Hanami Sachets

Hanami Sachets by Ayala Moriel
Hanami Sachets, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
It only took me 2 years from when I received these incredible fabrics (vintage kimono silk) from Japan, to actually making and filling them.

They are hand-stitched (I still need to sew a few more), so very labour intense - a labour of love, if you will. But that's not the true reason for my procrastination. I just did not know what to fill them with!

The solution was partly serendipity, and partly luck. On my last day in Berkeley, I visited Yuko Fukami. She generously gifted me with high-quality Japanese herbs, spices and resins that she in turn received from our mutual friend Ross Urrere. In true Japanese fashion, she beautifully wrapped them with wax-paper, similar to how a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor packages his custom-dosed powdered "herbs" (for all I know, these can range from true herbs and plant matter to minerals and crushed sea-horses, tiger bones, dragon's tails and other mythical creatures body parts).

Japanese Spices, Herbs & Resins
Upon my return to Vancouver, I immediately set to mix together these glorious components, as well as some of my own stashed-away botanicals: dried ume (Japanese sour plum) blossoms, whole tonka beans, and others that for now will remain secret. Crushing the tonka beans with a marble set of mortar-and-pestle was a truly sensual experience. Although there is mostly coumarin in tonka, there is also something else that is nutty and spectacular that you just don't get from the isolate/synthetic molecule alone. I love it! French chefs grate it on microplane and add to chocolate desserts (ganaches, macarons, ice-creams...). In North America it is illegal to use it due to carcinogenic effects. Personally, I think that we are exposed to far more dangerous carcinogens in daily life (your seemingly innocent ink on your grocery receipts has a plastic that is highly carcinogenic, as are most cans used to preserve foods). So I don't feel bad at all making myself a tonka-dessert once in a blue moon.

Crushed Tonka Beans
The sachets were supposed to be a studio-exclusive for my Hanami tea party. Unfortunately, we had to cancel it and will host it either in early May, or next year... So you can now get them online on my virtual boutique. These are very limited edition - I only have enough fabrics and filling for 12 sachets.

The Japanese used incense and sachets just like that to scent their kimonos and stationary so that they will be recognized for their good taste by their lovers (or suiters)... Use these sachets to scent your lingerie drawer, linen closet or stationary. You can also throw it in your suitcase when traveling, or tuck into a wool sweater or jacket's pocket for a lingering scent and to keep moths at bay.

Kimono and Incense

Kimono Sachets, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

From a Western point of view, Japanese don’t seem to be taken with perfume. At least not the way we define it. I’ve heard too many stories about the Japanese market, for example – the many unopened perfume flacons displayed in Japanese home as evidence that clearly Japanese are uninterested in fragrance and perhaps even to the extent of criticism - i.e.: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

However, preference for smaller objects (i.e.: 1/4oz flacon rather than a 5oz spray bottle) and appreciation for the flacon design should not be mistaken for dislike of aroma or inability to enjoy and appreciate scent. If anything, the Japanese have a history of designing unique containers for their scents – since Japanese traditional clothes had no pockets, they’ve designed inro for men - these were tiered boxes for storing small items such as incense and medicine; and silk sachets and kinchaku for the ladies, as well as beautiful lacquered boxes with intricate and stylized botanical designs for storing cosmetics and aromatics. Also, a special accessory was developed for the sole purpose of hanging the kimono in front of incense to scent it. Not to mention they have used scent to indicate the passing time with an incense clock!
These all indicate that aromatics - and especially natural ones - play an important role in Japanese culture and are much esteemed – and this is true for both the past and the present.

The reason for the Western misunderstanding of Japanese perfume-culture is two-fold: The physical form of perfumes enjoyed in Japan is different; and the scents themselves are far more subtle and gentle than Western perfumes – both commercial and historic.

While Western perfumery has evolved from incense into liquid perfumes (mostly alcohol base and recently also with other liquid bases such as oil or silicone), Japanese perfumery has remained mostly focused in the mostly raw materials – dry aromatics that emit their fragrance as they are (i.e.: sachets and powders) or when burnt (incense). This stands in line with the Japanese love for purity and perfection. As with any cultural differences – this can either be perceived as a technological disadvantage that limits the scent palette; or a point of difference that makes scent cultures across the world more interesting and makes traveling just a little more meaningful in this time of globalization where you can pretty much find anything anywhere.

Japanese seem to dislike the scent of alcohol (which could also explain the preference for parfum extrait - these formulations have less alcohol and more essence, thus reducing the impact of alcohol in the opening phase of the perfume). In addition, they are fortunate to have very little body odour and therefore don't feel the need to mask it as much as us Westerners are inclined to do.

As for the aromas themselves – similarly to the cuisine in Japan, Japanese perfumes (i.e.: incense, sachets and body incense powder) are subtle and use a more limited palette of aromatics. The most dominant component is woods: local woods such as cedar (Hiba) and pine (Hinoki) and the more exotic ones imported from the south – agarwood (Jin-koh) and sandalwood (Byaku-dan). Especially with the sandalwood and agarwood, there is much attention to grades – affected by how and where the trees were grown – so much that they have many different names (i.e.: Kyara is the name for the most prized grade of agarwood, which is the most rich and dark in aroma). Other significant aromatics in traditional Japanese perfumery are gum-resins such as borneol and camphor, myrrh, frankincense and benzoin; roots such as galangal (alpinia) and spikenard; patchouli leaves; and spices – cloves, cassia, cinnamon and star anise.

To truly appreciate the subtleties and slight difference between one incense or another, one must develop a sensitive nose; just like one’s palette has to be trained to truly understand and appreciate the art of tea and the subtle differences between one kind to another – after all, teas are all made from the exact same species!

The picture above is of sachets by Shoyeido incense company, sent to me by Yoko (she has been extremely generous and helpful in satisfying my Japanese olfactory culture curiosity!). They are for scenting Kimonos, and are usually tucked into the sleeves. This not only helps to make your kimono smell wonderful, but also helps keep away the silk-hungry moths. It smells spicy and camphoreous – but in a rich, luxurious way. In fact, it smells very much like a high quality carnation soap (which is one of my favourite things to tuck among my clothes); and smells nothing like moth-balls. There is an air of tranquility to all of the scents I’ve experienced from Japan. They smell like a dark room in an antique wooden house, and that’s how I imagine houses in Japan to smell like. There will be only one way to find out!

Japanese Love Letter

Japanese Stationary Sachet, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

My friend Yoko has surprised me yet again with a collection of Japanese olfactory items. In the one pictured above are sachets by Kousaido decorated with children-story illustrations that are especially made for scenting stationary.

In the past, scent played in important role in match-making in Japan. A woman would pick her mate judging her suitor’s personality by his words and the scent of the letter that carried them. This is before cameras, not to mention internet - and these two factors alone could either mean marriage or - never meeting the man at all.

Letters would be scented either with sachets, or more commonly - by waving the letter in front of the burning incense before sending it off. These particular sachets that Yoko sent me are not only pretty but also smell lovely. In an attempt to describe them I’ll say the smell like KenzoAmour Le Parfum but without the synthetic overpowering presence. If it was a perfume I would wear it now.

The notion of this romantic correspondence surely makes me want to go back to sending letters again - real ones with ink on paper. But I must admit: these beautiful stationary sachets are too pretty for my stationary (I have a strange interest in Asian stationary - from both Korea and Japan - but they are all way too juvenile for this scent).

Tune in tomorrow for more about the content of the package and other Japanese olfactory traditions.

Japanese Incense, Sachets and Meditation Candle

As if to rescue me from drowning in the holiday rush - the package from my friend Yoko in Japan today brought a bit of peace and tranquility to my space, even if just for a short moment inbetween one task to another.

This thoughtful package contained incense, sachets and meditation candle from Ise Jingu, one of the most sacred and powerful places in Japan.
There were three types of incense sticks:
Eien no Ima
Byaku-dan (Sandalwood)
Kyara (Agarwood) - I researched a bit on that one, and this is the finest kind of agarwood incense, which is very dark (the stick is black in colour) due to the black "resin" in the agarwood (it really is the result of the decay from the parasites that growin in aged agarwood trees and impart the uqnie agarwood scent to the wood).

And three sachets-stuffing (or refills):

I've burnt the Kyara and it has an immediate effect on me of centering, grounding, balancing and relaxing. Exactly what I needed in this hectic time of the year!

There was also a traditional Japanese candle in the box, made of hazenoki wax (this is the object that looks like a little rolling pin in the photo above). The wick in these candles is made of Japanese handmade paper.

Japanese Neroli Sachet

In perfect timing with my last post, today I received a package form my friend in Japan, full of fragrant surprises, one of which is this elegant Japanese neroli (Citrus tachibana - aka Tachibana orange) sachet.

As most things Japanese, it is very balanced: even though it is fresh smelling, it has a depth and interest. I have a reason to believe (even without opening the sachet itself - I have a feeling this will end in a disaster!) that is has a base powder very similar to that of the Japanese body incense - most likely a mix of sandalwood, camphor, cloves and other woods and spices and here it must have been also infused with some of the above mentioned neroli essential oil. It’s fresh but not shallow.

Japanese sachets are very similar to Japanese incense in aroma, and are usually packaged in scraps of Kimonos, silk or barocade fabrics. Most of the Japanese incense houses also make their own unique sachets.

Everything is accompanied with Japanese literature so I am hoping to find out more later on this evening after I meet with my Japanese-Canadian friend here in Vancouver for some interpretation... I will update this post accordingly later on.
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