pleased with what I purchased so far. Here’s my list, and I’m still working on my impressions of a few of them, so I’ll leave longer reviews and details till later. (I’ll probably start with the Kyukyodos at that point; I’ve been burning them a great deal lately.)

  • Kunjudo Karin Hien (Swallows in Flight) – awesome, will need to burn more.
  • Kunjudo Karin Zuitou (Golden Waves) – awesome, love love love!
  • Kunjudo Hachijuuhachi-Ya – real green tea incense
  • Kyukyodo Ryuhinkou – so cheap, who could resist?
  • Kyukyodo Higashiyama – aloeswood, sandalwood, and Chinese herbs – I love this
  • Kyukyodo Chitose – Old Mountain sandalwood, benzoin, camphor, other ingredients
  • Kyukyodo Umegaka – sticks with the scent of nerikou (kneaded incense)
  • Kyukyodo Ikaruga – this has been out of stock at Essence of Ages longer than I’m willing to wait ^_^
  • Shoyeido Horikawa
  • Shoyeido unnamed incense (or name in kanji) from Daisen-in temple in Kyoto
  • Baieido Imagine Hinoki
  • Gyokushodo Jinko Hoen
  • Kyukyodo’s bunny incense stand

Again, details forthcoming.

BONUS!
Things that I badly wanted to buy and that may remain on my “to try” list till my next trip to Japan, in no order:

  • Kyukyodo Miyuki
  • Kyukyodo Seigetsu
  • Kyukyodo Kinbato
  • Kyukyodo Shin’nyo
  • Kyukyodo Zuifuu
  • Kyokyodo everything (let’s just face it)
  • Kunjudo Hougetsu (Encens du Monde Guiding Light)
  • Kunjudo Matsurankou (Encens du Monde Pine and Orchid Wedding)

And the biggest three White Whales of all, which are easily caught in the States for more $$ (I’ll elaborate next time):

  • Koukando Shouchikubai (Encens du Monde Whispering Bamboo)
  • Koukando Sennenkou (Encens du Monde 1000 Years of Wisdom)
  • Awaji-Baikundo everything

Baieido’s Koh and Sawayaka Kobunboku are the same incense in different packaging.  It’s interesting that Baieido would present Sawayaka (“fresh and clean”) Kobunboku as the lone example of traditional Japanese incense/”koh” in their Imagine series.   It is pretty user-friendly, though.  I could see this as a gateway incense from the modern Imagine line into traditional Japanese incense.

On the flip side, the Imagine line, being modern, might attract incense users not wanting a traditional scent–whereas Koh seems traditional but also friendly.  I digress.

Also interesting, to my American nose, is the descriptor of this Kobunboku entry as “fresh and clean.”  On a blind smell test where I’m being introduced to the Kobunboku series for the first time, I think I would say that I would label the original or Byakudan Kobunboku with “sawayaka.”

And yet, Koh/Sawayaka Kobunboku is fresh and clean.

The cinnamon is warm but not hot like Red Hots or like some of the cinnamon-dominant candles I’ve smelled.  Instead the effect is gentle, like roasted cinnamon.  The comparison to cinnamon toast is fitting.

It seems to have a coolness underlying the spice that might otherwise come from a cool aloeswood.  The same high quality sandalwood as in the original Kobunboku is present.  Koh/Sawayaka Kobunboku shows same restraint as the original but with more spice–but it’s not “in your face” about it.

I’d say if you’re in the mood for a quiet, spicy wood that tends towards coziness, this would be a good choice for you.

Hmmm.

The Japanese Baieido web site lists a Jinkou Kobunboku that is like the Smokeless Bikou Kobunboku available in the U.S., but supposedly with a more pronounced aloeswood note.

Standard retail’s given at 2100 yen for a bulk box.

Check it out! (#540)

EDIT: Looks like other people know about it already!  That’s why reviews are great to read before buying.

Incense helps me wake up in good spirits in the morning.  Usually I reach for something spicy, but some mornings I’m not quite in the mood.

This morning, I’m burning Baieido’s Kobunboku.  The sandalwood dominates the composition, and as far as I can tell, the sandalwood is high quality.  It’s rather dry, with warmth provided by the cassia.  In other compositions, the cassia or cinnamon will dominate–very invigorating for the morning–but here it plays a minor role, complimenting the sandalwood.

The incense is supposed to invoke the image of plum blossoms in the spring.  I’m still investigating the commonalities of “plum blossom” incense, but Kobunboku certainly has a freshness and a light airiness to it.  Not in the sense of “white musk,” “green,” or “herbal” fresh, but instead a crispness of character that doesn’t forbid warmth–especially when compared with other incenses.  Very elegant.