First encounter: I chanced upon this one by accident actually. While my initial plan was to just attend my friend’s wedding reception in Yokohama, Japan, I made an executive decision to also explore the fragrance scene while I was there. It was just a coincidence to come across this particular fragrance house after reading a few fragrance blogs and information shared by a few of Singapore’s fragrance community.
The wedding went extremely well, but the next best thing that took place in Tokyo was having a once-in-a-lifetime meeting up with a Japanese-based perfumer in person on a chilly Monday morning. I had the absolute luxury in getting to know her scented creations that she came up with ever since she launched her brand at the start of the second millennium. Among all of her fragrant creations, this one immediately caught my sight (and smell) when the perfumer introduced this to me. Readers can know more on what went down during the interview and insight to her brand by clicking here and here respectively.
Inspiration: For most Japanese, they may have had a brief encounter with the art of appreciating incense, or Kodō (香道), at least once in their lifetime. Only a select few take the next step by taking it up as a profession and perfumer Satori Osawa, who has mastered the technique since the age of 12, is no exception. Growing up in Tokyo’s quaint neighbourhood, the multi-talented Satori-san would also often observed her mother conducted classes on Japanese flower arrangements, Kadō (華道) and performed traditional tea ceremony, Sadō (茶の湯), which she later became a master of these arts herself. “In the room, it’s [the atmosphere] very silent and there’s no sounds, except for the fragrance [from the incense], burning charcoal and the water boiling away,” while she narrates her scented memories witnessing the Sadō ceremony when she was just a mere child.
The use of aromatic timber has always been a vital part of Japanese culture as numerous records have shown that utilizing this scented material predates back to the Heian period (794 – 1185), where noble aristocrats and government officials were seen placing a small pellet-shaped fragrant object called Neri-ko (練香) beneath their sleeves to scent themselves up. Neri-ko, as seen above, is made from a blend consisting of powdered fragrant wood, spices, herbs and honey before being kneaded together.
Samurais, as depicted by historians, were often engaged in bloody warfare especially in the Muromachi era (1336 – 1573), with chances of them surviving the tumultuous combat were very much questionable. To treasure their very existence and honour they brought to their family name, they chose to burn their “one and only” fragrant wood with an amalgam of herbs and other fragrant materials prior battle to purify their bodies and spirituality.
That gradually established to the whole ritual of Kodō – an observance involves heating up rare pieces of aromatic timber, in particular agarwood or Jinkō (沈香) that is confined in an incense burner kōro containing burning charcoal.
As time progresses, the availability of the fragrant wood becomes increasingly scarce due to the rapid declination of the resource. Did you know that when agarwood is tainted with a certain type of mould, it would naturally secretes resin over time to protect itself, which then evolves into kōboku (香木)? One particular grade that is highly prized and sought after is kyara (伽羅) – an agarwood fused with exceptionally huge quantities of oil content due to the great abundance of resin it produces, giving rise to the remarkable scent it projects.
For Satori-san who launched her very own fragrance salon in 2000, Parfum Satori, after years of running her own herb and aromatherapy shop, she concocted her signature scent that was aptly titled as Satori. It was painted with an image of a noble lady in a poised posture performing the Kodō ceremony, before leaving the room slowly in a sentimental silence. Her kimono gently rustled against the tatami mat while the air in the room steadily being infused softly with the heated agarwood from the incense burner in the room.
“I have expressed the five distinct facets of Kyara’s fragrance that encapsulates spicy, bitter, sweet, sour and salty tastes by unifying various components with cloves, cacao, vanilla, bitter orange, oak tree, moss and cypress.” The woody oriental unisex fragrance, which belongs in the premium collection, projects out a perfect harmony of demureness and warmth, which she have tried to express “the global philosophy of Japan.”
Bottle: Satori-san aspires to introduce Japanese culture to the world and what a better way to do that is to make use of perfume as a medium. Readers are lucky to know that she has decided to come up with not one, but TWO types of bottles to store this trademark scent constructed on Japanese aesthetics.
The first one is the one you’ve already noticed above – a simple cuboid glass bottle that comes in a smooth black opaque body, finished off with a slender gold neck cap. Rounding up the fragrance bottle is a hexagonal-shaped logo, Kikko-mon (亀甲紋) which the perfumer carefully adopted it as a good luck sign.
While the simplistic bottle is aesthetically pleasing to look at, it is neatly packed in a black box with an Inro-gata (印籠型) – a narrow thin gold line that elegantly completes the whole package. The second however, is my absolute FAVOURITE!
The precious liquid is kept in delicate porcelain bottles called Chatsubo (茶壺), which were traditionally used as a recepticle to store tea and medicinal herbs in ancient times. Its exterior is painted with intricate motifs that also comes in THREE variations – Ume (Plum Blossom), Fuji (Wisteria Blossom) and Sakura (Cherry Blossom). These distinct designs associate closely with Japanese philosophy and are often used in most Japanese paintings and stunning art pieces.
Shrouding the bottles are Kumihimo – intricate woven Japanese knots that embraces Zen-based symbols that conveys the genuine “path” as denoted by Japanese wisdom and each weaving on the bottle symbolises different meanings.
The three façades of the bottle are designated with different names due to their formality, with Shin (formal) locating in front of the bottle, while Gyo (semi-formal) and Soh (informal) can be found on the right and left sides of the bottles respectively. Keeping close to tradition, Satori-san uses turmeric-soaked cloth to wrap the fragile bottle, before storing it in a Paulownia wooden box – an extremely tough material that has been used over hundred years ago.
Strapping the box securely are traditional close-woven samurai ribbons called Sanadahimo, which were normally used by samurais to tightly fasten their armour and helmets. How’s that amount of history in one bottle!
Type: Oriental, Woody
Top – Bergamot, coriander
Heart – Cinnamon, clove, cacao, vanilla
Base – Frankincense, sandalwood, oak moss
Occasion: Day, night, special celebratory events such as weddings, graduation, formal wear, black tie, summer, fall, winter.
Duration: I’m thoroughly impressed with Satori’s longevity, easily hitting the 6-hour mark when I first applied in the daytime. However, it can be debatable depending on the climate where the user resides in and how the scent reacts with one’s skin. Its projection is somewhat close to medium, as how Satori-san has chosen to formulate it to suit her Japanese clientele. “Japanese are very conscious about smell, basically. So, for example, my creations are more in a way sophisticated [that is] maybe not too loud, more [geared] in a delicate manner that is created.”
Verdict: Satori starts off with a medley of fragrant coriander with a touch of citrus bergamot. While the bergamot awakens one with its zesty beat, the clever use of coriander in the top note eases the person’s mind, instantly relieving their tiredness away.
As the first layer wears off, the sophisticated spicy blend of cinnamon and clove surge in, complementing well with the cacao’s bitterness. I truly appreciate Satori-san for including delicate vanilla note into the scent, offering a subtle sweetness that prevents the fragrance from becoming overly spicy. I can pick up trails of cacao, with its bitterness slowly penetrating the air.
The rich undertones of frankincense and sandalwood fortifies the base notes of this unisex perfume, lingering closely to the skin while projecting a wave of cosiness and serenity. I love how Satori stays close to the skin, giving my friends an element of surprise when I embrace them.
While I may not have the opportunity to witness an actual Kodō ceremony any time soon, I can truly imagine myself being there in the room witnessing the whole ritual as the fragrant smell from the Kyara slowly fills up the confined space. (Any invitations for me to attend such ceremony are truly welcome!) I humbly applaud the perfumer for incorporating various Japanese elements and techniques into creating this fragrance and making an effort revitalizing the use of fragrant wood in today’s context once again.
5 Chome-26-5 Sendagaya
Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan
Tel: +81 3-5787-7207
All other images credit: Parfum Satori