We are all fascinated by the world of scents and fragrances, but it can seem a little difficult to know where to get started.
If we knew how to best bring fragrances into our daily lives, perhaps it would provide a new way to enrich our time.
With that hope in mind, I visited Kako, a shop where you can experience blending your own home fragrance. I participated in one of their workshops and talked to the founder, Masakazu Shigeta. I asked him why he decided to offer fragrance blending workshops at Kako and what people can gain by bringing fragrances into their everyday lives.
Kako is a specialty shop for home fragrances that opened in the summer of 2021 by Osaji, a sensitive skincare lifestyle brand. The store is located in Kuramae, an area which once flourished as a town for craftsmen in Tokyo.
The name “Kuramae” means “rice storehouses” and the area was named so because it was where the Shogunate of the Edo period kept their rice storehouses. While maintaining its old town vibes, the area has recently attracted artistic people, cafes, and shops and is developing into a district with a newer vibe.
Fragrance blending, a three-dimensional experience
At Kako there are 12 kinds of original essential oil blends that are divided into four categories according to the rate they evaporate. The four categories are: “top note.” “top middle note,” “middle base note,” and “base note.” By simply picking one of each type of oil and blending them together, you can create your own original room fragrance spray or essential oil.
Masakazu Shigeta, who is the director of Osaji and founder of Kako, has some interesting suggestions for fragrances.
“We want people to experience the fragrance three-dimensionally, like an art piece. That is one of the reasons why we started holding these room fragrance workshops.”
“I thought it would be nice to have a fragrance that is like a family crest, which changes as it is passed down through generations. Instinctively, I feel that most people have a desire for such a fragrance.”
What does it mean to enjoy a fragrance like enjoying an art piece?
At the workshop, bottles of essential oils were lined up in front of us. We took the paper testing strips to soak up a sample and took a deep breath to smell each one. By doing so, you begin to get a sense of which fragrance suits you at that moment.
After you decide on the four types of fragrances that best match your taste, you take a few drops of each and drip the oils into a glass bottle to blend them together.
The fragrance will change according to the order the different oils are mixed, and even a single drop can make a big difference in the final result. The choices you make that day will be reflected in your home. After taking part in the workshop, I understood how this experience is a three-dimensional art experience.
As I focused on the process of blending, I felt my mind go empty and stabilize as a sense of elation grew inside me.
The process of blending together the 12 types of high quality essential oils while thinking about what changes each different combination will bring was such a creative process, it awakened my imagination and curiosity that hadn’t been stimulated in a long time.
Shigeta stated, “I don’t think it is necessary to think about the holistic effects of fragrances when you are just trying to enjoy them.”
“Just like with food, when you eat something that your body needs, it tastes good. The same is true for fragrances. It is important to be honest with your senses and feel the scents that feel good to you in that moment. When we develop products, of course we think about the holistic effects, but I don’t think the people using the product should worry about such things.”
The original fragrance you blend at the shop is given a serial number so you can re-order the same blend again. However, this does not mean that the created blend will continue to stay the same.
“A person’s taste in fragrance will change with age and health. Taste is not consistent and it is only natural that it changes.” One of the attractions of making your original blend at Kako” is that they allow you to change the blend to match the changes in your taste at any time.
The West and Japan: fragrance for whom?
According to Shieta, perfumes in Europe and the United States are worn for the purpose of impressing other people, but the way people enjoy fragrances are different in Japan.
This is why he decided to focus on making room fragrances.
“The way Japanese people enjoy fragrances are different from other countries. Overseas, people put on perfume for other people. They tend to consider body odor, including pheromones, as an aspect of attraction, so they put on perfume to attract other people.”
“On the other hand, in Japanese culture, the fragrances are there to provide scents towards oneself. For example, incense bags kept inside the obi of a kimono are designed to carry the scent up to the person wearing it. The idea is to use fragrances to provide oneself with a way to relax.”
It is easy to understand why Japanese people have incorporated fragrances into their lives as a way to calm their mind.
In Japanese culture, people do not want to constantly wear a fragrance. There are days when they seek a fragrance and some days that they want to change the fragrance. Shigeta saw that room fragrances were a good way to meet those desires.
Depending on how the fragrance is blended, it can become stronger or lighter.
“The room fragrances we make here can be used not only as a room fragrance, but it can be applied to clothes as well, as long as the fabric is not white. Anytime you want to cut off the fragrance, they can just take off that layer of your clothes.”
After I finished blending my original fragrance, I smelled it and felt relief. I had made this fragrance, not for others, but simply for the comfort of myself.
Shigeta shared that after a person experiences the changes that occur through blending the four categories of scent, “top note,” “top middle note,” “middle base note,” and “base note,” the way that they experience perfumes and other fragrances that we find in stores also tends to change.
“When encountering fragrances, it becomes fun to imagine what the person who created it may have been thinking or feeling. I think many people find this new way of enjoying fragrances after experiencing this process of creating their own. By doing the process yourself, you can understand fragrances in a more artistic way. I think this creates more moments of richness in our lives.”
Why mornings are the opportune time to enjoy fragrances
Shigeta says that he has become an early riser in the past couple years. He used to sleep in until 10 or 11 o’clock. Now he gets up at 5 o’clock. He says that the morning hours are important to help him keep his autonomic nervous system in balance.
“Although it may sound inappropriate, when the first state of emergency was declared in March of 2020, I felt kind of excited about the sudden and drastic change in everyday life that I started waking up early.”
“I would wake up at 5 o’clock, lay around for about 30 minutes, then start cleaning the house. I do not enjoy cleaning, but I dusted and wiped and would clean with water if I had time. Even if it was cold, I opened all the windows. When I finished, I would light a stick of incense and drink a cup of coffee. That became my morning routine and I noticed that my sense of smell began to change in the morning.”
Shigeta felt that his sense of smell became clouded at night, and he could not capture scents accurately, so he began to work on blending in the morning when he felt his senses were refreshed.
Based on this experience, he started recommending others to enjoy fragrances in the morning. He says that it helps to start the day in a comfortable and relaxed way.
“After I finish my morning routine, I check my emails from the previous day by about 8 o’clock, reply to them, and finish off the desk work I have to do for the day. My mind is most clear between 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock so I get my work done faster.”
“With this routine, by the time the city starts getting busy, I can leave the house and meet with people. Personally, I love meeting and talking to people and I tend to lose myself if I don’t have time to interact with other people. For me, the time spent meeting with people is the most relaxing.”
Sunlight, air of the forest, and realigning your mind
Osaji is a brand that Shigeta started because he wanted to help his mother who had skin problems. When Shigeta was in his early 20s, his mother was in a car accident and the stress of the accident caused her skin to break out. She was unable to use regular skin products on her skin, so Shigeta began making skin products that she could use.
“My mother enjoyed using makeup, so the shock of not being able to use these products was bigger than the shock of her skin breaking out. One day she said to me, ‘Kazu, you are good at cooking, so maybe you will be good at making skin products.” I don’t know where she got that idea, but I agreed and started making skin products in our home kitchen. That was the beginning of Osaji.’
Shigeta says that more people are coming to him saying that they are suffering from sensitive skin due to the prolonged quarantine life under the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because people are spending more time indoors, they are not exposed to enough sunlight and that is affecting their autonomic nervous system. I think this is one of the reasons why more people are suffering from sensitive skin.”
“I am not necessarily a mentally strong person myself. However, whenever I start feeling a little down in my house in Gunma, I drive my car out to the forests and take deep breaths of the fragrances of the woods. It helps me relax. My house in Gunma is also designed to let in the morning sunlight throughout the house. I think that exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning also helps to balance the autonomic nervous system.”
For people with very sensitive skin, even fragrances can be too strong. Until recently, Osaji did not research fragrances, but Shigeta’s personal experience made him realize the important role fragrances have in our lives.
Although they could not use fragrances in their skincare products for people with sensitive skin, they wanted to adopt a more holistic approach to fragrance.
Room fragrances allowed the effects of scents to be given in a more natural way. In our modern world, where the future is unclear and people carry a lot of anxiety, many people turn to fragrances to ease their minds. The workshops at Kako” are mostly fully booked on the weekends and it is attracting people from all over Japan.
Finding a positive escape, and keeping “80 percent satisfaction”
Shigeta lives a busy life working between the headquarters in Gunma and his store in Tokyo. I asked him how he likes to spend his time when he is looking for “positive escape.”
“I like to cook for my friends and family as a way to release stress. The idea of making skincare products also came from my desire to help others. It is very important for me to be doing something for someone.”
“When cooking, I always think about what the person I am cooking for would want to eat. I don’t use any recipes and make original dishes. I also like to use seasonings such as soy sauce, rice wine, and sake that I find in grocery stores on my business trips outside of Tokyo. I don’t use artificial flavorings and choose olive oils, salts, and seasonings based on quality, not price.”
“I cannot become an artist because whenever I create something, it is always for someone else,” says Shigeta. “And I always keep fun things at 80 percent satisfaction.”
“Even when I go out and meet people, I try not to overstay or over drink. If we start drinking at 6 o’clock, most of the fun conversations are finished by 9 o’clock. I have a feeling that when I stay longer than that, it leaves less fun and freshness for our next meeting. Some people may think of me as a bit cold, but I just find that it is always better to leave a little extra fun for the next time.”
Shigeta values his five senses, the small details in communicating with people and doing things for the people around him when he creates.
It is from these values that Osaji and Kako came to be.
In this age where human relationships are becoming weaker and losing balance, perhaps the experience of blending your own room fragrance is a way to make time to rediscover what it means to be human.
Editing：Yuko Souma, Neko Sasagawa