Parfum Satori: An insight to one of Japan’s only independent perfumery and a casual encounter with the perfumer herself.
Satori Osawa. Photographed by Tsutomu Takasaki.
In early December 2015, The Scent of Man had an excellent and intimate time chatting up with Japanese perfumer, Satori Osawa. She took the chance to present her famous scented creations in her atelier, illustrating the perfume scene in Japan, as well as the various paths she undertook to launch her very own fragrance store in 2000.
I got all excited when I found out that my dearest friend, D.G., would be hosting his wedding reception at The Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu early December 2015. It was a dream for me to visit Japan ever since I was in my teens as I’ve always been exposed to J-pop (think 浜崎 あゆみ – Hamasaki Ayumi and 木村 拓哉 – Kimura Takuya), as well as savouring Japanese finest mouth-watering food and its breathtaking sceneries to boot. Months of research ensued as I was ever so determined to find out the best places of attraction for me to visit, as well as hunting down Japanese-based perfumeries and stores that retail fragrances which were not readily available here in Singapore. I managed to get hold of one Japanese perfumeries’ contact, Parfum Satori, through Singapore’s small but growing fragrance community at a recent meeting back in October 2015. After taking weeks of completing my itinerary and secured an interview with the fragrance brand, I packed my bags and took a red-eye flight to the land of the rising sun.
Meeting the lady of the hour
I faced some difficulties as I tried navigating my way around the strange landscape of Sendaya district in Shibuya while using the google maps app. At the same time, I frantically adjusted my outer jacket, trying to keep myself warm despite the billowing, chilling winds while I simultaneously lugged my incredibly huge luggage along the uneven pedestrian path. (It was my last day in Japan as I had a flight to catch later that evening.) I scanned around for the building I was supposed to be at and after 20 mins of wrong turns and road crossing, I had finally reached the building.
Instead of meeting at the store, I was told the night before to head up to Parfum Satori’s atelier located right next to it. I boarded the elevator and hurriedly adjusted my outfit, only to find Ms Tomoko Takeda, Parfum Satori’s Marketing Director, beamed her megawatt smile while she waited for me at the lift landing upon the lift reached its planned destination. She greeted me before ushering me into the company’s atelier. Here I am, finally meeting with the one responsible for the brand, Ms Satori Osawa, and the rest of her team. I quickly settled down, and after a quick round of introduction with everyone, I began to conduct an interview with the lady of the hour herself. You can find the interview I did with the perfumer previously by clicking here.
Of floral arrangements, Japanese traditional tea ceremony and her first scented memory
Born in Tokyo, Satori-san has always been extremely fascinated in the realm of greeneries, plants and flowers. As a child, she would often be seen carrying a small pictorial book on flora while heading back home, picking flowers along the way. Her captivation with plants did not stop there. At home, she would recall observing her mother carefully in flower arrangements. “My mother teaches Japanese flower arrangements, or Kadō (華道), and she would be familiar with [various] flowers, plants and herbs.”
She would eventually mastered the art of Kadō, as well as Sadō (茶の湯), or “the way of the tea” like her mother. In the art of Sadō, water is being boiled by burning charcoal, while incense is placed next to it, heating it and it instantly fills up the air in the room. “In the room, it’s very silent, and there are no sounds, except for the fragrance [from the incense], burning charcoal and the water boiling away,” as she recollected her scented memory when she was a child.
The road to launching Parfum Satori
She began her fragrant journey when she took up Fragrance Design and Perfumery under the esteemed Mr Kenji Maruyama, who had years of experience working at Firmenich and various Japanese perfumery houses. After graduation, she was seen managing her own herb and aromatherapy shop since 1988. 12 years later, she launched her own fragrance salon, Parfum Satori in the heart of Tokyo.
Aside from mastering Kadō and Sadō, she had also mastered the other various forms of classical Japanese traditions, such as Kōdō (香道) or “the way of incense”, which she has refined her craft since the age of 12. She was also conferred with diplomas for Shihan (師範) (instructor) and Chamei (茶名) (tea name), as well as inducted as a member of ‘La Sociéte Française de la Parfumerie’. Armed with this expansive knowledge, she concocts one-of-a-kind perfumes for her Japanese clientele and elucidates her take on her creations as “Real Oriental”.
On revealing her favourite materials
Her perfumes are distinctively recognisable – not only through her formulations that encapsulate the true Japanese spirit but also mirroring the deep values of Japanese rituals and crafts using only high-quality materials. Her favourite ingredients and notes to work with? “[It is mostly] woody notes. [More towards] balsamic, incense type of accords when putting together a fragrance.” She told me that she often uses Orris root in her scents.
Subtle, yet unique and complex in nature
When Satori-san was prompted if her perfumed concoctions bore any similarities or differences with their western counterparts, she reasoned, “Japanese are very conscious about smells, basically. So for example, my creations are in a way more sophisticated [that is] maybe not too loud, more [geared] in a delicate manner that is created.” She further explained that her fragrances are more subtle that is “dry and bitter that isn’t sticky.” She firmly believes that her scents “brings out and inspire the appeal of an individual, rather than dressing up the person and rely solely on appearance.”
Parfum Satori’s fragrances at a glance
Perfumer Satori Osawa has created 2 distinct collections over the past decade, namely the Premium Collection and the Basic Collection. Here below are some of my favourites from these 2 lines:-
Its rich formulation revolves around utilising exceptional fragrance components where the concept that she presents is “Fragrance without Boundaries”. It has been sub-divided into 2 categories, Premium Black (ブラック) and Premium White (ホワイト).
Satori – Premium Black (ブラック)
Signing off her trademark scent, Satori embodies the Zen sensation of real Japanese beauty. This 2006 unisex perfume was inspired by a noble woman, all decked out in a kimono outfit made of luxurious fabric, performing a Kodō ceremony. With the air slowly being infused by the agarwood, Satori-san tried to “express the global philosophy of Japan” by showing the five distinct facets of Kyara’s fragrance, the ultimate quality-known agarwood – spicy, bitter, sweet, sour and salty.
Dominant notes include bergamot, coriander, cinnamon, clove, cacao, vanilla, frankincense, sandalwood and oak moss. Did you also know that in Buddhism terms, Satori (悟り) means ‘the spiritual awakening’ and it is the first step when embarking towards Buddhahood?
Iris Homme (イリスオム) – Premium Black (ブラック)
Targeting to mostly mature men, Iris Homme personifies as someone who not only is refined but also extremely fashionable who enjoys life to the fullest. A perfect accessory to be worn every day, only a select few of quality ingredients – lemon, cardamom, orange flower, iris, violet, jasmine, amber, sandalwood and light musk – were used to create this 2010 citrus woody scent.
Silk Iris (シルクイリス) – Premium White (ホワイト)
As orris root is one of the perfumer’s favourite fragrance materials to work with, she created this unisex scent back in 2010. Lemon, bergamot, elemi, leafy green, iris, violet, mimosa, rose, olibanum, sandalwood and white musk make up Silk Iris, with an image of a lady adorned with pearls as she basked beneath the moonlight, allowing the rays to illuminate beneath it. Satori-san had a good laugh when I envisioned the Empress of Japan wearing this scent while executing her royal duties 😉 “That is a perfect description of the fragrance,” she lamented.
Wasanbon (ワサンボン) – Premium White (ホワイト)
Widely known as fine-grained Japanese sugar, Wasanbon is a type of traditional Japanese sweets that usually comes in a light golden colour setting, whose sugar granules which are made from sugarcane plants are as fine as icing sugar. It has a distinct aroma, often resembling butter and honey or even a delicious piece of meringue. Upon consumption, it melts away instantly, leaving a subtle trail of mild sweetness. Satori-san had an epiphany to devise a feminine gourmand scent back in 2013 that bore the image of this intricate candy with a winning combination of lemon, muscat, mimosa, muguet ( a French term for Lily of the Valley), almond, sugar, honey, vanilla, iris and guaiac wood.
Nuage Rose (ニュアージュローズ) – Premium White (ホワイト)
Among all of her creations, this one is the one she loves wearing the most. Comprised of a harmonious blend of pink peppers, pear, rose de mai, damask rose, violet, jasmine, mimosa, iris, sandalwood and ambrette seed, Nuage Rose paints an image of a woman who lives for the moment. The floral bouquet perfume conjures up an image of a lady witnessing the picturesque scene of the sky soaked in rich rose and violet hues as the sun transverses along the French Riviera.
Japan is among the few blessed countries in the world to experience the delicate shift of seasons, with each season retaining its own charm, emotions and different temperature. It is no surprise that the Japanese always look forward to adoring the sight of the vast range of flowers blooming in each season. Satori Osawa perfectly bottles these images in the collection theme consisting of 11 creations – Oribe, Black Peony, Yoru no Ume, Kon Shiro, Sonnet, Nemu, Koke Shimizu, Murasaki no ue, Suiren, Mother Road 66 and Musk Blue. These are also my faves:-
Oribe (織部) – The Master of Tea Ceremony
I briefly mentioned to the perfumer that I loved green tea and enquired her if she had any green tea-based scents in her collection. She introduced me to Oribe – a unisex fragrance that encapsulates the actual Japanese green tea accord. “You’ll find that this note is a little bit bitter, soft and sweet,” explained Satori-san.
Once a talented disciple of Sen Rikyū (千利休), the famous tea master, Furuta Oribe (古田 織部) was once adept in the ways of the samurai, before becoming one of the most distinguished leaders in the world of the tea ceremony. He established Oribe-ryū (織部流), a school of Japanese tea ceremony and ceramics design which credited his creative influence known as Oribe-yaki (織部焼).
“Oribe actually gives a new interpretation of the tea world, and so, I used his name to give a new idea in the fragrance market and a new interpretation of green tea,” Satori-san reasoned. I could sense that she must have truly adored Oribe-san and do him proud. First conceived in 2008, the perfume was cleverly incorporated with the use of green leaf, sage, jasmine, violet, patchouli, iris and woody notes.
Koke Shimizu (苔清水) – Moss Water
The perfumer first materialised the fragrance back in 2005 with an idea of the spring water’s fluidity as it danced freely through the thick foliage and mosses, harmoniously mingling with each other. Her brilliant usage of lemon, bergamot, herbs, lily of the valley, jasmine, musk, moss, patchouli and woody notes flawlessly confines the naturalistic scene in the fragrance bottle. The memories of me negotiating through the jungles in Sabah, Malaysia came flooding back as the citrus cypress unisex perfume transported me when I partook camping activities while I was a mere teenager.
Mother Road 66
As most Japanese men are usually timid and may be afraid to wear fragrances out in public, Satori-san has addressed these pressing concerns by assembling a citrus aromatic for the male community. She brilliantly incorporated lemon, galbanum, mandarin, black pepper, bergamot, lavender, rosemary, rosewood, clove, light musk, amber, moss, woody and powdery accords in the scent.
“A lot of Japanese men who have not use fragrances [before] but has expressed interest [to the world of fragrances] recently, they can start off with this one,” Satori-san explained. She continued, “[This is an] entry-level perfume that can be a perfect gift from the wife to her husband or even a daughter to her father.” Inspired by the famous route that links Chicago and Los Angeles, Mother Road 66 is an easygoing scent that resonates well with everyone.
Witnessing the tea master in action
Japanese hospitality was at its absolute best throughout the entire fragrance session as Tomoko-san had instructed her staff to prepare snacks and tea for the four of us, including the general manager Ms Takako Saito, who was also present at the fragrance table. I was continuously being served tea and a couple of delectable Wasanbon sweets, which I actually enjoyed every one of them. After Satori-san had completed describing her fragrances, the marketing director then briefly shared with me an introduction to the Kodō ceremony, explaining more on Satori-san’s other talents. But little did I know that I was in for a visual treat!
Satori-san had requested her assistants to gather her tea set, before demonstrated her skills when making matcha tea, the genuine way, for me. “It is hot! Be careful [when drinking the tea],” she cautioned me before extending her kind generosity to me. I took a whiff of the little extravagance, before indulging the tea. “It is very nice, and the smell of matcha is very distinct, which I totally love 😍” as I placed the cup down. “The smell is much sweeter than green tea, and you’ll notice the bitterness as well, which some westerners commented that it was too bitter to drink,” Satori-san laughed before resuming, “It pairs very well with the Wasanbon’s subtle sweetness. So please, help yourself and enjoy.”
An authentic Japanese masterpiece
The perfumer then walked to her workstation and proudly showed me a small wooden box which houses the Chatsubo bottle. As she slowly unwrapped the packaging, Tomoko-san explained the history behind each component of the Japanese gem that confines Satori-san’s signature fragrance, Satori:-
“The box is made from Paulownia Wood, where this type of wood had been used for hundreds of years in Japan,” Tomoko-san elucidated. Dating back to ancient times, this kind of wooden container was frequently used to store fragile and expensive pottery as Paulownia wood is known for having excellent resistance against humidity and fire.
“The strap, or Sanadahimo, is a traditional Japanese close-woven samurai ribbon which was usually used for a variety of occasions and purposes such as fastening samurai armours, helmets and kimono,” Satori-san expounded. I was so enchanted by the intricate weaving that I unconsciously blurted out, “I want to be a samurai now!”, which erupted a round of laughter from the ladies present.
An effective repellent against pesky insects and putrefaction, turmeric was widely used as a dye since the Heian Period in the 8th century. The turmeric-soaked cloth will then be used to shroud priceless artefacts before storing them in the Paulownia wooden box.
Intricate Japanese knots
Kumihimo, or the art of knot-making, is a type of Japanese craft in where each variation has insightful meanings behind them. Beautifying the three façades of the little tea pot bottle, the intricate knots are given different names based on their formality – Shin (formal) is located in the front of the bottle, Gyo (semi-formal) on the right while the left was named as Soh (informal). If you were to peer closely at them, they encompass Zen-based symbols conveying the authentic “path” recognised in Japanese philosophy.
Ornate Japanese motifs
The vividly designed Chatsubo bottle bore three extraordinary motifs, each narrating their individuality through their distinct floral artworks:-
– Ume (Plum Blossom)
The blooming of plum blossoms denotes the arrival of spring, with its design is often identifiable in Japanese artworks and decorations, as well as in family crests.
– Fuji (Wisteria Blossom)
Famous in Japanese literature “Tale of Genji”, the purple wisteria flower was also deemed as a noble flower in Kyoto, signifying hidden gracefulness and inherent strength.
– Sakura (Cherry Blossom)
The most recognisable flower that is synonymous to Japan, cherry blossoms dates back since the 7th century during the Manyo period. Representing the joyous occasion of spring, the falling petals after their ephemeral bloom embodies the humble spirit of the Japanese women.
As tea was only made available in certain places in Japan, an entourage will make their arduous journey from Kyoto to Edo once a year to serve tea to the generals of the Tokugawa family since the 17th century. Tea was quickly perishable in the olden times. Hence it was kept in special pottery jars like this to prolong its shelf life.
Imparting her knowledge
In the final part of our scented session, Tomoko-san highlighted that the perfumer is still highly sought after by lifestyle and high society magazines, lending her professional expertise in giving tips when selecting fragrances suitable for the Japanese climate. She then showed me a few magazines where Parfum Satoris’ fragrances were featured, such as the July 2015 issues of “Precious” and 25ans.
I later came to know that Satori Osawa also conducts fragrance workshops and schools in catering to the people’s growing interest in making their own scents. “These are actually students’ organ and [under the guidance of Satori-san], they learn [the basics on] how to make [their] fragrance,” described by Tomoko-san as she pointed to the rows of small bottles. I’m not going to lie here. I am very tempted to sign up in one of her classes when I’m back in Japan shortly.
À bientôt Satori-san!
I stole a glance at my watch and realised that I exceeded the time I had allocated myself beforehand due to my tight schedule. I politely request for a photo-op with the esteemed perfumer, which she gracefully obliged. I absolutely adored all her creations and requested Tomoko-san that I would like to buy myself a box of samples which I hope to wear them back in Singapore. Instead, she magnanimously presented me as a gift to experience them at my own comfort. I have never felt so blessed!
As I bid adieu to the perfumer and the rest of her team, I gave her my word that I will be back shortly to catch up (as I love Japan as a whole) and this time, I’ll definitely buy some full-bottled fragrances from her 🙂
5 Chome-26-5 Sendagaya
Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan
Tel: +81 3-5787-7207
All other images credit: Parfum Satori