This is for all you incense-rocking perfumistas who have run through the entire CdG Incense Series at least twice, tried Norma Kamali’s Incense (I love it but YMMV), become jaded with the plethora of oudish perfumes hitting the stores, and are now looking for a new incense fix. Japanese incense body powders are a real departure from Western perfume. They are finely ground medicinal-grade herbs, spices, and woods that are rubbed into the skin. The use of these powders probably began in India for health purposes and to aid meditation; as Buddhism spread, so did the powders.
Shoyeido's three grades of incense powders are created from 200-year-old recipes from a temple on Mt. Koya, Japan. They are composed of entirely natural ingredients, which are very finely ground, blended, and aged. The dominant ingredients are cloves, cinnamon, patchouli, sandalwood and borneo camphor.
Wearable incense powder is said to increase concentration and improve awareness; this makes them very useful for meditation or study, or perhaps taking exams. I can verify that the clove-laden Johin is effective for mornings when coffee just isn’t doing the job. To use, one applies a small portion of powder on the ear lobes, the wrists, or into one’s hair (this last method is not traditional, it’s mine, and it smells good). The bags of powder are sold by the half-ounce, but can be packed into lovely little round, polished hardwood carriers sold by the incense companies. This makes them very air travel friendly, though I suppose a customs officer, upon discovering your stash, might ask you what the mysterious powder was, and you’d have trouble getting them to believe the truth.
Here are Shoyeido’s three grades of powder. I find all of them eminently wearable, and somewhat similar.
Johin- at only $6, it’s a huge bargain, it has more clove than the others, is the most masculine and spiciest of the trio. This one will really wake you up, though it’s also the most fleeting;
Gokuhin- at $10, still a bargain, with more wood, more patch, less spice, and a little mellower than Johin;
Tokusen- the most quiet, the scent practically seamless, elegant and smooth with more sandalwood, more longevity, and the most expensive at $20.
Baieido makes Zukoh, with the same basic ingredients as the Shoyeidos. However, there seems to be more cinnamon, with less borneol camphor, and the star anise adds a lovely note. It runs a half-ounce for around $15.
The powders are available at the Shoyeido website, and through incense sellers like Sensia and Essence of the Ages (I can vouch for all three companies, though I have no financial connection to any of them).