illustration of bamboo core incense burning

Cored stick incense, where the incense material is wrapped around a core of bamboo, is more common from India and China. I find it is often simply too strong for the environments in which I want to burn incense, even when of high enough quality that you’re not just inhaling a chem lab1.

If you are interested in Japanese incense, I recommend starting out with some Morning Star incense. It’s quite cheap, there are a wide variety of scents, and one stick is just about right to douse an interior space without smothering it. If you are burning it next to an air sensor, as I have happened to do, you will see the air quality measures spike to alarming numbers–but this dissipates quickly as the smoke diffuses through the room. A good reminder that any aromatic substance–particularly any relying upon combustion–really does require from us that we keep an eye on ventilation.

known quantities

papier d’armenie

This is a specific brand of Armenian paper, which is an incense that has been used to cover up the scent of debauched smokes since the debauched smoke in question was opium. It’s mostly benzoin, which is a scent that is sweet, but in a way unlike vanilla or tonka bean. It feels “clean” to me, despite not being a soap smell.
When it burns, it gives off its smoke quite quickly, and then that smoke diffuses, so I recommend not being quite close for the initial combustion.

morning star gardenia

This one’s a bit more artificial and chemically than most of them, which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker if pleasant in dilution. I find it is pleasant, but it does need to be burned at more of a distance than other incense.

morning star lotus

This smells like the color pink in all the best ways.

morning star yuzu

Not as subtle as the flavor of yuzu is.

morning star amber

It won’t please anyone looking for a body spray amber scent, but I find it’s at its nicest once it’s sunk into a garment or bedspread and is being smelled as a memory.

morning star sandalwood

I have Too Much of this; I wish all my clothes smelled like it, that I were the kind of person who could remember to light a stick and pray in the morning, that I were the kind of person who could have a morning routine at all, really. Which isn’t to say that it’s my favorite scent–hanging in the air, I think I much prefer the lotus. But as the smoke remnants that cling to things, you just can’t beat a sandalwood.

want to try

shoyeido pride of kyoto

I haven’t bought premium incense yet because I fear I would be too frightened of wasting it to ever light it2. I love benzoin (see Prada Candy) and this seems like a nice benzoiny spice to try.

  1. In an American context, there is a lot of cheap awful incense that gives people a bad impression of incense, in much the same way that cheap perfume gives people really wrong ideas about perfume. I have no idea if this incense is representative of what’s actually sold in India or China, and I am tempted to assume it is not. 

  2. Yes, I’m aware this is pathological for something that’s as much of an ephemeral Experience as incense is.