Parfum Satori: Japanese interpretation of perfumery

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my scent adventures in Japan last month. A friend recommended me to visit Parfum Satori in Sendagaya, Tokyo. Before going there, I did some online research and it turned out that this was an independent artisanal perfumery in Tokyo. The creator and perfumer of the brand is a Japanese lady Satori Osawa, and according to the website, her creations are inspired by traditional Japanese culture. A Japanese interpretation of perfume? Interesting! I had to check it out!

So in the sweltering heat of Tokyo’s summer, I got off at JR Yoyogi station and made my way to the perfumery together with a Japanese friend. It’s a really tiny place, almost a hole-in-the-wall that you could miss if you were not actively looking out for it. I stepped right into a cozy atelier where there was an elderly Japanese man working on some crafts. I was later to learn that he was an jeweller, crafting exquisite creations that command staggering prizes, and he also happened to be the husband of the perfumer Ms Osawa.

I didn’t know what to expect since this was not a retail space, but actually a atelier. I imagined a bygone era, where artisans would meet directly with their customers, ask for feedback on their latest designs and creations, tweak their products, crafting products directly for customers they knew – a far cry from today’s products created for the mass market, made by anonymous labourers in a factory for abstract customers.

He looked up from his workspace, his magnifying lenses still on his head. Perhaps sensing my distress and wanting to end my misery, he began to speak. “Kousui desu ka,” he asked in Japanese, meaning, confirming if I was here for the perfume.

Why, yes, of course!

Sadly, he informed me that the perfumer was actually away in France!!! He went on to explain that she took an annual visit to France this time of the year. (A friend later told me that a lot of perfumers go to France in July/August every year.)

Nonetheless, he quickly called someone to attend to us. We were served coffee, but the real highlight were the creations.

Trying the fragrant offerings at Parfum Satori

Trying the fragrant offerings at Parfum Satori

I have only a vague memory of the various fragrances that I tried, but of them, three in particular stood out as particularly infused with a Japanese aesthetic. Oribe, which is inspired by Japanese powdered green tea or matcha. I remember it opening with a rather citrus note – could it be bergamot? There are a lot of tea fragrances on the market, but this really stood out for invoking the scent of Japanese green tea. There was also Sakurainspired by the cherry blossom so intimately associated with Japanese culture. This was a light floral that had slight tangy touch – like real sakura. Is this achieved through illusion or does the perfume contain real essential oil from sakura?

The perfume that touched me the most, however, was Satori. The representative fragrance of the brand, Satori is both the perfumer’s name and also the Japanese word for “enlightenment.” It smells like Japanese incense. I’m sure there are a lot of other materials here, but I got a lot of sandalwood and agarwood out of this. Personally, I’m sick of the oud-craze in perfumery but this was nothing like it. It’s top quality agarwood done with a light touch and contrasted with other spices like cinnamon and cloves and excellently balanced with sandalwood, recreating the experience of being in a Japanese temple in late winter/early spring, with the air crisp, dry, fresh. I did not purchase a full bottle but now I regret not doing so. The lady who assisted us (she was introduced as the daughter) did give us a sample, and everytime I dab it on I am transported back to a Japanese temple.

Parfum Satori is a rare gem in this world of designer fragrances that are devoid of soul. It offers a Japanese interpretation of perfume that perfume lovers all over the world should seek out.

I have loved Japan for a long time. And in that cozy atelier in Tokyo, I found Japan expressed through scent.