The moment I exited Yoyogi Station on the Toei Ōedo line, chilling winds caressed my skin despite the sun shining brightly against the calming blue sky as I struggled to lug by heavy suitcase around. Yes, readers, I was in the heart of Tokyo, Japan towards the end of the autumn season, with the temperature plummeting to 11oC during the day. A point to note was that it was my virgin trip to the land of the rising sun and it has and always been my dream to experience Japanese culture first hand.
As per my instructions in an email that was sent the day before, I was told to buzz the intercom to signify my presence before entering the building and headed up to the exact place. I entered the lift and tried to salvage what I could aesthetically – adjusting my coiffed hair despite being ravaged by the wind, sharpening my outfit that consisted of a navy blue linen blazer, blue shirt layered against a pair of pink chinos and patent leather blue/black brogues. As soon as the elevator door opened, Ms Tomoko Takeda greeted me with a bright, warm smile. The marketing director of Parfum Satori then ushered me to the company’s atelier where the meeting was held.
I entered the atelier, and a wave of warmness assailed me (by the way, I was not referring to the warm air that was blasting from the heater). I felt a great aura of top-notch hospitality as Tomoko-san commenced by introducing me to the lady of the hour, Ms Satori Osawa, and her team. As I began to compose myself for the interview, I detected a pleasant aroma lingered in the atelier, calming my nerves along the way. I was in a Zen-like state when I started talking to Satori-san, while Tomoko-san assisted as her interpreter.
The Scent of Man (TSoM): What made you started to work as a perfumer?
Satori Osawa (SO): I like plants and greeneries from my childhood. [Each time] when I come back from school, I would take a walk with a tiny pictorial book of flora with me. I often find some plants and flowers growing along the path, which I would eventually pick them up. My mother taught Japanese flower arrangements – Kadō1 – when I was a young girl, and she was very familiar with [various] flowers, plants, and herbs. So, that is the main reason that motivates me to be a perfumer.
1also known as the “way of flowers.”
TSoM: Can you recall the first scent you picked up as a child, and you love it?
SO: My mother, and myself as well, are tea masters. When you make tea, you need to boil [the] water, and you use charcoal. Particularly in the winter setting, burning charcoal makes small sounds (which sounded like pachi, pachi, pachi as Satori-san re-enacts the sounds of the burning charcoal makes), while the subtleness of the charcoal and boiling water aroma eventually fills [up] the air in the room.
In Sadō2, we use incense as well, and we place it together next to the burning charcoal. In the room, it’s [the atmosphere] very silent, and there are no sounds, except for the fragrance [from the incense], burning charcoal and the water boiling. That’s my childhood, which stays close in my scented memory.
2also known as the Japanese tea ceremony, or also called the “way of tea.”
TSoM: Are there more similarities or differences between European fragrances as compared to Japanese ones?
SO: Japanese are very conscious about the smell, basically. So, for example, my creations are more in a way sophisticated [that is] maybe not too loud, more [geared] in a beautiful manner that is created.
TSoM: So, in a way, it’s more subtle?
SO: Yes, and maybe more dry and bitter that isn’t sticky. Because of my upbringing, the Japanese traditional way of thinking is part of my daily life, and that is more about the inner allure. My fragrances bring out and inspire the appeal of an individual, rather than dressing up the person and rely solely on appearance. The kind of philosophy of Japanese traditional culture also influences my style of creations.
While many perfumers are mostly western people, but most recently, we have many foreign customers find my fragrances [are] unique because of these characteristics.
Parfum Satori – Basic Collection
TSoM: Which notes do you like to use when crafting a fragrance?
SO: [It is mostly] woody notes. Hmmm. [More towards] balsamic, incense type of accords when putting together a fragrance. Maybe, I use Orris root often as well.
TSoM: Because you often deal with notes on a daily basis, what is the most difficult note you have ever encountered with?
SO: You mean fragrance materials or…?
TSoM: Like for example, a lot of people could not tolerate Oud.
SO: You mean, you don’t like Oud?
TSoM: I mean some people do not like it, while some people like me love it! It could be that some perfumers may not choose to work with agarwood.
SO: Ah, you mean avoid Oud.
TSoM: So have there been any instances where notes can be difficult when creating a fragrance?
SO: No. So I think personally, this Oud material is very popular nowadays. (Satori-san left her seat, approached to a cabinet and took out a clear chalice with a piece of wood inside. Eventually, it was made known that it was a piece of Jinkō, a variant of agarwood) But the very first time when I used this material in Satori that was launched back in 2006, it was not really well known.
And as I had said before, I love woody notes, and I was working with this fragrance here [in Japan], and in the scent laboratory of my business partner back in France. My French business partner and a few other perfumers found that this fragrance is very unique, surprising and very different and they very much liked it. So, for this case, oud is not difficult for me.
For your question… (laughs). Hmmm, for strong notes, it can be work [into] with some other materials. Eventually, I will try to find a possibility or potential to make it work.
TSoM: What is your personal statement you live by every day?
SO: For life, I want to brush up myself and try to make things better tomorrow, as well as the day after tomorrow. It’s more of an effort, as a Japanese Dao3. It is basically a Japanese philosophy, where every day is unique, and thinking is crucial. The way [of life] is the most important.
3intuitive knowing of “life” that of which cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but known nonetheless through an actual living experience of one’s everyday being.
TSoM: The way of life is most important?
SO: Yes! What you get as a result is not the first priority, but how you do it, what you do and how you relate to others and the way you get there are the most important things.
5 Chome-26-5 Sendagaya
Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan
Tel: +81 3-5787-7207
All other images credit: Parfum Satori
For more information about my first encounter with Satori Osawa and her brand, Parfum Satori, you can find the post here.
*Post last revised: 28 December 2015