“There is an invisible wave to scents, and trends are born from the desires of the people living in that time.”
The Sanga Incense & Fragrance Lab is a handmade stick incense shop in the south area of the Kyoto Gosho, or Kyoto Imperial Palace. Shop owner Katsuhiro Hashimoto is a “wizard of fragrance” — a wizard creating original stick incense from ingredients collected from around the world.
Kyoto is the historic birthplace of Japanese incense, and Hashimoto’s creativity is bringing a breath of fresh air into the field, as his work reflects the trends of the current generation.
（Click here for the first part of the interview：A Stick Incense Artisan Mixing Human History into Original Fragrances）
CBD, the talk of the world, as an ingredient for incense
The stick incense products at the Sanga Incense & Fragrance Lab uses ingredients comparable to “human history,” such as aromatic woods from around the world, medicinal leaves, and amber. Besides their staple products, it also has a line up of new specialty products.
Among the roughly 30 products available at the store, we found some very progressive and imaginative items.
One growing in popularity is the “lavender with CBD”. The product combines CBD, which became popular around the world as a nature-derived panacea, and lavender, which is a base ingredient in western herbal medicine.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is found in the cannabis plant. It has garnered attention in western countries and around the world for its calming effect and is being used in various fields such as medicine, beauty products, and food.
Why did Hashimoto decide to use CBD in his incense?
“It is said that CBD helps to calm the mind. After thinking and working all day, it is important to have a moment to reset and think, ‘okay, what should I do next?’ I made this incense with the hope that it will help people with that process. I created the incense so the CBD is more easily absorbed as a medicinal smoke.”
Lavender is known for helping with “relaxation”, but Hashimoto emphasizes that CBD is for “calming”.
“When you talk about relaxation, you think about relieving stress, and ‘resting’ your mind and body. However, I think true relaxation is more than that”.
“If you think about relaxation as the state you are in when you are happy, that can be when you are playing, or getting caught up in work that you love, or being surrounded by things that you like. Feeling excited about something can also be relaxing. It does not necessarily mean being calm. As I explore different fragrances, I also want to try updating what it means to relax.”
Making cats happy with “CHILL CAT”
A product that was labeled “specially for cats” caught our attention.
The product is labeled “CHILL CAT”. So what kind of stick incense is it?
“This stick incense includes catnip, which is a medicinal herb that is said to intoxicate cats. I recommend it to cat owners. It also includes other herbs like lemongrass, which is often used in cat food as well.”
Hashimoto studied academic papers on cats in order to come up with the right ingredients and balance for this fragrance mixture.
It keeps the intoxicating effect on cats to a minimum level. He says he was inspired by the image of a “catloaf”, a position cats take when they are relaxed. The process to create this masterpiece was a painstaking one with many trials and errors.
Hashimoto used to be a cat owner himself. Given the limitations on cat-appropriate ingredients, he says that it was very difficult to create this product.
However, his hard work paid off and “CHILL CAT” is now gaining popularity as a stick incense both cats and humans can enjoy together.
Cat-owning patronshave been sharing their stories with each other. On social media, those who tried the product are posting their cat’s reactions .
“There is a movement now where corporations are contributing to improving society, andI was thinking whether there is something I can do as well. One day I thought, ‘if cats are happy, that would make people happy too.’”
Hashimoto laughs as he says, “This is my way of contributing to society. I aim for ‘purrfect’ peace.”
A life hack for masks using “Zuko”
While everyone’s lives were being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hashimoto developed a new product.
“Zuko” is a kind of rubbing incense used in Buddhist practices, and in August 2020, he released a “zuko” incense for masks.
The fragrant powder is lightly applied to the inside of the mask. With each breath, the refined scent of sandalwood provides a cool and refreshing sensation around the mouth. It is like “breathing in tea” and is a new way to experience incense.
The final product looks like a lip-stick and is a representation of Hashimoto’s playful nature.
“Zuko is originally an incense that is enjoyed by directly rubbing it onto your body. However, there aren’t many ingredients that are suitable for this purpose. During lockdown, I wanted to try something new and came up with the idea of rubbing incense directly onto the mask.”
Breathing in the mask also creates a steaming effect. The zuko incense for masks makes a great gift, and it helps to turn one of the discomforts of our current situation into a pleasant moment.
Trends of fragrances that change with time
According to Hashimoto, there is always a fragrance that matches each generation.
“Actually, there are worldwide trends when it comes to fragrances. There is an invisible wave to scents, and trends are born from the desires of the people living in that time.”
“For example, about 15 years ago white sage, which is a natural herb, was hugely popular. During that time, palo santo, an aromatic wood from South and Central America, was not popular at all, but around 8 years ago, everyone suddenly started talking about how mesmerising the scent was.”
These trends in fragrances also subtly show how people think.. Like in fashion, there’s a connection with the mood of that generation.
“Fashion brands often release a unique version of their fragrance. Working with fragrances is a lot of work because you have to constantly keep up with current trends and moods. CBD is another ingredient that has recently become a part of our everyday lives. How we can incorporate these trends in the world of fragrance is a constant challenge.”
In 2020, our daily lives changed dramatically. Hashimoto believes that the trends in fragrance are also about to change.
“I think the current popularity of palo santo is coming to an end soon. I think the next movement will involve “sour” fragrances. Sour scents are not common in Japanese culture, so there is room for growth here.”
“There is no end to making fragrances. The fun of it is in the fact that there will never be a final destination. That’s why the process of making fragrances itself is what makes incense so fascinating.”
Creative fragrances examine our relationship with the earth and plants, and connect people with other living things.
As a traditional field of incense craftsman, Hashimoto creates fragrances that transcend into the future. For him, fragrance is an artform, as well as his way of documenting our world and times.
(Photo: Yuko Kawashima）