There is no city on Earth quite like Tokyo. It’s a sprawling metropolis, all clean and orderly, outlined by strips of neon, connected by expansive crossings and filled with more vending machines than anywhere else in the universe. It’s a singular, unique place awash with contrasts, where a fastidious obsession with perfection is the veneer that hides a dark underbelly of strangeness, and even darkness. There is beauty and art aplenty (in Japan, even pouring a cup of tea is an art form), and Dear Reader, the food is just out of this world.
I really do love Tokyo, can you tell? But I’m not the only one – British indie outfit Gallivant appear to be a fan too and they’ve created a fragrance inspired by this most unique city. Gallivant is a brand for “urban explorers” that creates scents inspired by iconic destinations. In their collection of seven fragrances they have traversed the globe, stopping off places such as Amsterdam, Istanbul, Brooklyn and of course, Tokyo. Much like the city – Tokyo the fragrance is my favourite. This review will tell you why.
What I am trying to evoke with this fragrance is that special feeling of early morning Tokyo. The air is humid and misty. Wandering the back streets, electric cables overhead, everything is tranquil and surprisingly quiet – like being in a village with small wooden houses. I also wanted to capture the tastes of izakaya eateries, fruits, spices, wasabi – sour and sweet – a zing on your tongue. The earthy dampness of potted plants outside shrines and wooden temples. It’s refined, spiritual – sandalwood and smoky incense. A calm elegance amid the big city neon energy.
– Nick Steward, Gallivant
Top: Yuzu, Bergamot, Black Pepper, Cardamom and Wasabi
Heart: Hinoki, Cedarwood, Orris Root, Nutmeg, Rose and Incense
Base: Amber, Sandalwood, Patchouli and Vetiver
How Does it Smell?
The one thing that really stuck out to me in Nick Steward’s description of the scent was the electric cables and in Tokyo, they are ever present, intertwining and looping in a mess overhead, adding a grid-like pattern to the skyline over boulevards, streets and alleyways. With that in mind, Tokyo the scent opens with an energetic electric accord that is tart and sharp. The bitter, green facets of yuzu and the sourness of wasabi create a zesty, bracing air that evokes the image of lime green neon tubes burning brightly.
But Tokyo is really a fragrance about incense and woods. It centres on the note of hinoki – a Japanese-native wood that is often used in incense sticks and brings a feeling of Kōdō incense ceremonies. The woodiness is smooth and rich, with the spicy, pencil-like powderiness of cedar and the pine-like, rich, earthy quality of hinoki. It makes me think very specifically of a temple I visited in Kyoto, funnily enough (the idyllic Otagi Nenbutsu-ji), which had soft wood panelling on the inside. I sat silently inside, alone, comforted by the ever present smell of
I feel as if Tokyo is a well-adorned fragrance. The central core of incense and wood is accessorised with neon, with warm spices, with greenery and rose. As it dries down it sheds these adornments, presenting with a lightweight sheerness, the silky caress of sandalwood imbued with deep, green veins of vetiver. At this point, Tokyo is evocative of a cool Japanese morning, as the sun rises ending the fragrance’s trajectory from the neon-filled nights of Shibuya to a promising dawn in Yoyogi Park.
Tokyo is what I was wearing as I touched down in its namesake city at 5am. It’s what I was wearing as we walked around the Meiji-Jingu shrine that morning, all tired and more than ready to check in to our hotel. The shrine was quiet and the heavens had opened. There was something magical about that moment – the deluge of rain, the peacefulness of the shrine, the haze of inescapable exhaustion, and of course, the subtle scent of woods, incense and yuzu. Tokyo the perfume was the perfect travel companion.
Tokyo is available in a 30ml (handy for travel!) Eau de Parfum for £65.
Images are my own – photos taken on my trip to Tokyo projected on to Tokyo the fragrance. Sample sent by Gallivant for consideration. I was not paid for this article, nor did Gallivant have any say in the content.