Event Report

Olfaction Design Lab, Vol. 2: Brain-shaking Pheromones

The OLFACTORY DESIGN LAB is a workgroup which pursues the possibilities of Olfactory Design. The theme of this second workshop, held on August 30th, was “Brain-shaking pheromones”. Using the classic Japanese legend, “The Tale of Genji” as a hint, we discovered many things, from the definition of pheromones to the link between scents and personalities.

In the first part of the workshop, Ms. Maki Ueda, a pioneer of olfactory art, gave a workshop and lecture on creating scent concoctions. In the second part, we held a talk event where we invited Mr. Kazushige Touhara, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences. In this report, we will be focusing on the activities of the first half of the workshop.

Part 1: Workshop & Lecture (16:30-18:30)
Sampling the scent of the ladies of the Tale of Genji, create the scent satchel that reflects your personality

❏Installation experience (30 minutes)
❏”Imagine the personality of the Tale of Genji with scent”
❏The fragrance of Genji’s women ~ Perfuming workshop of Scent Satchel ~ (90 minutes)

Part 2: Lecture & Cross Talk (19:30-22:00)
“What is the meaning of pheromones? The relationship between our personality and scent”

 ❏Opening talk, Guest introduction
❏Crosstalk “Eros and pheromones, fragrance and personality”
❏Q & A
❏Socializing

Part one: Workshop and Lecture

In the first section of the workshops, participants experienced the five scents that appear in Chapter 32, “Umegae” in “The Tale of Genji”. “The Tale of Genji” is a story written by Murasaki Shikibu, a handmaid to Empress Shoshi, in the early 11th century of medieval Japan. The story charmingly depicts the luxurious lives of Heian nobles and the romantic conquests of the protagonist, Genji Hikaru, or “Shining Genji”, who is the son of an ancient Japanese emperor.

In the “Umegae” chapter, Genji makes four women (Murasaki, Asagao, Hanachirusato, and Akashi) concoct a personal scent and compete against each other to celebrate his daughter Akashi’s marriage into the imperial family. It is an episode which shows the cultured lifestyle and sociable personality of Genji.

In the Heian era, the culture of burning incense spread among the nobles and they used it to scent their rooms and clothes. Traditional recipes existed for the main scents, but each family would also have their own recipe with a twist. This custom scent would be passed down as you would an heirloom. In these days, men and women spoke to each other from either side of a bamboo screen, and so visual information was limited. Thus, the scent and the individual became inextricably linked much further than it is these days.

Participants experienced the scents of the four women from “The Tale of Genji”, “kurobou”, “baika”, “jijyu”, “kayou” and “kunoe”, as a part of the installation experience. Each incense scent differs and the scent before and after burning was sampled and enjoyed.

“Kurobou” is a celebratory scent and if one were to associate it with one of the four seasons, it would be winter. “Baika” would be of spring and is the signature scent of Murasaki. In this way, the scents come to have various associated meanings.

In this workshop,  participants used ingredients such as “jinko” and “byakudan” to make a scent satchel based on the recipe in “Scent and Buddhism” (by Youen Ariga). The result was a very Japanese scent that evokes a unique type of nostalgia, different from our everyday perfumes, shampoos, and fabric softeners.

You can enjoy the scent of a perfume changing in the span of a day, but scent satchels can be enjoyed during a longer span of a week, a month… You can carry them around with you or keep them in your closet or drawer.

Workshop Instructions:

First, take note of how the ingredients of the scent smell. For example, “Jinko” smells like your typical Japanese-style room.

Second, let your sense of smell guide you and blend the ingredients to make your ideal scent. Add a few drops of musk to prolong the duration of the scent.


Finally, wrap your concoction in a beautiful cotton fabric and tie to finish your customized scent satchel.


A participant let me smell their blend which was inspired by Genji’s “Jijyu”. It had a very fresh scent. The slightest difference in the recipe transforms the scent, even if the ingredients are essentially the same.

It has been some time since I participated in the workshop, and I would like to think my fellow participants are enjoying the changing scents of their creation. Some may think that incense is too expensive, but its European counterpart, “satchels”, are affordable and easy to make by simply searching for recipes online. This could be the perfect opportunity to make your own scent that expresses who you are.

【For the original Japanese article, please visit the original MTRL Blog Post

【For the second part of this event report, please visit this Part 2 MTRL Blog Post (Japanese only)】

【For the original Event Page of this workshop, please visit here

Olfactory Design Lab

The “Olfactory Design Lab” is a laboratory for olfactive research and exploration born out of the collaboration of Loftwork / FabCafe MTRL and scent artist, Maki Ueda. This project aims to design “olfaction” as a new communication tool. This project is held once every three months. We notify the general public about future workshops through the FabCafe MTRL event page.

Original article written by Akiko Tanaka
Translated and edited by Kelsie Stewart

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