Interviews The World of a Japanese Perfumer: Part 1, an Interview with Satori Osawa

The World of a Japanese Perfumer: Part 1, an Interview with Satori Osawa

06/18/16 06:49:47 (31 comments)

by: Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison

Even now in the 21st century, there are few Japanese independent perfumers. However, a trip to Yoyogi in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo reveals a marvelous surprise - the boutique of Parfum Satori.

"PARFUM SATORI is the fragrance brand of a Japanese independent perfumer Satori Osawa, member of la Société Française des Parfumeurs. SATORI's creations are based on traditional Japanese culture. Through Sado (Tea Ceremony), Kado (Flower Arrangement), and Kodo (Japanese Art of Fragrance)...she entrusts her perfumes a message, a wish: to introduce real Japanese spirit, real oriental fragrances.

Satori Osawa, born in Tokyo, studied Fragrance Design and Perfumery under Mr. Kenji Maruyama, while managing her own herb and aromatherapy shop since 1988.

After opening her salon "Parfum Satori" in Tokyo in 2000, she currently creates Haute Couture Perfumes, holds seminars and classes, and actively organizes events and joint exhibitions with glass artists and jewelers." Parfum-Satori.com

Here in Part 1, we meet the perfumer and learn about her inspiration and artistic approach. In Part 2 (CLICK ME), we get to know one of her creations, Iris Homme.

Leave a comment below by July 1, 2016 for your chance to win one
of ten samples of Satori's enchanting Iris Homme (US readers only). Winners will be selected at random from both Parts 1 and 2 and notified by Fragrantica private message.

Marlen Harrison: Osawa-san, although Japan does not have a long history with personal perfumery the way some European cultures do, Japan does have a strong appreciation for aroma associated with Buddhism and Shintoism, for example, and of course there is 香道 or "kodo" (warming fragrant wood), "the way of scent".

*Osawa Satori: Yes, That's right. The origin of perfume is in Europe, and it is the history of the "liquid scent." On the other hand, in terms of Japan, we can discuss the history of incense which provides scent from a solid rather than a liquid and scents the surrounding space rather than the skin. The history of incense in Japan began with Buddhism in the 6th century. It was later refined in the 10th century by the aristocratic culture, and again in the samurai era in the 15th century.

And we Japanese didn’t just scent spaces. For example, in the Heian era there was a silk dyed in clove and cinnamon called 香染 or "Kosome" that was used in luxurious garments for the nobility. It created not only a beautiful color, but the fabric emitted a fragrance; when the kosome kimono was warmed by body heat, its fragrance was emitted according to movement.

In the "Tale of Genji" there is a scene of 薫衣香 or "Kunoeko" (scented garment incense) where burning incense is used to scent kimono. Many of the characters in the novel are enhanced and identified by their scents. In Kodo, the aroma of incense burning or wood warming is expressed as "hearing" instead of "smelling". We not only capture the aromatic molecule physically in the nose, but also hear in our minds a story from the aroma of fragrant wood, the sentimental feelings.

In the 18th century, when the merchant class had more power, the cultures of aroma continued to spread to the common people. From emperors, nobles, samurai, and then to the merchant class, the fragrance culture spread from top to bottom, and it seems there has been a similar history with Western perfume.

Even now in Japan, many households have a Buddhist altar where incense is burnt every morning and night. We Japanese have been accustomed to these aromas since childhood. And the fragrance culture of Japan is not only that of fragrant woods. Every season has its own unique aromas, from the sea to the mountains. In the process of development from children to adults, smell is tied closely to life.

In these ways, the Japanese history of fragrance is different from the European tradition of putting "perfume" directly on skin.

"PARFUM SATORI's signature perfume "Satori" is also available in a special porcelain bottle in the shape of a CHATSUBO, or tea pot.

This special CHATSUBO perfume bottle contains PARFUM SATORI's signature perfume "Satori" in parfum form, the highest concentration of the essences."

Parfum-Satori.com

Marlen Harrison: Is there such a thing as a Japanese style of perfumery? Please tell us your thoughts.

Osawa Satori: When one thinks of a Japanese scent, it is likely that incense comes to mind. In fact, light, simple, fragrances with flowers and a sense of the season have been favored. Among them, citrus notes is one of the fragrance notes that are particularly preferred. Japanese citrus is rich and can be distinghuished from citrus of other cultures. For example, Japanese citrus includes yuzu (pictured below), kabosu, and sudachi; there are very fine differences in their aromas.

Many of my customers in Japan, rather than wanting a scent to appeal to other people, want their own personal scent. When it comes to customers from abroad, they don't merely want a souvenir of Japan, they want to be able to use and enjoy their scents in daily lfe.

Marlen Harrison: What was your experience growing up in Japan in terms of awareness of modern personal perfumery? How was this different from Japanese cultures of aroma?

Osawa Satori: In the West, perfume was used on a day to day basis and was familiar. But in Japan we this wasn’t customary. During my childhood, perfume was something very expensive (and the Japanese economy was not what it is today). I think many people viewed it as a rare souvenir from travels overseas, perhaps only used for special occasions. Moreover, there was a time when use of Western perfumes was seen as showy.

Nowadays, with fragrance being affordable, young people also feel free to buy and use fragrance. It has also become more common for men to use fragrance. But, many people still are unsure when or how to choose or use fragrances; we often look to rankings of fragrances for recommendations or choose well-known brands.

In Japan, many people do not use perfume although they do enjoy aroma. We also enjoy the essential oils used in aromatherapy. It’s not uncommon for a woman to spend an hour at the supermarket in the household goods section, spending time sniffing the scents of washing detergents/fabric softener or soaps; some may not necessarily want to put fragrance on their bodies but would prefer to smell sweet candles, or to relax in a fragrant bath or smell clean clothing. The market for scented home products is really booming. In France, it wouldn't be uncommon to dab a child with a bit of eau de cologne after a bath. It would be nice to grow up with such a familiarity with fragrance. Japan is slowly coming around to the idea of personal fragrance as something separate from home and cleaning products. I think fragrance use will be much more common with, say, my grandchildren’s generation.

Marlen Harrison: How did you come to study fragrance and become a perfumer?

Osawa Satori: I liked plants from an early age. When I was a child, I would often carry a plant picture book in my pocket while walking home from school. My mother had a flower arrangement class at home; I watched pupils work with miscellaneous flowers and this contributed to my interest in flowers. And then because flowers were planted seasonally in the garden, I became even more interested.

When I started growing herbs and learning about aromatherapy and using natural flavors as an adult, I became a little more interested in a wide range of fragrance and soon entered into the world of perfume.

I then entered a perfume school in Japan and studied under Kenji Maruyama, an experienced perfumer who served as chief perfumer at Firmenich. While an intern at the company, I slowly began working with made-to-order fragrances in 2000.

Marlen Harrison: What famous fragrances from Japanese or Western (or other) brands were you most drawn to or were perhaps most influential?

Osawa Satori: Although there are so many memorable fragrances it is a little difficult to name just one, I have always been drawn to traditional Japanese aromas of agarwood. And Nina Ricci’s Capricci is, for me, special as it was my first perfume, a gift from my father after a business trip. I was so happy to remove the cocoa-colored ribbon from the shiny wrapping paper, my father as excited as I was with this gift, and to discover the beautiful bottle. It was a scent that made an impression on me at 16 and that I loved through to adulthood. It’s ironic the name Capricci means fickle, and it’s a shame it was discontinued. I loved the aldehyde, rose and jasmine, a classic accord that might be a bit old-fashioned nowadays. I thought it was very feminine, a youthful scent at that time.

Opium is also an impressive fragrance. It is a heavy scent that stands its ground. My older sister-in-law, who is tall and slender with beautiful, long flowing hair, was always wearing Yves Saint Laurent clothes. If I received hand-me-down clothes from her I could still smell the oriental aroma faintly lingering. Opium was the kind of perfume suitable for refined adult women like her. But I think that I felt at that time it was not really suitable for me, a much younger woman.

Marlen Harrison: Osawa-san, do you have a specific or signature accord or note that you work with in many of your fragrances that makes the scent "clearly Satori"?

Osawa Satori: A main feature of my fragrances is that, in a nutshell, they are "dry". And my approach to gourmand perfume is unique in that I'm interested in typical Japanese sweets which include rice and red beans as raw materials married with rich aromas such as butter and cream. For example, Wasanbon:

WASANBON

"A delightful candy coated with sparkling fine sugar that melts in your mouth like meringue - this is the image of Wasanbon. The name is taken from a special type of Japanese sugar.... This fragrance is not the typical nor traditional scent imagined from the concept of "Wa" or "Japonism", but has a nuance that gently veils the gestures of a charming lady. Beginning with a sour yet sweet lemony top note, the fragrance moves gradually into a light and sweet cake-like scent, which will bring a smile to all those surrounding her. The perfume uses top quality Iris essence which gives the fragrance a light and airy feel."

Earlier, you asked me, "Is there such a thing as a Japanese style of perfumery?" Let me further elaborate: My Oriental approach is comprised of dry wood and spices, and plant-based animalics. For example, my Oribe tea aroma, is also fragrant with the tatami smell. In my Yoru no Ume ("plum blossoms in the night") is the hidden scent of ink painting. Perhaps these aromatic accents will be nostalgiac for anyone who grew up or lived in Japan; to those unfamilair with Japanese culture these accents might be new and unusual.

The scent of agarwood, also known as oud, is the same. Now it's quite popular in fragrances, but the scent of a perfume and the kind of Japanese agarwood we use in Kodo (warming "kubako" or fragrant wood in a "koro" or ceramic cup over charcoal covered in ash) is quite different. On the one hand, oud is heavier, resinous and animalic. It's a sensual smell that can stir passion. On the other hand, agarwood has spicy-woody notes and is dry, warm and sweet; it is a clean scent that can touch the heart. The aroma reminiscent of this traditionally warmed agarwood can be found in many of my perfumes. Like a soft light from a sliding paper door, I thought I would like to express the agarwood aroma indirectly in a perfume. Therefore, in my fragrances this note is dry and subtle.

(Learn more about Kodo by visiting NipponKodo.com HERE)

Marlen Harrison: What fragrance notes or styles have you not yet experimented with but would like to experiment with in the future?

Osawa Satori: The classic fougere is not as popular nowadays and regarded as a bit old-fashioned (in Japan we would say that it is an "ojisan" or uncle smell). In Japan, floral aromas are quite popular, so I think it would be an interesting challenge to combine these two profiles - traditional men's fougere with modern florals.

And microorganisms are fascinating! For example, I think the smell caused by fermentation can be interesting to experiment with: Miso and soy sauce, natto (fermented beans), koji, etc, and other fermented foods such as liquor. I want to try using their characteristic aromas.

Mushrooms such as Matsutake and Maitake offer warm, moist aromas - an unusual odor profile like wood chips, moss and fern; these fungi somehow have a cryptic secret. Of course, flowers and fruit have bright recognizable aromas. But in the shade of  flowers, under the fallen leaves, there is also the action of microorganisms. And I think that these types of aromas could be easily appreciated by either gender.

Marlen Harrison: I love the variety of inspirations you've chosen - Japanese nature (Koke Shimizu, Suiren, Yoru no Ume), Japanese culture (Murasaki no Ue, Wasanbon), French history (Petit Trianon), the USA (Mother Road 66); what guides your choices of subjects and fragrance names as a perfumer?

Osawa Satori: Flowers have been my best friends and constant companions ever since I was young. In childhood, I traveled overseas and these "exotic" experiences were engraved in my heart. Also, because I very much liked reading books, I was able to transport myself to these fantasy worlds. As an adult, I once again became enamored with the land, plants, and flowers.

Also, in the vicinity of the perfume studio there is Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. There are numerous types of gardens there such as Japanese, English (UK) and French-style gardens. There is also a deciduous forest woodland and all of this is in downtown Tokyo, a place where we can experience vast nature in the middle of a city. I visited there frequently to see the four seasons of flowers, and enjoy their aromas. Spring is a busy and exciting time to visit because flowers bloom everywhere, one after another.

I admire flowers. Not only are they beautiful but they offer a certain charm. For example, they can show hope as the plum tree withstands the harsh winter, and the Sakura (cherry blossom) always reminds us of the coming spring.

In Part 2, I discuss Iris Homme from Parfum Satori (CLICK ME).

Leave a comment below by July 1, 2016 for your chance to win one
of ten samples of Satori's enchanting Iris Homme (US readers only). Winners will be selected at random from both Parts 1 and 2 and notified by Fragrantica private message.

WINNERS HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED AS OF 7/1/16

*The perfumer's name is written in Japanese format with the family name followed by the given name.

 

Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison

Managing Editor & Columnist

Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison’s journalism in the fragrance industry has appeared in international print and online publications such as PlayboyMen’s JournalMen’s Health and the New York Times. Marlen also works as a graduate professor, thesis advisor and faculty supervisor for MA programs in TESOL, Education, Writing and Literature. Learn more about Marlen by visiting www.MarlenHarrison.com.

 

MEH



Previous Interviews Next


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Migotka
Migotka

I really loved reading this, I find Japanese attitude to perfume really interesting in a way when even now, most people do not wear perfume every day as most consider it bad taste, but they wear scents fro special occasions- is it now how perfume started off when it was very expensive and was treated as something very special, not an very day commodity.

Jul
01
2016
TheScentofMan
TheScentofMan

A wonderful article indeed. I had the chance to try it out and Satori is truly a splendid complex perfume due to the presence of oud. One of the very few perfumers to use oud in Japan back in 2006.

Jun
26
2016
ntabassum92
ntabassum92

I need to try Wasanbon, those candies look delicious!

Jun
24
2016
mruf1
mruf1

What a fascinating look into Japanese culture and fragrances. I love Iris,and would love to be able to try these fragrances. Thank you.

Jun
22
2016
fyrewoman
fyrewoman

The only japanese perfumer that i have familiarized myself with their fragrances, so far, is Ella Mikao. Which has been wonderful and interesting.

I would love to try Osawa Satori's offerings in the future. Great interview Marlen. I love Satori's explanation of how the love and relationship with flowers came about from their childhood.

Jun
21
2016
LipMartell
LipMartell

What an intriguing house. I would love to try a sample.

Jun
21
2016
lpebbles
lpebbles

Japan and the whole Japanese culture itself sounds so fascinating, and to able to experience it through the art of perfumery must be so rewarding. It would be wonderful to have a bottle of Parfum Satori and let the fragrance take me to that enchanted place.

Jun
20
2016
blake.lee
blake.lee

I'm fascinated! I hope I can try it!

Jun
20
2016
TaleOfTheRose
TaleOfTheRose

Just went to a Sado (Tea Ceremony) several weeks ago and would love to know more about Kodo (art of Japanese Fragrance). I am in.

Jun
19
2016
Jish80
Jish80

Japanese perfumes sound lovely

Jun
19
2016
matty64
matty64

Thanks for another opportunity to win otherwise unobtainable perfumes from around the world Fragrantica. I love the combination of iris and musk, thanks again. Matty

Jun
19
2016
Playtime
Playtime

" In Kodo, the aroma of incense burning or wood warming is expressed as "hearing" instead of "smelling". We not only capture the aromatic molecule physically in the nose, but also hear in our minds a story from the aroma of fragrant wood, the sentimental feelings." That is really cool. Never heard of this Kodo ceremony but it "sounds" fascinating.

Jun
19
2016
happy888cat
happy888cat

They sound so beautiful! It would be fantastic to be able to try out her creation! Thank you so much!!

Jun
19
2016
majagk
majagk

thanx for the article. it sounded sooo 'apetitlich', like, really. i do not know if is it me, reading this at my sunday brunch, or combination of your text with images, but some mouth-wattering state here... and my brain is actually guessing the described smells...

Jun
19
2016
Yurpdod
Yurpdod

I am very curious about the culture of perfume and fragrance in Japan, so this was a great article! Thanks Marlen! It would also be fun to win the sample of Iris Homme. ;D

Jun
18
2016
fazalcheema
fazalcheema

thanks for the amazing draw. I am on Opium kick these days and it is a coincidence Satori also mentions it. I remember coming to know about Satori brand on Facebook when someone from Asia posted about it. I visited the website but Satori was not shipping to US at the time. I am fascinated by Japanese culture and would love to try a Satori creation

Jun
18
2016
lemonzest
lemonzest

So glad to see mention of my favorite incense, Nippon Kodo, AND one of my favorite novels, The Tale of Genji.

Wasanbon...wow. Wagashi look so delicious and light!

Japan's fragrance culture is fascinating. Thank you for this insightful article.

Jun
18
2016
Calvini
Calvini

I've been wanting to try this brand since the Sakura article! I've gone to their website and looked at their entire collection just to find out they don't even have a link to purchase in English!
I'm mostly interested in Sakura, Satori (kyara), Petit Trianon (hyacinth & orange blossom are 2 of my favorite flowers), and Oribe (would be interesting to try an authentic tea fragrance from Japan), but Iris Homme has always been on my top list as well!

Jun
18
2016
Jdbiii
Jdbiii

Fascinating. What an interesting journey through the history of Japanese scent. Perhaps I could toss some cardamom pods in the dryer with my laundry and see if my clothes smell wonderful too.

Jun
18
2016
catikha
catikha

Excellent interview and article! The fragrance of Sakura and the aroma of Wasanbon have literally reached me, as I am sitting here, writing this comment. My nostrils are flaring with the fresh, delicious scents. I would love to be able to try a Satori sample. Please count me in the drawing. Thank you.
Twitter ID @ckhalaj

Jun
18
2016
tandaina
tandaina

What a great article, would love to get to try one of these!

Jun
18
2016
dgus82
dgus82

These all sound wonderful it gives you a great respect for culture and the art of perfume making.

Jun
18
2016
volafox
volafox

I love learning about different cultures... their foods and perfumes are two huge elements in my studies. I thank you so much for this wonderful article!

Jun
18
2016
doveskylark
doveskylark

So many scented memories of my time in Japan. Tatami mats, especially. I'd love to try a sample.

Jun
18
2016
smellagent
smellagent

hello I want a sample they sound beautiful.

Jun
18
2016
rp6969
rp6969

What a lovely article. They all sound marvelous. I love the names of the fragrances. Iris Homme sounds wonderful.

Jun
18
2016
relle
relle

Such a fascinating article about Satori's gorgeous creations! I'd love to try any of them!

(Still fixating on silk soaked in clove and cinnamon. What a olfactory visual!)

Jun
18
2016
tsuzumi
tsuzumi

I was lucky enough to make a visit to the Satori salon. What a gracious lady! Her fragrances seem super-refined to me. I was especially taken by a masculine fragrance, Mother Road (referring to US Route 66). In Japan, it is still pretty unusual to notice someone wearing a fragrance, but I smelled Mother Road on a young guy on the train in Tokyo. Satori is a real treasure!

Jun
18
2016
Jenavira
Jenavira

Your descriptions of your scents sound fascinating and I feel like I just learned a lot more about perfume in Japanese culture.

Jun
18
2016
Kohla1
Kohla1

OMG I need to try these!! I would be honored to receive these and explore these with my mother and sister!! Those porcelain bottles are too awesome and different! I love it!

Jun
18
2016
Readysniffer1
Readysniffer1

Wow, these sound so beautiful. A wonderful article as well. Thank you!

Jun
18
2016

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