Incense : Shokaku (Translucent Path)
Brand : Shoyeido
Source : Purchased from Japan
Price : 9450 yen / 15 sticks (USD $95)
Amount Burnt so far prior to this review : 6 sticks
Taste profile : Sweet : +++ Bitter : very slight tinge Sour: very slight tinge
Scent characteristics : Texture – Mellow, soft, ethereal Binder notes – none detectable Intensity – ++
Focus : High
Listen : The deep chant of a Buddhist monk
Difficulty Level : Medium
Incense perception distance : 30 cm away
Shokaku from Shoyeido was an incense that I had revisited from time to time over the years, my perception and liking to this incense increased with every revisit despite knowing very well that the recipe never changed, only I did.
The most expensive incense stick from Shoyeido, I had never bought a box for myself (although I’m seriously considering now). Most of the Shokaku sticks I had were either from the premium Shoyeido sampler packs, or obtained through exchange or trade with friends.
My first encounter with Shokaku was years ago, when my agarwood/kyara knowledge and experiences were rather juvenile. The first stick that I had burnt, I did not know what to look for, it smelt simple, nice, sweet, but I couldn’t justify spending $9/stick, I would have rather spent it on some pure vietnamese aloeswood sticks or other incenses etc then.
Having spent the past few years intensely heating fragrant wood, kyara etc, I realized that the more experienced I became with agarwood/kyara, the more I could appreciate and enjoy the qualities of the Shokaku. The simplicity of this incense can be extremely delightful! Immediately upon lighting the stick now, I could pick out the clear kyara notes which remind me of that from green oil kyara, and the finer tastes like a light touch of sourness and bitterness within the very mellow and sweet smelling profile.
Slow, consistent, the rising smoke is stoic, composed, focused and quiet, from a good distance it weaves between tangibility and intangibility, reminiscent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
Post burning of just an inch of Shokaku, going around the corners of my room and sniffing the air, I was able to detect lingering traces of “kyara fragrance” hovering, invisible, yet present. It invoked in me a sense of omniscience, omnipresence, a higher state of awarenss of being in the present moment.
I still wonder how they translated the name of Shokaku to be Translucent Path. Very fancy indeed. However, in reality, Shokaku or 正觉, refers to a state of enlightenment in the Buddhist religion, an attainment of “samyaksambodhi”.
Maybe it is just the name of the incense playing tricks with my mind again, but when enjoying a lit stick of Shokaku, it takes me back to my overnight temple stay at Mount Koyasan in Japan. Waking up early to attend the morning service in the temple main hall at 6am, everyone huddling around a kerosene heater in the cold freezing winter, whilst the monks, clad in their thin cotton garbs, braved the icy temperatures, breaking into the chant of Shichibongo (四智梵語). Shokaku starts off in a way similar to the chief abbot reciting a few stanzas before the other monks join in with their blended voices. Perhaps it is with all these experiences, and knowledge on kyara/agarwood that I’m beginning to revere the Shokaku as one of the best pure kyara incenses I’ve ever burnt (personal preference!! does not apply to anyone else).
If you have the fortune of owning any sticks of Shokaku, stow it away carefully and revisit it from time to time, perhaps you might find as much delight as I did.