September 20, 2017

Japanese Incense?

Whenever I tell people about Kikoh, I get the same quizzical look followed by the open ended question "Japanese incense?" and a long pause. The idea of "incense" to most in the US is disconnected from their understanding of "Japanese," so after the pause the conversation almost always goes to "how did you decide get into that?" It's a good question, the answer to which is how I came to start Kikoh.

Fortuitous Closings

I've enjoyed incense for years. But like most in the US, I didn't give it much thought beyond the typical "red stick" incenses that sold for a couple of dollars a box next to the meditation supplies. I used to get my incense fix at a tiny local rock shop. The shop was a  hole in the wall, but had the widest variety of incense I'd ever seen at the time - at least 15 different fragrances! All were dipped low grade sandalwood flavors, but I was particularly fond of the Frankincense they stocked, so every few months I would go to this store and purchase some along with a new fragrance I hadn't tried. I knew of nothing different other than my home smelled strongly of incense when I burned them.

Then right before Christmas I ran out of my favorites. I made a special trip to replenish my stock and low and behold the rock shop was out of business. I was devastated! I love the aroma of Frankincense in my home, especially during the holidays. I checked a few other businesses locally, but none had much of a selection even when they did carry some incense by the cash register. So I went to the Internet to look for incense stores in my region and stumbled upon an online store in Chicago that was going out of business.

The store sold only Japanese incense - something I'd never heard of. However, the products looked enticingly beautiful and the going out of business sale provided heavy discounts that were still well above the $2-3 a box I was used to paying. Intrigued, I took a chance and selected a package that featured a frankincense based incense -  Shoyeido's Honoka - and several others I had never heard of. The package came quickly, wrapped in so much bubble wrap it took me ten minutes to cut the incense free.

Bust or Boon?

The pictures on the store's website had no scale, so I was initially taken aback by the small size of the incense stick. Unlike the incense I was used to, these were short, much smaller in diameter, and were missing the red stick. They also didn't have as strong fragrance out of the box. I was certain this purchase was a bust (remember my limited frame of reference at the time).

The package of Honoka said it was made of Sandalwood, Benzoin (what?), Frankincense and spices. The stick note was subtle, but sweet, so I lit one and put it in my old incense holder where its small diameter allowed it to dangle loosely to the point I thought it would fall out. Expecting the blast of smoke and intense scent of my old favorite, I was surprised at the subtly of the fragrance and little smoke that was produced (Honoka is a reduced smoke variety).

Then came the first notes of Frankincense and vanilla. I'd never experienced this type of fragrance. Where my old favorite screamed at me with sickly sweet tones, Honoka whispered seductively in my ear with a smooth creamy note. Whereas my old "favorite" would immediately choke out the air, this new Japanese incense slowly filled my space, gently but persistently. It was there when I listened for it, but never did it demand my attention, let alone throw a fit like my old "red stick" incense did. Instead, the incense burned slowly, releasing its fragrance gently with a warm sweet glow. Who knew you didn't need a red stick and the associated blast of heavy smoke for such rich fragrance!

As much as there would be no turning back for me at that point, it was the after note that astounded me. The fragrance seemed to deepen and become richer after the stick was consumed. Where my old "favorite" left nothing but a smokey after taste, Honoka's fragrance lingered like an old friend long after the stick had ended. I found there was no hazy smokey thick feeling floating in the air after my new Japanese incenses had burned out, just a wonderfully deep and subtle fragrance long after the stick had extinguished.

I never looked back. That Christmas was my "incense Christmas". I began to learn everything I could about Japanese incense. I purchased many different brands, often directly from Japan, and began listening to Japanese incense everyday. I hadn't even experienced Alosewood or Kyara at that point, but still I was hooked.

Enough Already!

Then I began telling everyone I knew about Japanese Incense. For a time, my poor girlfriend heard all about Japanese incense all day every day! She still married me, so credit to her! I wanted everyone to know about how wonderful Japanese incense was - the natural ingredients, the pure scents, and the rich heritage... So I started Kikoh.

I wanted most to share my love for these exquisite incenses from Japan. I have much to learn still as Japanese incense is much like fine wine - the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. This is especially true given that many Japanese incense manufacturers have centuries of practice behind their family recipes. But every journey begins with the first step, and I'm now on a path I intend to travel for a long time. It is my hope that Japanese incense will bring you the same enjoyment and pleasure it has brought me.

You won't miss the red stick. I promise!

Michael
Founder, Kikoh Incense LLC


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