From the delicate aroma of cherry blossoms in spring to the scent of sizzling yakitori and cigarette smoke that spills out of izakayas in the evening, daily life in Japan comes with a head-spinning array of scents. When it comes to personal fragrance, though, the country is known for its particularly light touch. It’s not out of the ordinary for a well-heeled sushi restaurant to stipulate that guests refrain from wearing perfume (lest an unwelcome haze of oud or bergamot cloud the palates of other diners); douse yourself with too much Portrait of a Lady, meanwhile, and you can expect to wrinkle a few noses on the train.
“A lot of fragrances in Japan come from overseas, and so there are very few that are made with Japanese tastes in mind, or that incorporate scents from Japanese nature,” says Masaya Konaka, the founder of home fragrance brand Kurashi no Kaori. It’s a calm November morning, and Konaka is sitting at the end of a large beechwood desk at his brand’s atelier, dressed neatly in a navy suit and a grey marl polo neck. Nestled in Yamanako, a hamlet 100 kilometers west of Tokyo, the atelier functions as both a shop and a workshop, where the staff mill around making candles from soy wax or guiding visitors through a tour of the grounds. Mount Fuji looms impossibly huge through the windows, dusted with snow and wrapped in a sash of cloud. “We built the atelier in such a way that Fuji-san is visible from each window,” says Konaka, who sourced the plot of land and commissioned the building last year.
Konaka is driven by a belief that getting more acquainted with the subtleties of fragrance will have a knock-on effect on how we perceive the world around us. “I don’t think it’s scent alone that enriches our lives, but by experiencing fragrance in your own home, you can then go out and feel the scent of the osmanthus blooming, or smell the air and realize that autumn has come,” he tells me. This could sound like frothy posturing in another context, but the way Konaka says it is convincing—and wholly sincere. “I think if you have more opportunities to truly perceive the scents around you, it can lead you to reconsider the beauty of everyday life and come to appreciate the things you might otherwise usually ignore,” he smiles. “I hope we can provide an opportunity for that.”