We've stocked Japanese incense almost as long as we've been open (since 2006). Incense is our preferred way to set a mood. A scented candle is nice, but over time the fragrance can become overpowering. The compressed powder sticks that are Japanese incense lack a wooden core and make for a much less smokey burn. We find this burn style excellent for small spaces and sensitive noses.
But what do they smellll like though? Inspired by Incense Corner, I spent a sunny afternoon with some of my favorite fragrances in Nippon Kodo's Kayuragi line. This line focuses on capturing single-note fragrances and has a relatively affordable price point, with 40 sticks and incense stand in every pack.
I would characterize Kayuragi scents as "the classics" or "the basics" because it offers a solid selection of fragrant wood-based favorites like sandalwood and aloeswood, florals such as rose and jasmine, and sharper fresh scents like ginger and mikan orange. I usually have at least two to choose from, to suit my mood.
Just smelling the stick alone I get a grassy sort of smell, pungent yet with a gentle sweetness. It's bright. After lighting up there is an inviting feeling I would liken to your first sip of strong, deliciously bitter whipped matcha after biting the richly sweet wagashi. It's a nice interplay of sweet & bitter within a light feel, and as it continues to burn it reminds me of the grassy smell of good grean teas still in the tin. Overall it's a light, gentle fragrance. Good smoke tendrils. A freshly aired out fragrance that's not too linen or baby powdery. Recommend this in small space or a light change in mood. For a stronger scent, perhaps repeat burning or 2 sticks at a time. It definitely brightens up and rouses my mind the longer it burns. An alertness that feels pleasant. Not dissimilar from drinking green tea itself. I find the touch of 'sweet' alongside the grass/tea scent strikes a perfect balance and likely keeps it from smelling like too much in the direction of natural bug repellant grasses (which tend to use dried chrysanthemum). Overall a great burn for an afternoon work vibe.
I used to think rose was a musty grandma smell, but now I know I was a fool. Quite frankly, it was during a very difficult time that I became absolutely compelled to have roses in my life. It was warm then and I was so sad, flowers were the only thing that seemed to lift my spirits. I began to notice all the gardens in my neighborhood with rose bushes. I would find the ones that had strong fragrances and make sure to stop by and smell them whenever I could. Something about the smell of rose is so comforting. It speaks a language of its own, and I know I'm not the first one to say that. So. At this point I am a rose incense fanatic. Among my rose collection is amazingly pungent incense from India and the southwest, and while I greatly enjoy both of them sometimes their concentrated smell goes to my head. Kayuragi Rose is therefore my go-to. Just as soon as I light up my whole body begins to relax. Anxiety I didn't even realize I was feeling clears out bit by bit, and I begin to breathe more deeply, if only to smell that wonderful rose a bit more. I love this incense!
This one's subtle yet one of those mood changing scents that comes up on you after it's halfway burned, and you're like damn it smells so nice in here! Smelling the stick, it truly just smells like hinoki cypress wood, which may seem underwhelming if you're not in the habit of deep-sniffing raw wood or going on forest hikes from time to time. After lighting up, this hinoki incense is very crisp and sort of enlivening, without actively seeming like any deliberate fragrance at all. If my beloved rose incense speaks the language of loving comfort, hinoki cypress says, clear your mind and be at peace. It is there and not there. Very much like how you feel walking in the woods, inhaling the air all hard like wow this air is so fresh. But the air is so fresh because of the concentration of trees and all that they provide for. This incense is overall light in character. Burn on repeat or in multiples to intensify. I like this for all-around refreshing, mind-resetting ambiance. Recommended for folks who need to get out more.
Jasmine had always struck me as a knock-out strong, intensely floral smell, but I chalk that notion entirely up to artificial imitations. Once I smelled real jasmine flowers, I was mind-blown. Absolutely intoxicating. Kayuragi's rendition smells like potent floral potential of real thing in stick form. Which is to say, there is complexity in this floral. "Summer breeze" springs to mind. It makes me happy. Slight feeling of floral euphoria/true intoxication, like have you ever smelled the real plant? Sensual. I burned 3 pieces (of one stick that broke) at once and it was very nice with the windows open on a breezy 70º afternoon. The smoke itself lends to a sensation of being near a jasmine plant under the languid heat of the sun. This one's good to burn when all the day's work is done and it's time to unwind. I find that it lingers nicely after extinguishing, too.
As for the other fragrances of the Kayuragi line, I can tell you that our customers cannot ever get enough of the sandalwood or aloeswood. I can also tell you that we burned the mikan orange heavily during the winter time at the Old City shop, and it really perked us up, which is what citrus is meant to do. The ginger is newest addition, and so far I'd liken it to the hinoki cypress in that it's there and not there... but maybe a little more there than the cypress.
Stay tuned. More reviews are on the way.
Shop our selection of incense and burners in the meantime.