There have always been Japan-inspired perfumes, from Mitsouko through Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert to Japon Noir and Plum Japonais; Gaiac 10 Tokyo by Le Labo; Mousse Arashiyâma by Le Jardin Retrouvé to Art Et Parfum’s Kimono Vert and Nightingale by Zoologist : the incense temple of the first Aedes De Venustas…..a very particular niche of the fragranced landscape usually based on ideas of subtle eroticism and tact; ancient forests; powdered silk. The Tokyo-Parisian hybrids of Kenzo, Comme Des Garcons and Issey Miyake further globalized notions of Japaneseness in the modern mind : a sensual simplicity; a strictness; one step removed.
But what of Japanese perfumes created specifically and domestically for users in the home market?
Do these perfumes also necessarily rely on the country’s own historically exquisite cultural tropes stretching back millennia, as a way of distinguishing them from the equally popular European perfumes worn here by Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Guerlain ?
Or do these creations merge with them in some way, creating home variants?
I would say a little bit of both.
At the drug store (and there are so many pharmacies and chemists and toiletry stores here it is overwhelming; perusing them is practically a pastime for a lot of people on their days off) you can get every possible variety of sweet, cute, erotic, soapy, woody, or fresh themed fragrances at ultra-cheap prices, skin scents for schoolgirls essentially. Further up the adult ladder there are of course the iconic skincare brands such as Shiseido, who have their own range of mid-range (and in truth, somewhat dowdy in image) perfumes such as More and Koto and Murasaki sold exclusively in their Japanese boutiques (the Serge Lutens cooler-than-thou variants were international exportations that were never really part of the domestic repertory).
Likewise, other popular makeup brands here such as Kanebo, Pola and Decorté have historically had their own perfumes as part of the in house product selection (the latter’s recently released Kimono Tsuya is priced at around ￥8,800, which would be seen as a luxury product by most average people on the street, though nowhere near of course the outrageous cost of niche, which becomes even more extortionate through import taxes and exchange rates and is exclusively for the purist fashion conscious with money to burn in the metropolis at Hankyu and Isetan).
Kimono Tsuya, a new release, is a quintessentially 21st century Japanese perfume for ladies that is very pretty and prim with its roses and peonies and magnolia and plum yuzu trimmings: I know exactly the type of person here it would suit, though I wouldn’t necessarily be wanting to sit next to her at the wedding. I find this kind of thing pleasant to an extent – a fresh floral quite well done, with its ume undertones giving it a vague hint of poignancy, but it is also really quite annoying for me personally in a ‘passively aggressive perfect kind’ of way – as though it were a Japanese relative of Chloé and L’Occitane’s heinous Eau Des Quatres Reines – a rose perfume of synthetic mien that polluted the airwaves for way too many years here and denotes a very precise socio-economic age bracket and culturally moulded, typical personality.
Too much exposure to this would seriously grate.
The perfumes of Osaji, on the other hand, a very reasonably priced perfume and skin care brand that I tested again properly yesterday in Fujisawa, most probably would not.
Like other perfumeries here that deliberately mine ‘Japaneseness’ in their blends, such as the mysterious, understated romanticism of Parfums Satori, or the more novelty-ish/gimmick (but still very nicely harmonized) perfumes by J-Scent, whose Sumo Wrestler and other perfumes I have reviewed on here before and whose thick, floral powder aldehyde Paper Soap I am thinking about possibly investing in next, this range of very natural and rather dreamy smelling perfumes combines a very full-bodied, powdered burst of one thematic accord which then rapidly dissipates into something more attenuated and ‘background’; thus Hiba – a wood oil related to cedar and hinoki – encapsulates the renenergizing and strengthening spirit of hiba wood but surrounds it with a gentle cloud of heft that makes it softer and wearable; Jinkou perhaps taking off the bite of the Japanese agarwood tradition a little too much, but despite its unfanged gentleness, still irrevocably enigmatic.
While a new limited edition perfume by the brand, another coniferous blend called Kuromoji, is possibly the most unsexy date fragrance I can possibly imagine, a kind of reverse Spanish Fly that smells just like pine disinfectant, the same cannot be said for the florals……..which are definitely their own kind of unique gorgeous.
When going through all of the the range with me yesterday and photographing the bottles, D jumped back and said ‘blimey!’ or something more salted, when smelling Suisen (Narcissus), which I have reviewed before and actually ending up going back to buy a few months ago because I simply needed to have it in my collection. When compared with the other perfumes in the range, it really is the stand out , as an extraordinarily indolic and potent jasmine and narcissus perfume whose photorealism and audacity I greatly admire but which to a lot of people is probably quite shocking and revolting. Today on my hand it smells lovely – fresh and jolting, but at other times it is as though something has withered and died, an animalic pissiness that is slightly vile in its later stages even if the opening floral triumphalist blast is simply fantastic.
Fuji, or Wisteria, unfortunately doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in the same way as Suisen, which is a shame when this flower is so blousy and psychically overpowering in nature, and still flowering in all the mountains around here (stand under the great bower of wisteria trees here, as my friend Katie does – see her picture below – and you will be drugged into an immediate trance).
To be rendered properly, a real wisteria perfume needs gusto and colour, but Fuji, though purple in spirit, unexpectedly also has an ozonic/sport element running through it that makes it curiously androgynous, toning down the heat with a certain coolness but not the curvaceous bombshell that I was hoping for (on the subject of wisteria, I personally adore Diptyque’s jasmine/’wisteria’ florically maniacal Olène, my bottle of which I wore with great pleasure the other day alongside some Glicine (wisteria) by Borsari 1840, but just like CdG’s Wisteria Hysteria, this doesn’t really plug into the flower realness I am aching for : have you ever smelled a convincing version of this floral in a perfume? If so, i need to know).
Yūsuge (golden day lily) – another gleaming, living Osaji flower scent – was very pleasing on me : a yellow floral that shone, then faded, as we sat in a retro 70’s cafe drinking cold bottled beers with yolk yellow plastic banquettes- which is how I like it (ideally, all floral perfumes, for me, would be like this with no woody underpinnings or musk – I like a soliflore to be a soliflore). D wore Botan on one hand (peony), and this was also bright and fully rounded and vastly more pleasant than the tight artificiality of the teeth-whitened ‘peonies’ in Kimono Tsuya, though the best of the bunch aside the narcissus was definitely Sumire (Violet), which he wore on the other; a perfume I would consider actually getting as it combines so many facets that feel correct to me in a Japanese context; a very sensual, almost voluptuously warm steamed aspect that brings to mind the beauty of hinoki soap at a hotspring, alongside a powdered violet that verges on lustful, but maintains its good behaviour; while still definitely hinting at the flesh beneath an elegant attire. There is something deeply atmospheric about this one: enough to draw me in.