Every spring I visit an “old friend” at Kubota Garden in Seattle: a stately Chinese plum tree. If I sit against its large trunk, I’m completely hidden from view by its flower-covered branches that touch the ground. The scent of the thousands of white plum blossoms changes over time. The tiny round unopened buds smell fresh and leafy with a whiff of rain. At their peak, the flowers diffuse a strange and lavish perfume with hints of honey, clove, old-fashioned bubblegum, wood smoke and masa. As the flowers fade and begin to fall, their last breath smells of delicate incense.
It is this final stage of the plum flower’s existence that is evoked by Shoyeido’s Baika-ju (Plum Blossoms) Incense.
Shoyeido, based in Kyoto, Japan, has been making traditional Japanese incense since 1705 and selling it to the West since 1894. In the manufacture of traditional incense — made with all-natural ingredients (gums, resins, woods, dried herbs and spices) — it is a challenge to duplicate the scent of flowers. Shoyeido’s Plum Blossoms is the incense maker’s equivalent of an artist’s pencil or charcoal sketch — the fragrance of plum blossoms is hinted at, ‘outlined.’ Shoyeido does not fully divulge the ingredients of Plum Blossoms incense but I detect sandalwood, clove, cinnamon and benzoin in the formula. The scent is ethereal and conjures up a warm and sunny spring afternoon.
Shoyeido produces incense sticks, coils, cones, powder (for the body) and crystals (for use on hot charcoal or a mica plate). It also sells fragrant wood chips, books on incense, and many styles of incense burners — from traditional to quirky. Sample packs of incense are available for purchase. Baika-ju (Plum Blossoms) incense is $11.95 for a box of 150 sticks, and can be purchased at Shoyeido (or at their retail boutique in Boulder, Colorado), or at drugstore.com, japanesegarden, monastery store, and santosha.