Wednesday, February 22, 2012
still-sound 43. Baika-ju
One of the first incenses to truly impress me was Baika-ju by Shoyeido. Since a large box of it came with a very modest price tag I couldn't help but wonder if I would discover more spectacular sticks if I were willing to part with more money and broaden my search. It's because of Baika-ju that I started collecting incense seriously. I have found that there are certainly sticks that are more expensive but few that are more pleasing.
A sumi-e sketch of ume branches and blossoms decorate the top of the box. The label on the bottom says Baika-ju Plum Blossoms. I assume Baika-ju is Japanese for plum blossom although I could be wrong. I don't know of plum blossoms to have a scent at all. I imagine that its name refers more to a poetic notion of early spring.
Baika-ju is a sandalwood based incense and as such bears the characteristic warmth and creaminess. The scent oscillates between the oily sweetness of toasted coconut to the dryness of a tanned leather hyde. Maybe the ripe fruitiness of plum enters the picture but I suspect this happens more in my imagination. The smoke dissipates and leaves a trace of powdery softness in the air perhaps referring to the feathery clusters of blossoms on an otherwise bare tree.
I told my friend Carlos about the wonders of Baika-ju and he popped over to OK on 3rd Street within minutes of my recommendation and bought himself a box. He loves it so much that he burns sticks of it in his car when he drives to work or jiu jitsu practice. It's a clever use of the car ashtray and lighter since he doesn't smoke.