The Olfactive

Hiro Nakayama

Founder, Project Felicia / Scent Communicator

Can you start at the beginning? Who are you and what is your background?

I'm a Japanese-born American. After receiving my MA in Communication Studies, I worked for advertising agencies and human resources industry in U.S. and Japan. Later I was in charge of proposing fragrance concepts for product development at the fragrance house Givaudan Singapore. Now I'm back in Japan, working for a corporate office.

From my own experience of weakening the sense of smell due to excessive stress, I learned that scent eases our lives and so I founded the Project Felicia in New York, running it since 2013. Now that sensory marketing is demanded, I am exploring scent potentials every single day.

Project Felicia offers services that enrich our lives by leveraging “KOIKU” (scent education) as an activity to blend scent into our everyday lives, including fragrance events - creative incense workshop is the most popular, scent marketing and scented product development, with a mission: Bridge and Blend -A Scent World, that Creates A Better Society-

Felicia is derived from the Latin "Felix (happiness)", plural Felicia literally means "happy things". Project Felicia engages in "projects" bringing out "happy things".

Was fragrance a large part of your life growing up?

Now that I think back I believe that scent was a large part of my life unconsciously. I grew up in front of the Japanese green tea field near Mt. Fuji and surrounded by nature. My mother asked me to pick up fresh fruits at the grocery store by having me smell them. For some reasons, she knew that I was gifted. Long after I have grown, I learned that my father was a sort of engineer for the flavor related industry. I remember that he was smelling food when he determined if it is fresh or rotten at home. I am now sniffing every single object in my life!


Did you think that you would have ever been in the industry you are now in your early days?

Totally not. I was a fragrance aficionado since my teens but I had never thought of working in the industry simply because my nose was not sensitive enough. Silly me that I completely did not recognize there are other functions in the industry as well. Also, I was already sold on the idea of working in the advertising industry where I went straight after finishing my education.

What are some interesting projects that you have worked on?


Unlike the majority of my colleagues in the industry, I was lucky enough to get involved in marketing consultation, international distribution, product development and now education. So I have worked on quite a lot of interesting projects. If I choose one, the most rewarding was, when I was with a fragrance house as a marketing manager, the workshops we offered our clients to get inspiration with sensory experience for new product development.

Can speak on some differences in the scent cultures of Japan vs other parts of the world?

I am hesitant to state Japan vs others comparison just because each culture has uniqueness.

When having worked in Southeast Asia, I learned its fragrance preference was strongly influenced and highly inspired by that of Japan. Yet, each of the five countries I was in charge of still has differences. However, to make it easy to understand, we often divide the world into two - Western and Eastern. With fragrance involved, people grew up wearing fragrance on their skin in Western - perfume, while sniffing scent from outside in Eastern - incense, that I have written in a trade magazine in the past. But I found it untrue after relocating to Japan in 2017, that with a certain school of Buddhism thoughts originated from India, they wear powder format incense to their skin to purify their spirits before entering holy temple. Now I find consumers in Japan prefer straight-from-nature scents rather than rounded. But I believe the world is on a trend of ”return to nature” mode across the board.

What is your favorite smell?

It is challenging to nail it down quite frankly. Fragrance is the ultimate personalization to me as my mood changes, my favorite smell changes. Whether I like it or not  at the moment.

Chant du Coeur.jpg

However as far as my memory goes, I recognize “musk” is the fragrance that captured my nose during my high school days. Back in time, high school students didn’t wear any fragrance in Japan. One day I was called to teachers room and you know what happened, right? If perfume, I’d like to name Shiseido’s Chand du Coeur. The moment I saw its TV ad, I was off to the boutique to place my pre-order. It was launched in 1992 or 93, only distributed in Japan to my knowledge, now discontinued long time ago. The nose behind was Edouard Flechier. Yes, Dior Poison guy! Last year I met a Shiseido perfumer who witnessed the creation of Chand du Coeur right next to Edouard Flechier. My heart was trembling, as for fragrance goes, it was green floral, nature, transparent but heavier scent to Japanese taste.

For me, it was not just a scent. A whole. An art. A visual image, a music, a package (bottle designed by Angela Cummings), a promotion. Everything. It really captured my senses.

Can you share information about your current project?

Among multiple projects, there are 2 significant projects.

1) Just organized a talk session on SCENT of JAPAN in Tokyo along with a young Vietnamese perfume artist, and completed with over 100 visitors throughout the day. We exhibited natural oils derived from plants and flowers native to Japan and the raw materials and the finished product of incense that is considered Japonesque, and shared the survey result on consumer insight of SCENT of JAPAN. There are certainly differences between those who reside in and out of Japan, at the same time, overlapping perceptions exist. And I felt strong again that scent is definitely a "Bridge and Blend" of cultures.


2) Since 2014, I kept asking myself how fragrance can contribute to society I finally shaped a project on “Scent x Healthcare x Digital”.

solution to social issues - social innovation

What were your challenges when starting your current project?

It is quite new field that I am tackling on and most of us find it difficult to envision how scent can solve social issues because when mentioned scent or fragrance, many think either aromatherapy or perfume. But fragrance can do more than fragranting something. But because it is invisible, it is powerful. It took me awhile to articulate this out-of-the-box-thinking.

Do you have any advice for creative people that want to follow their dreams?

Know what you want and your worth!

What do you see as the future of your project or the fragrance industry in general?

Our task is not limited to developing fragrance and flavor anymore. In fact, one of the projects I am involved is scented device for VR/AR to give VR content a more realistic experience - sensory experience. I see many innovators in the fragrance industry employ AI and other digital tools, as well as more innovators in other industries, apply olfactory technology. Sensory x Digital is now. Believe or not, the history of digitalization for smell is quite long, as early as 1906.

How can we find your new work and other information?

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