On Saturday afternoon we decided to walk into Kamakura.
It was a chilly day, with strange light.
It was also extraordinarily bustling, with people everywhere in festive mood, even though to my knowledge it was not a national holiday or local festival. There was, however, a wedding at the Hachimangu Shrine, which probably accounted for the large number of people out in formal wear.
In full public view, the couple staged their nuptials in the central shrine, as onlookers took pictures. I was thinking to myself how strange it was to want to have one’s private ceremony seen by so many strangers.
Then I suddenly remembered that we also once went to a Shinto wedding at Hachimangu ; many years ago…..just one shrine along in the complex – closed off. I remember waiting in the inner tatami-floored chamber before entering into the room of the wedding ritual feeling a little apprehensive about whether we would make any mistakes. Fortunately the priests and the staff were unfailingly polite and it all went very smoothly.
After strolling the grounds of Hachimangu, later in the afternoon, we went along to my favourite incense place down Komachidōri as I wanted to re-experience some perfumes I had once briefly smelled by by incense maker Koju that are on display in the space at the back.
The seven perfumes in the Juemon series are all good ; nuanced, warm and atmospheric scents, the majority soft and woody with just the right amount of austerity, although three were a little too understated for our tastes. The standouts for me included Kou (‘Lord’ , or ‘Emperor’) which is a fine byakudan sandalwood that I would consider getting for myself as sometimes I feel precisely like that Japanese incense iteration of the wood : to me it had a feeling of authenticity.
‘Hana’ – one of three florals – was clearly a jinchoge soliflore, a convincing rendition of the bright smelling daphne odora flowers that blossom here in the middle of winter. Perhaps a little too enthusiastic, I still found it cheering for its specificity.
If I enjoyed these two – and quite liked the rest, I fell in love with the striking outlier in the collection. — Tou (‘transparent’).
There is a peculiar uniqueness to a lot of Japanese incense : the poignant contrast between the crushed powder of the balsamic bases of the sachets slipped inside kimonos to release perfume quietly, and the sharp, dark crystalline medicinality of the shōnō, or camphor, with its sting of the foreboding ancient to which I have always had a deep and puzzling attraction.
In this singular and delightful perfume, a penetrative top note of Japanese hakka mint is entwined with a grave apothecary camphor, spiked warmly with my wintry favourite, dried chōjū clove buds – over a soft ambered, vanillic fade-out lingering sensuously on skin. Unusual and odd, as a perfume, this is an absolute must-buy for me and I will be going back again next week to get a bottle: I can imagine it being very distinctive on a cold winter’s night around New Year wrapped up in a long coat. Kamakura is a beautiful place, filled with historical savour, and this perfume definitely captures something of its quintessential atmosphere.