In The Tales of Genji, it is said that Emperor Suzaku gave as gifts incense "...so remarkable that they could be detected even beyond the legendary hundred paces." I remember wondering if incense that made its presence felt that far off would be too strong and intense an experience to be pleasant. Then I became acquainted with Shirakawa, part of Shoyeido's truly exceptional Horin series, and experienced the true meaning behind "the legendary hundred paces."
Shirakawa (White River) is named for Japan's snowy White River Valley. Shoyeido describes Shirakawa in understated fashion as "...a new fragrance that brings a feeling of comfort and warmth." This is definitely a "warm" incense, whose sweetness is both comforting and soothing. But its ability to effortlessly flow throughout a space is where its extraordinary nature shines.
Shirakawa's stick note is sweet, but not in the sense of sugary confections. The sweetness is reminiscent of Japanese sweets, recipes for which often pre-date the use of sugar. There is a subtle hint of spice with a prevalent top note of vanilla. The fragrance from the stick is enchanting, subtle, dry and powdery. This is not a stick that you'll want to hurry to light, delighting in the aroma of the stick alone.
But incense is meant to be burned, and here is where the experience with Shirakawa begins to unfold. Unlike many incenses that start at volume and maintain, Shoyeido has crafted an incense that grows continuously as the burn progresses. At first lighting, the fragrance is so subtle as almost not to be noticed. Over time, the sweet notes build, with a vanilla top note taking the lead. But as the burn continues, the adventure continues to expand, adding a remarkably creamy center note that is decadently exquisite. If you are a fan of sweet creamy fragrances, then Shirakawa will captive. Like a river of fragrance, the listener is swept along, with more notes seeming to test fleeting recognition. There is an earthy note that reminds me of soapstone - natural, smooth, and cool, like the rocks lining a riverbed. A mischievous note that reminds me of spicy cinnamon playfully makes me doubt the comparison almost as quickly as it appears. There are hints of creamy wood tones as well that remind me of luxurious sandalwood. Vanilla remains the prevalent top note rolling throughout, with a wonderfully aromatic sweetness that is just enough to satiate the appetite without over indulging. The experience Shirakawa provides is deep and moving, simultaneously calming and refreshing.
As satisfying as the experience when lit is, it's the after-note that makes Shirakawa remarkable. Subtly and seductively, the fragrance expands carrying the listener along while filling the surrounding spaces - the legendary 100 paces of remarkable incense. Here Shirakawa shines in that the fragrance is so delicate as to fade into background, yet easily called to mind, even 100 paces away. This is not an overpowering experience however - instead it alludes to the wonder Suzaku sought to impart with such auspicious gifts of fragrance. It is truly remarkable how this incense is able to fill the space even hours after the burn is complete yet not linger unwanted. This is an amazing incense for space work, as it easily clears the energy of even the largest of interior spaces. Yet it does so in a way that is subtly divine. The soft fragrance remains like a fond memory rolling by on the current of thought, never overpowering or obtrusive. The creamy tones linger softly, comforting the listener and soothing throughout the entire space. The ambiance left is refreshing, sweet, and brings to mind a swift flowing mountain stream as snow falls gently.
Relaxing beside a river of thought
Pulled along on sweet fragrance
Memories drift by like leaves on a stream.