DAIGO CHERRY BLOSSOM by KUNGYOKUDO (2021)

The cherry blossom trees in 2021 have reached peak bloom at the earliest time in 1,200 years according to historical records, already on the wane. This hasn’t stopped crowds in Tokyo – albeit masked – gathering to do ‘hanami’, or cherry blossom viewing, although reportedly (sensibly) in far fewer numbers than usual. Maybe next year. Nothing stops you from enjoying the trees from a distance, or in person, because they are everywhere with their faint gossamer pink scent and petals falling like snow.

Sakura is not usually successfully rendered in perfume. Neither in incense. But I couldn’t resist a small box of Kungyokudo’s Daigo Cherry Blossom incense the other day from the lovely boutique in a Yokohama department store. This is a highly esteemed Kyoto incense manufacturer that has been around for hundreds of years. D and I once visited the original shop in the ancient city and it is worth going there just for the exquisite austerity ; the incredible aromas that linger.

It is also interesting, though, seeing how artisanal houses adapt to modernity. The small concession we went to the other day is full of delightful incense trays and holders, hair oils, room fragrance, and design-wise is a perfect fusion of the classical and the contemporary. I was fascinated to be able to experience incense ingredients such as nard, camphor, and roasted seashells from the jar


-ingredients I recognized from classical incense compositions but which were interesting to isolate. There were many in the range I would like to buy and use – prices are very reasonable – on this occasion, though, the sakura seemed appealing. While in the box it has some more traditional Japanese sandalwood resonances, when lit there is an afterglow like Bulgari Rose Essentielie meets vintage Chamade – powdery and animalic. Incense was traditionally used as a perfume here to scent clothes, and with Daigo Cherry I can also imagine something similar, in a young woman’s urban boudoir.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “DAIGO CHERRY BLOSSOM by KUNGYOKUDO (2021)

  1. Cath

    That Sakura is so good, isn’t it? I visited the store early March and got myself a box of Sakura and their Kyara. Apparently it’s the oldest incense maker in Japan.

  2. Roasted seashells! I had no idea.
    My friends and I used to take trips to Washington, D.C. to view the cherry blossoms. One year we caught them at peak bloom and another year we all stood in line to take photos at the last tree still blooming. Good memories. Enjoy!

    • It’s all gone now ( thank god: we don’t need people gathering right now as cases are going up everywhere, in fact the government very unwisely decided to lift its ultra-tepid ‘state of emergency’ just before Hanami, which undoubtedly has led to the uptick. Sigh..

      In terms of the sheer genius that is Japanese incense, the olfactory tension in the most severe traditional types comes from the contrast beteeen the weird salty notes of the seashells and ingredients such as nard and camphor with spices , patchouli and soft balsams and flower powders. The results can be unearthly.

  3. Robin

    “Bulgari Rose Essentielie meets vintage Chamade – powdery and animalic.” I love that idea. I might try to soup up some of my contemporary Chamade with a similar rose (I used to have the Bulgari but no more), and if that worked, go further with my vintage.

    (That reminds me of another rose combo. Ric bought me a very good bath gel scented with rose and green tea. It is fabulous. What a good combination, and I don’t know that I’ve seen it in a fragrance. Green tea with all manner of fruits and flowers — jasmine, mimosa, nectarine, cherry blossom — but not rose, which seems like a big oversight. I’ve since worn Bulgari’s green tea with a few different rose soliflores and loved the effect.)

    Our regular cherry trees are all in bloom now, but we’ll have to wait another couple of weeks for our sakura. And I’m going to pick up some shells from the beach and try roasting them. I think I can imagine the scent, what the heat would bring out: something briny, something mineral/chalky. Could be beautifully simpatico in my little ocean-front shack.

    • At Japanese seafood grill restaurants here they put seashells on the coals and I have to say I find the smell nauseating ( particularly when it lingers on your clothes, which it always immediately does). I know Aftelier Tango uses a similar note in an interesting way – probably a particular shell – but on the whole I don’t need seafood in my scent. The incense makers here REALLY know what they are doing, though, and I think the note gives depths and intrigue when masked by agarwood, benzoin ( alway lots of benzoin) and the like.

      Funny you should mentioned the Bulgari Green Tea. I suddenly found myself craving it recently and wore it all weekend. At the time it felt a tad ubiquitous and generic but in time has become a gentle classic that can feel very calming. I like the idea of it with the rose/ green tea bath gel. Soothing and elevating.

  4. OnWingsofSaffron

    I love how the pink & gold box casually mentions „since 1594“.
    Ah, weren‘t those perchance the last golden years of Queen Elizabeth I? Or didn’t Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II of France, enjoy the cusp of her powers? And didn‘t Ivan the Terrible die just a few years earlier?

    • I know ! It is hilarious – just an aside. I suppose Kungyokudo has the kudos to not need to brag – it knows its origins and reputation ( honestly, the headquarters in Kyoto is divine). But you are right. It is ASTONISHING to think that the cute joss sticks I am burning and enjoying are made by a company that was around at the time of QUEEN ELIZABETH. It’s kind of incredible.

  5. Tara C

    I have the Guerlain cherry blossom extrait but although pleasant I doubt it smells like real cherry blossoms. The trees are lovely, I hope to plant one in the yard of my new house. I’d love to smell that incense too, wonder if Kinokuniya in San Francisco has it.

    • Other incense they do is more classically Japanese, but this is a really clever compromise between old techniques and modern floral tastes. Sometimes I even think that one whole stick is too strong so I just use half. If you like the Rose Essentielle type scent I guarantee you will love this : it makes the whole house smell lovely. I would imagine Kinokuniya has it or it is available online.

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