Incense culture is spreading throughout the world: Ms. Yonewaki, chief of the Product Development Department, mainly focuses on research and development of merchandise that are geared towards overseas customers. What types of incense do people in the world love, and how do these people reflect on Japan through incense? It seems to be that people expect to sense the country of Japan through incense.
The best-selling incense world-wide— “Morning Star”
“Because the products I take part in are usually geared towards overseas customers, they’re sent out quickly. That is why many people in the company don’t even have the chance to see the finished products.”
Having said that Ms. Yonewaki grabbed one of the products made for overseas. It is the world’s best-selling incense, “Morning Star.”
“This Morning Star is a product line mainly sold in USA. It comes in 17 fragrances such as floral, citrus, woody, etc.”
Being a multicultural country, popular fragrances seem to be widely-ranged in the United States. People from different cultures have different preferences in fragrance.
"Woody fragrances are overwhelmingly popular in China. Mainly sandalwood and agarwood. France also has the tendency to favor woody fragrance. They probably feel attracted to the Japanese history, like “Zen.” It seems important to provide an audience in any country their image of Japan through fragrance without being forceful or stereotypical."
Fragrance creates a brand image as well
Products created for overseas audience include collaborations with major brands such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Lancome, Cacharel, and Chrome Hearts.
"Because each brand’s global concept is represented in a form of incense, communication becomes crucial in order to reach a mutual agreement when working on a project together. In such case the most important thing is to make the product fit to the ‘image’ of the fragrance to our client’s demand— the fragrance of the incense stick, the fragrance while it is burning, and the fragrance after the burning. We usually explain to our clients to enjoy the image of the lingering smell after burning the incense. One of the interesting things is that although incense with little smoke is popular in Japan, many of the brand corporations we worked with did not mind about the amount of smoke.”
Coffee-scented incense is popular too.
The most recent product that we released was the coffee-scented incense.
"Our corporate-owned store told us a story about one of the customers who mentioned, “When my husband was alive, he used to love coffee. I want to be enveloped in the smell of coffee”. From that experience, we developed the “Sasara Charcoal Coffee” incense. Of course, there are many people who favor our company’s leading, traditional incense such as Mainichi-Koh and Seiun, however, there have been high demands of fragrances appropriate for modern Western-style rooms when it comes to indoor usage."
To make the people living in the space feel comfortable by burning incense is an important factor to take into consideration. The fragrance of incense evolves.
“It would bring us much joy to have people know that incense comes in a variety of scents. If they choose scents that they are comfortable with, the offering time will be more enjoyable."
Enjoying the drifting smell in the air
Ms. Yonewaki, who has been working with fragrance for a long time, is not a fan of strong, distinctive scents.
“When you keep on smelling strong scents for a while, you start getting tired of it. I like to be gently enveloped in soft, faint scent. I believe that it is the Japanese incense tradition to enjoy the fragrance drifting in air. The incense culture in the Middle East has a way of burning scented wood directly, but the Japanese incense culture has a way of indirectly warming up the scented wood and allowing the scent to flow. Personally I like the Agarwood incense, but I also like massage oil that contain Geranium and Rosemary for daily use— it makes me unwind at the end of the day.”
It may be best to create a subtle, flowy/drifting fragrance in the air, as you smell the reminiscence of the oil in massage therapy. That is something we can incorporate in daily life.
Interviewed & edited by Aya Mori
Photos by Tomoko Hidaki