On Nov 22, a web site called "By Them" -- a name coined to be politically correct by avoiding masculine or feminine pronouns -- posted an article titled "Why is Japan stinky?" which broached the subject of odors, and the Japanese perception thereof.
The author may have been inspired in part by Risa Kirimura's book, published in 2018 by Kobunsha. Its English title: "Why Japanese People Are Known to Smell; The Science of Body Odor and Bad Breath."
It should come as no surprise but thanks to its high population density, Japan is full of places that are jam-packed with human bodies. Contrast it with Los Angeles, where the author of this article currently lives. LA has fewer congested places, except perhaps at sports clubs on weekends or shopping centers.
While residing in the U.S. and viewing news about places in Japan with a high density of human bodies, the writer was occasionally led to ponder, "I wonder what that would smell like."
Clearly, awareness toward odors in Japan and the U.S. differ considerably.
"Some Japanese think that since people in the U.S. consume a lot of meat, they have strong body odor but I don't have that impression," she writes. "That's because they are also highly aware of deodorizers. Also, most people habitually take a shower after they get up in the morning."
Americans are also conscientious about their oral hygiene.
The writer had been married to an American and he rigorously instructed her in the various American practices of personal hygiene, even for toddlers.
Thinking back some three decades ago, a practice called asa-shan (morning shampoo) became widely popularized in Japan. And now? Well there may be those who take a quick shower before leaving for work, but morning shampoos appear to be a thing of the past. The times have clearly changed.
When the writer returns to Japan, she becomes conscious of various smells, in taxis, elevators, commuter trains and other congested places where people come into contact. Compared with foreign countries, the smell of their scalps, the admixture of deodorizers in oshiire (closets), incense, cigarettes, and so on seem more pronounced.
"It may have been said that Japanese are 'a race of people who are sensitive to smells,' but I get the feeling they are rather insensitive to body odors, such as those brought on by aging," she writes. "This strikes me as strange, but that's the way things are."
She recalled attending a baseball night game some years ago. "Afterwards I boarded a late-night commuter train. It was jam-packed, and most passengers were either wearing happi coats with the team's logo on it or had hand towels around their necks. As they were pushed against me on the moving train, the odor was so strong I felt like gagging."
In a survey conducted by Men's Rize, a cosmetic clinic for men, some 90% of the female respondents cited "aboard a train" as the place where they had been bothered by the odor of perspiration.
Female respondents to the same survey replied that when evaluating a possible romantic partner, over 90% gave priority to "body scent" over "appearance."
In other words, a handsome gent can find himself eliminated from consideration if he doesn't extrude pleasant pheromones.
"While in Japan on a business trip, I stayed in various hotels," the writer continued. "My impression was that older, traditional establishments did not give any consideration to the smell in their guest rooms.
"Yes, it was nice to have clean, starched sheets and pillowcases. But now people are less conscious of the use of starch. There have been cases where I found the odor from starch and bleach to be overwhelming, to the degree that I had to request a change to another room. I've never encountered this in U.S. hotels."
Next year many foreigners will be visiting Japan for the Olympics, and the writer suggests her compatriots take the opportunity to extend omotenashi to their physiques by improving their "deodorant care." When time doesn't permit a thorough cleansing in the bath or shower, the next best strategy is to make use of packets of deodorant sheets, disposable wipes chemically treated to remove the skin oils that combine with bacteria to generate unpleasant smells.
But don't scrub, she cautions. Apply them gently so as not to irritate the skin.© Japan Today