October 24, 2017

Listening to... Baieido Kobunboku

To say that Baieido's Kobunboku is a surprising incense just doesn't do such a masterpiece justice. It continues to unfold a little after each listening experience like a teacher imparting a lesson of fragrance. It greets you like an old friend when you come back to it, then suddenly offers something new and unexpected - a hint of sweetness, a tang of spice.

Baieido refers to Kobunboku as the "expression of the plum tree" - but the fragrance is so much more than just a run of the mill plum blossom incense. Kobunboku is described as a blend of Sandalwood, Borneo, Cinnamon and Clove, with several variations of the Kobunboku blend available to form the foundation for Baieido's signature product line. But make no mistake - Baieido has a full product line built upon this centuries old formula for a reason that only listening will provide understanding.

The stick note is both spicy and cool - the Borneo topping a slightly sweet and spicy mixture in a rice paper lined box. Opening a box of Kobunboku is not something that can be done secretly - the stick announces itself even without burning. The box, with its bright red characters, golden branches, and white plumb blossoms, is reminiscent of the Ukiyo-e print of the Sleeping Dragon Plum in Kameido.

Lighting brings multiple notes that blend into an unique fragrance that is both a little sour, sweet, cool, and spicy - at times all at once and at times one note will triumph above the symphony only to retire and let a cool note be heard. This is not a modest blend that needs extensive burning to scent a room, but one that is full-bodied and expansive, probably accounting for Kobonboku's popularity as a meditation incense. The Sandalwood base is smooth and rich, forming a platform for the spices to take turns crafting a warm,  complex tone. The cool note of the Borneo seems to drift above all the others like a high soft arpeggio of a string section. Yet all the while as the fragrance builds, the soft sweet/sour combination continues as a low melody. This is a complex incense that is as insistent upon being heard as it is being the perfect backdrop. Kobunboku is both the star and the background track at the same time.

The after-note is soft and sweet. The hints of coolness fade, as does the tang of the sourness expressed while burning. The result is a long lasting scenting of the space that is softly sweet like plum blossoms on the wind.

Overall Kobunboku is wonderful. Both sweet and sour - just as the plum tree - with a coolness like the breeze of an early spring day that sees the blossoms begin to open announcing the end of winter. Sadly, I have no plum trees in my garden. If this is the essence of their beautiful nature then my garden is lacking.


Outside my window, leaves fall with the cold rain.
Autumn ending, winter on its way.
Yet plum blossoms bloom, despite the view.