Shoyeido Incense Powder Perfume Zu-Koh

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Incense powder is one of the oldest forms of perfume, and Japan has perfected its craft. Called Zu-Koh in Japanese, incense powder is made by mixing finely ground ingredients like sandalwood, clove, cinnamon, camphor, and patchouli. Different combinations of the same materials can vary from bright and spicy to dusky and mellow. This form of incense perfume is easy to use–just rub it onto the pulse points–and it lasts well. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly rare, and the Japanese incense maker Shoyeido is one of the few brands still offering it.

Shoyeido makes three types of incense body powder, but the difference among them is not so much in terms of scent as in the quality of the components. Johin is the most affordable one at $10.95. It has a soft scent of sandalwood dominated by camphor and clove. It’s the least long lasting of the three powders.

Gokuhin is slightly more expensive ($19.50 for a package) and it has a richer fragrance. The sandalwood has a more noticeably floral quality, while the spices are less sharp than in Johin. It lasts for a couple of hours on skin.

Tokusen is the most luxurious incense powder, with the highest grade of ingredients. The price is also higher ($32.95), but for an incense perfume worthy of a fine niche brand, it’s quite affordable. The sandalwood is creamy, with a delicious rose twist. The cinnamon fleets in and out of the composition, shimmering softly. The scent is warm, but the character of the perfume is bright and uplifting. It smells of incense ashes, gingerbread spices, and dried flower petals.

Don’t expect a smothering sillage; Tokusen wears close to skin, even as it remains noticeable. The pleasure of incense powder perfume is much more introverted and intimate. It’s a fragrance to wear as you sip tea and watch the snow fall outside. Or as you curl up under a blanket with a book of Japanese ghost stories. It invites you to weave your own fantasy.

Available at Shoyeido’s website. Edit 02/01/2023: please note that the US website doesn’t sell the incense powder in a wooden box. It comes in a plastic pouch.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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28 Comments

  • Nikos: That sounds very luxurious and pampering which is exactly what one needs after yet another difficult year for so so many. I was about to make an order but the shipping to Europe plus taxes will make it just a bit too much.
    Anyway. I’ll take the chance to wish you a very happy Christmas (and to your readers who celebrate). Peace and health. December 23, 2022 at 9:40am Reply

  • Marsha Smith: I have the Johin and Tokusen. It is wonderful stuff! December 23, 2022 at 10:03am Reply

    • Victoria: How long does Johin last on you? December 23, 2022 at 1:41pm Reply

      • Marsha Smith: I haven’t used it on me. I put it into a room fragrancer that uses a tea light to warm it up. December 24, 2022 at 6:26am Reply

        • Victoria: That’s a good way to use them. December 25, 2022 at 8:23am Reply

  • Tara C: That sounds lovely! My only experience with powdered perfume previously was powdered Indian sandalwood. Since I use Shoyeido incense sticks daily, I will look for the powder when I make my next order. I did order some Tibetan powdered incense, but that is for burning, not wearing. December 23, 2022 at 10:07am Reply

    • OperaFan: Oh, do say more about Indian Sandalwood powder. I’ve heard of its use and would love to know what you do with it and where you can find it (in the States). December 23, 2022 at 11:50am Reply

      • Tara C: It can be purchased at your local Indian grocery store, if you live in a city with enough Indian population to have that sort of thing (I do). I use it the same way Victoria describes. December 23, 2022 at 2:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: Or you can google. Many incense-making stores online sell it. Different grades come at different prices. December 25, 2022 at 8:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Powdered sandalwood is a wonderful scent. I also like to use it. Sometimes I mix it with rosewater to make a paste and it smells heavenly. December 23, 2022 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: Tokusen sounds intriguing. How long does it linger? December 23, 2022 at 11:20am Reply

    • Victoria: It lasts all day on me, but it stays very close to skin. December 23, 2022 at 1:42pm Reply

  • Alityke: These sound incredibly luxurious, self care of the highest order.
    Victoria, may you find peace over the Christmas season and may 2023 bring peace in your homeland. December 23, 2022 at 12:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your kind words! I hope so too. Happy holidays! December 23, 2022 at 1:43pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: Incense perfume powder is new to me. Hmm, your description of it makes it very interesting, almost magical.

    Victoria, may I take this opportunity to wish you and all Bois de Jasmin readers, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. December 23, 2022 at 4:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: Merry Christmas to you and all of my readers! I wish you a happy, light-filled holiday season. December 25, 2022 at 8:20am Reply

  • Shannon: Thank you for this timely post! I’m planning to spend some time in Kyoto soon, and I usually rely on temples & markets to find incense rather than stores. I had been wondering where to start with those, as sometimes Kyoto stores of a certain caliber have a refined austerity that make me feel very out of place, but looking into this I see that Shoyeido not only has an English explanation of their store & scent museum (!!) on their site, but appear much more approachable.
    I’ll start down the rabbithole here when I visit – these body powders sound wonderful and I think I’ll pick one up! December 24, 2022 at 4:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I know what you mean about Kyoto. Shoyeido is an inviting, serene place. I’m sure that you will have a wonderful time there. Kyukyodo is another highly recommended place to visit. Besides incense, they also have beautiful stationery. Here is a nice website with several other options: https://traditionalkyoto.com/shopping/incense/ December 25, 2022 at 8:23am Reply

  • Julia: After reading this post I was so intrigued I went directly to the website and ordered some incense and the most expensive powder perfume. I have to say I didn’t have the same experience as many here. The scent is heavy of straight up cumin cooking spice and a faint floral backdrop. I love cumin in perfumes but this was far to culinary for my liking. Also, the presentation is not like in your pictures. It came in a plastic baggie with no pretty outer box. I was to be for a birthday gift from my Daughter but the disappointment was too much and I can’t give it to her like that. I will give her the incense :o) January 2, 2023 at 1:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for your update, Julia. I went straight to sniff my incense powder and I notice no cumin at all in it. Not sure if it’s just our perception or if the formula is now different. But the lack of the outer box is disappointing. All of the incense powders used to come with it. January 2, 2023 at 2:00am Reply

  • julia: Thank you Victoria, It is very long lasting, I will say that. I can still smell it a bit today. I just don’t care to smell like food honestly. I know cumin and it’s in my powder. In this form it is foody and body odor like. As I mentioned I love cumin in well done perfumes but this is not the same effect. I am thinking to contact the company and see what they say? I am glad you confirmed yours came in a box as well. Thank you! January 2, 2023 at 2:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: That would be a great idea! We might as well confirm what they sell on the US website. I also wonder why they don’t offer the box. I don’t recall that the price with the box was that much higher, but I purchased it from the Tokyo boutique. January 2, 2023 at 3:32pm Reply

      • juli: Update. I called Shoyeido and spoke to a very nice man and he said yes, there are “cooking spices” in these powders but that there is a very rare spice in the powder I have that only grows in Japan that I could be perceiving as cumin. I can’t remember the name of the root it comes from since it was a Japanese word. It is very expensive as well. Now I feel like I need to keep it and find a nice wooden container to keep it in! He said no problem returning it however. Their shop doesn’t have the boxes so that must be exclusive to Japan which is a real bummer. I have decided to just keep the powder after all! I may not wear it, but it is such a cool thing to have to refer to. I hope I can find maybe a vintage small wooden box for it. I highly recommend the shop and the incense is very nice as well. January 5, 2023 at 8:38pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you so much for your update! Shoyeido’s customer service is excellent. I know that it does contain cinnamon and clove, so that’s what he probably meant by “cooking spices.” Japanese incense is quite complex, and it’s always interesting to see how different combinations produce different effects. Maybe this blend will grow on you, or you can use it in your incense burner as someone else in the comments does. January 6, 2023 at 1:49am Reply

  • julia: I will let you know. The plastic bag didn’t even look the same so perhaps the product is a bit different. One of the ingredients is just spices, which could mean anything also. Thank you! January 2, 2023 at 4:42pm Reply

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