Japanese Style Fragrance

October 3, 2016

By Nanae Uchida, Yu Nakabayashi, Hiyori Morisha



incense smoke

incense smoke


The temples and shrines are probably the most famous things in Kyoto. For these places, O-KO is essential. People in the temple and the shrine use SENNKOU to clean the god’s country every day. SENNKOU is made from O-KO and shaped long stick. So, what is the O-KO? O-KO is kind of old Japanese perfume that is made of natural materials. The materials are a grass, a bark, and flower bud.



History of Japanese fragrance

History of Japanese fragrance


O-KO was use in 538 for the first time. At first, people use it to protect from evil spirits. Gradually, people used it as a perfume with KIMONO (Japanese traditional clothes). And, people enjoyed the smell of the fragrance in a daily life. Mostly, O-KO is a powder, and wrapped with Japanese paper or, packed in a small bag to carry. That is also called NIOIBUKURO (Sachet). So, you can use this to add the fragrance to a closet, in a bag, and anywhere. Sometimes O-KO is solidified, shaped into a stick of a flower. Usually, the scent will last for a month or two for small size, and about half a year for bigger ones. There are two ways to use O-KO. First, lighting the shaped O-KO to burn, and making smoke. The smoke is filled with the smell, and makes a room smell good. And the other way of using the O-KO is enjoying the smell of the fragrance without fire. People who have BUTSDAN (Buddhist altar) in their house use it the first way every day. But, in this case, the O-KO which is used doesn’t have a strong smell. And, the second way is called NIOIBUKURO (Sachet or Perfume bag). Recently, the number of people who use O-KO or NIOIBUKORO have decreased. But, people who like natural fragrance or people in the temples and shrines still use them. If you go to the store, NIOIBUKURO is easy to make and carry. This can be a good opportunity to see, smell, and experience the Japanese tradition and culture.


The way to enjoy O-KO

O-KO has a variety of effects. It can soothe your mind, purify the room, or create energy. Burning O-KO can purify a room of negative energy. Sage, sandalwood and frankincense are traditionally thought to be purifying. On the other hand, if you want to be happy and reduce your stress, rose or lavender is recommended.  It can get under control your mind only make O-KO. If you are in need of healing, then musk, which should make you feel at ease. Citrus scents, like orange, can elevate your mood and make you feel positive. There are times when you feel gloomy, because of work or human relationship. Then you use spice O-KO is better, like cinnamon, pine or a Japanese cypress. Each situation calls for a different kind of O-KO.

Another reason to change O-KO scents is to refresh your palate.  If you smell the same thing all the time, no matter how wonderful it is, your nose becomes insensitive. However, when you change the scent, or breath some fresh air deeply, then you can appreciate the smell of O-KO again.



Japanese traditional way to enjoy fragrance


It is good to put some O-KO in your room, or give some to your friends to put in their house. Remember when you are buying some O-KO, that the best scent is not always the most expensive. Take some time to smell the fragrance and choose something you like. So visit a lot of places, try and select carefully. You will make a better choice and enjoy your O-KO life!!



Trial class

There are some shop to make NIOIBUKURO (Sachet or Perfume bag).

Name : Ranzankakyou (嵐山香郷)

Place : Arashiyama Ukyoukyu, Kyoto    within 10 mins from Arashiyama station

URL :  https://www.shoyeido.co.jp/shop-info/ranzankakyo.html


This is the shop we went. That is located in Arashiyama, Kyoto. It is quite easy to go during your trip.


NIOIBUKURO(Sachet or Perfume bag)

You can make your own perfume bags here for 1,926 yen at this shop. You can put them in your wallet, bag, closet or wherever and it let you always enjoy the fragrance you made by yourself as you open it. Here is a process how to make the perfume bags.

You can make "Nioibukuro" with two small bags and one big bag

You can make “Nioibukuro” with two small bags and one big bag

1.    There are seven tablets with different fragrances. Choose ten tablets as you like from there. Any combination is acceptable.

2.    Put the all tablets you choose in a mortar and pound them to pieces.

Choose tablets and make your own combination

Choosing tablets and making own combination

pound tablets to pieces

Pounding tablets to pieces

3.    Put a scoop of the powder in two small paper bags and paste them closed.

4.    Choose two small envelopes from three. Put the small bags in them and paste.

5.    Put the rest of powder in a bigger bag and paste it closed.

6.    Choose one paper case and put it in the case. Then tie it with colored string.


For long-lasting effort, keep them away from moist stuff or keep them with a desiccant. Damp is not good, but too dry is also not good for them.



Japan has its own culture of fragrance, and it’s quite different from other countries. Comparing Japanese fragrance and some foreign fragrances, foreign fragrance often tend to sharper. Why? There are some reasons. Why Japanese prefer light scents over sharp or heavy fragrances.

Climate is the one of reasons. Japan is very humid in the summer. When air is dry, perfume evaporates easily and does not last long. In a dry climate, people may be more likely wear perfume with a sharp fragrance and put a lot of it on at once. Generally, Japanese people prefer natural fragrances. Sometimes Japanese people buy a perfume in another country but when they wear it in Japan, it feels a bit sharper than it did.

Another reason is the historical use of perfume. It is widely said that people in Europe used to wear heavy perfumes to hide unpleasant smells, such as body odor or garbage. In this situation, strong perfumes were preferred. However, in Japan, the use of perfume is more recent, and a custom imported from western countries. Of course, in modern times, people don’t need to wear perfume to overpower unpleasant smells, so fragrance can be subtle rather than powerful. Generally, Japanese people prefer faint scents and those are more popular among us.

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