First encounter: If there is one country I miss travelling to the most, hands down, it’s Japan. I dearly miss the abundance of culture, the array of food, the scenic places of attraction, and most importantly, the hospitality. (Right, Nick S., Nicolas B., and my fellow readers?)
Having reviewed a few fragrances and conducted interviews personally with the Japanese house, you can always be sure to catch a twinkle in my eyes when I received a mail from them earlier in June this year. In it contained information about the new perfume they launched a few months back, as well as several fragrance sample sachets, and a postcard. Aren’t I am the most fortunate person in the world?
To find out more about the scent, let’s delve right to it.
Inspiration: To most Japanese people, nature has found a way to play a significant impact on their daily lives until this day. For perfumer Satori Osawa of Parfum Satori, she consistently draws inspiration directly from mother earth, even when she was a little girl.
“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”, Satori-san explained during my first interview with her. Hence, it was hardly a surprise when the Japanese perfumer crafted her latest fragrance surrounding Mizunara (ミズナラ).
It was a visit to Mizunara Cask two and a half years ago (according to Satori-san’s blog, that should translate somewhere in fall of 2015) that got Satori-san fascinated by the woody scent which emanated from the shop, as well as the counter made by a 500-year old botanical (Mizunara) wood. She got to experience the different aromas coming from the plethora of whiskey the shop had to offer, which made her heart fluttered.
As she slowly savoured the whiskey, it piqued her interest as do I, and she later learned that selected whiskies stored in Mizunara barrels emitted off the scent of Kyara and sandalwood. Being me, I dug my research a little deeper for this post and stumbled upon the most exciting information. Now, now. Bear with me.
While the name might ring a bell among the whiskey connoisseurs, the majority of people (including me) have not encountered this Japanese oak before. What I gather was that Mizunara is a deciduous tree found only in a few regions within Japan. The usage of this tree, with its scientific name Quercus crispula Blume, dated way back during pre-World War Two times.
During the war, it was primarily a difficult time for many countries, including Japan. Having their import access to Europe and America being cut off, Japanese whiskey producers had to source for oak alternatives to construct their wooden barrels in storing and maturing their prized alcohol. That led them looked inwards in using Mizunara – with the root word Mizu (water) and Nara (oak) in Japanese.
Considered as the costliest and rarest type of oak while traditionally used in the construction of expensive furniture, carpenters experienced numerous challenges working with this particular timber:
- It has a significantly higher moisture content, making it difficult to work with
- They typically do not grow straight upwards
- The minimum age for the tree to be made into a proper cask has to be at least 200-years old
- As it is drastically more porous than other oak, fluid leakage is more common
Back then, distillers deemed whiskey matured in mizunara casks were inferior due to the extreme woody flavour drinkers. What they then realised was that the oak did their magic in revealing the real character of the whiskey by injecting the precise flavours and aromas into it after being left to mature past the two decades mark.
Mizunara Oak. Image credit: Kaiyo Whiskey
One such brand, Yamazaki, debuted their famed and limited edition whiskey with 18 years maturation, the Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 edition, could fetch at a whopping US$1500 back in November 2017! I’m pretty sure the price rose significantly higher now, considering how rare it is these days as they have been quickly snapped up by collectors. (If anyone has a bottle, could you be so kind as to let me experience it? I’m told that it supposed to have a profile of unique sweet and spicy flavour due to the oak lactones and high levels of vanilla present in the whiskey.)
That led to Satori-san’s interest in concocting her newest fragrance in dedication to this highly-prized Japanese oak. She began to conduct many expeditions to Mount Akagi in the Gunma prefecture in search of the valuable timber. While Satori-san noticed the deciduous leaves started sprouting in the spring season, she had to wait for the summer to observe the lush green forest in full bloom.
She returned a few weeks after the Japanese Golden Week and what she witnessed was the vast canopy of Japanese oak forest shrouded the tall, misty mountain, as well as Onuma and Konuma, the crater lakes near the summit. A blunt, greenish-metallic colour emanating from the pair of lakes led her to paint a mysterious background image of her perfume creation for men, as stated in Satori-san’s description on her website:
A forest of Mizunara (Mongolian/Japanese oak) spread across a lakeside. Sun rays reflect on the surface of the lake which mirrors the bright green leaves. When the wind blows, it ripples the lake’s surface and the glimmers on the surface reflect back the surrounding leaves. There is a determined strong will which swells up from the bottom of the lake.
As she traversed through the Akagi Forest Park, she soaked up the ecstasy smell of the warmer climate blanketed with ferns and the earth’s geosmin odour. Similar to the Hoh-no-ki tree that I covered in Hana Hiraku previously, the graceful Mizunara tree regenerate its power by absorbing nutrients and Chikara (力/power), or life force energy within the soil through its resilient roots, even after it collapses. These legendaries have a life expectancy throughout the millennia! Now, that’s worth exploring.
Bottle: Keeping its bottles in unison, Satori-san contained the scented essence of Mizunara in an unadorned glass bottle while uniting it with a thin, gold neck cap. As for the colour, she opted to have it in a black, opaque flaçon.
I asked her why she had placed it under the Premium Black collection and her response was, “Since it uses many natural fragrances that are rarely used, and also due to the perfume’s heavy/weighty image, I think it will match perfectly well with the series.
Just like her other fragrances in her collection, Satori-san’s furnished her distinctive Kikko-mon (亀甲紋). It is a hexagonal-shaped logo which subtlely imbues luck to its wearer. Signing off Mizunara is a basic black box adorned with Inro-gata (印籠型), a thin gold line that amplifies a hint of elegance.
Perfume Status: Active
Type: Green, Oriental
Perfume Concentration: Eau de Parfum
Top – Galbanum essence, rosemary, clary sage, lavender, cognac oil, neroli
Heart – Juniper, cypress, patchouli
Base – Chamomile (blue) essence, cistus/rock rose absolute, labdanum resin, tolu balsam resin, violet leaf absolute, vetiver oil, dry amber, agarwood (kyara), sandalwood
Occasion: Office, spring, summer, fall, winter
Duration: I discovered that by swiping the contents within the Mizunara sachet on my wrist offered me a decent amount of longevity, approximately six hours before it stayed close to my skin. Projection wise? In my opinion, its scent trail goes beyond the five-meter mark, placing it in the close to the moderate range. It goes along with Satori-san’s philosophy in formulating her fragrances that suited her current Japanese clientele.
“[In general], the Japanese are very conscious about the smell. So, for example, my creations are in a way more sophisticated [that] is not too loud, more in a delicate manner that is created,” as Satori-san explained in her brand insight I wrote back in 2015. It is partly due to the Japanese shunning away from overly dominant smells in favour of subtle, gentle aromas.
Verdict: Once I pried open the sachet, a wave of freshness caressed my nose, intriguing me in the process. Being me, I immediately applied Mizunara on my wrist and upon doing so, it conjured up an image of me seeing in Satori-san’s eyes as she made her way trekking through the late spring month in Mount Akagi.
An amalgam of aromatic nuances immediately greeted me. I could detect the minty, menthol-esque facet of rosemary, mirroring the chilling air she experienced before. As soon as I kept on sniffing my skin, the different ingredients started to emerge, each taking their turns to shine within the spotlight.
On one occasion, I picked up the bracing, almost musky and green odour of galbanum, giving me the impression of sinking my boots through the damp soil. On the other, the combination of clary sage and lavender worked well, emitted clean, crisp notes that were incredibly herbaceous. With the sun shining brightly above me, the light aroma of neroli basked my skin, complementing the aromatic top notes of Mizunara.
The redolence top notes of Mizunara kept persisting through until I came head-on with the deep, oaky nature of the cognac oil on my skin. It left a tingling sensation on my nose, as to how whiskey drinkers encountered sipping on their dense tipple. With clary sage still present at this later stage, it seemed to enhance the leathery note at the top.
By the time I hit the heart notes past the 45-minute mark, here it gets really interesting. Mizunara’s woody and somewhat smoky nature materialised, kicking off the aromatic facet from its pedestal. The middle portion of the fragrance radiated a lot of cypress and juniper.
Mount Akagi and Lake. Photo credit: Tony Grant/ClimbJapan.blogspot.com
As they both exhibited coniferous properties and similar in the genus, they gave an image of trekking through a temperate forest. I could smell the different elements of the cistus note caused it – the damp barks, dry branches, and dewy leaves sprouting from the tree.
As Satori-san delved deeper into the forest, the sunlight dimmed a little due to the dense canopy of trees shielding the ground beneath. The chilling nature of cypress dominated over the juniper note exuded a masculine aura permeating through the combination. Satori-san’s of the patchouli accord elevated the green properties of the scent, lending a darker, earthier, and woodier edge.
With the heart notes dissipated at the two-hour mark, Mizunara steered into another direction. This time, it got sweeter as the base notes emerged. Due to the heavy usage of resins – labdanum, tolu balsams, and amber, the fragrance projected out a rich and ambery image. I felt the scent’s warmth, as though the founder of Parfum Satori sought refuge by the lake, warming up her body in the process as she soaked up the sun’s rays.
Her use of chamomile at this stage supplied with an almost sugary, fruity twist to the base notes, accentuating the balsamic properties Mizunara possessed. The creamy properties of sandalwood supplemented the milkiness of the fragrance. I detected a faint and yet, a sharp leathery odour. I suspected that it was caused by the cistus note, and I got all curious about it.
Despite coming from the same plant, I asked Satori-san on her usage of both cistus and labdanum. Based on my understanding, I know that for the case of labdanum, it could come off as a thick substance with an olfactory impression of being leathery and ambery. Satori-san then justified her use, indicating, “Although labdanum and cistus are both made from the same plant, employing various extraction methods which offer a difference in olfactory notes.”
“To me, the labdanum resin is milder and balsamic sweeter than the cistus absolute. Of course, it has a leathery and ambery image, giving volume in the last note. While the cistus absolute embodies the same characteristics as labdanum, it comes across as sharper and more animalic. It strengthens the fragrance core from the middle to the base notes,” added by the founder of the Japanese perfume house. I learned something new today!
Her explanations enlightened me, and I finally observed it myself. The base notes seemed to be amplified, and a smoother transition from its previous to its current phase. The fragrance went considerably parched, possibly due to the vetiver that influenced my senses. I experienced the smell of violet leaves, emitting somewhat a metallic accord, which Satori-san herself experienced when she witnessed the colour on the surface of Lake Onuma.
Paying homage to the whiskey contained within the Mizunara’s wooden casks, Satori-san’s genius touch of faintly adding the kyara note at the end was brilliant. It was very mute throughout the ensemble, although I got the faintest glimpse of it every now and then. I suspect that she did it deliberately, considering the scent only emerged after a good maturation period of twenty years.
Overall, what Mizunara brought to the table was equally impressive. It was as though I got to relieve Satori-san’s first-hand experience, indirectly of course, in concocting the scent, right down from her bar sessions to trekking deep within Mount Akagi. All of the accords were harmonised well. I felt the strength and power of the perfume, which resonated well with me.
P.S. Satori-san. Kindly save a bottle for me! 😘
Available at Parfum Satori atelier or http://www.parfum-satori.com
Parfum Satori has moved last July from Yoyogi to its current location at Roppongi
3-6-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
All other images credit: Parfum Satori