Upon arriving in Japan, many people from overseas are impressed by how nicely dressed and well-groomed, on average, the local population is. However, in a survey conducted by Japanese women’s interest magazine Shukan Josei Prime, many foreigners living in Japan expressed dismay at bad breath they’ve encountered in the country.
Shukan Josei Prime collected responses from 100 survey participants, and when asked “Have you ever been disappointed by a Japanese person’s breath?” 72 percent answered “Yes.” 72 percent also said they want Japanese people to “be thorough regarding oral hygiene and care,” and the identical numbers make sense, since once you find someone’s breath bad enough that you feel full-on disappointment, you’re probably past being able to shrug the odor off as a “you do you” sort of thing. One respondent reportedly went so far as to say “I love Japanese people, but their breath is terrible. Honestly, there’s no country with worse breath.”
So what’s the cause of this disappointingly dismal breath quality? Shukan Josei Prime spoke with dentist Maki Morishita, a representative for the Japan Dental Research Institute, who hypothesized there might be some cultural characteristics that make Japanese people more susceptible to inadvertently bad breath. “Japanese people tend to maintain more personal space than people in the West,” says Morishita, referring to how hugs, handshakes, high-fives, and public kissing are all comparatively rare in Japan. “Japanese people are also conscious about not opening their mouths very wide when they laugh, because they think it’s impolite. So there’s less pressure to take care of your breath, and so attitudes about oral hygiene can become lax.”
▼ Morishita, showing off her smile
Morishita also says that she often encounters patients who mistakenly believe that they can thoroughly clean their teeth with only a regular toothbrush and toothpaste, overlooking the importance of regular use of floss or interdental brushes and mouthwash.
Though neither Shukan Josei Prime nor Morishita brings them up, there are two other factors that need to be mentioned when discussing breath in Japan: the amount of smoking and drinking that goes on in the country. With social stigmas regarding both activities much lower in Japan than in many other places, if you spend enough time talking with people in Japan you’re eventually going to find yourself in a conversation with someone who’s smoking like a chimney or drinking like a fish, or quite possibly both, and neither one of those is a pleasant aroma to have blown into your nostrils via their breath. And while Shukan Josei Prime didn’t provide any demographic details on the respondents other than that they were foreigners living in Japan, the expat community tends to skew young, and younger people tend to spend a proportionally larger amount of time socializing at bars, pubs, and parties where, in Japan, there’s usually a lot of smoking and drinking going on.
▼ From first-hand experience, I know, with 100-percent certainty, what this dude’s breath is going to smell like when he elatedly exhales after swallowing that mouthful of Asahi Super Dry.
Last, it’s worth remembering how the question put to the participants was phrased: “Have you ever been disappointed by a Japanese person’s breath?” I’d definitely answer that question with “Yes,” but I’d have the same answer if you changed that to “Have you ever been disappointed by an American person’s breath?” Really, it’d be pretty hard to find a country to live in where nobody has bad breath, and taken another way, 28 percent of the surveyed foreigners apparently never having run into unpleasant breath in Japan is pretty impressive.
So while Japanese society may indeed have unique circumstances that contribute to bad breath, and that bad breath may have its own unique bouquet, the survey’s question is kind of a loaded one. That said, just about every convenience store in Japan has a shelf of breath mints near the check-out counter, and if more people would make use of them the survey respondents would rest, and breathe, a lot easier.
Source: Josei Prime Online via Livedoor News via Jin
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Yes. So true...
I brush my teeth at least three times a day so that I have fresh minty breath.
It's important to smell as good as you look.
There was a time I developed bath breath while in Japan. And no matter what I did, it would not go away. Then a molar tooth in which I had had a root canal, went bad and I decided to extract it. When the dentist looked at it, he said that I had bacteria in it that was causing it and it was because they did not do a good job. As teeth became loose, I no longer rely on root canals. I just get them taken out. For my age, I am no longer worried about who I impress.
cilantro helps with the breath. And so cloves.
its called a "dragon breath"...
say heavy smoker sitting next you in office and when he talks to you you feel like somewhere...you know what I mean.
Flossing helps with bad breath big time.
My guess was always the lack of hydration and not drinking enough water was the cause. I see many people drink black coffee and not enough water during the day at work.
Smokers and coffee drinkers are usually pretty bad. I had a boss who used to disappear for a ciggie and a coffee - he needed something more industrial level than Frisk.
Are they? 30 years ago maybe.
Salarymen on the morning train, after a night at a yakiniku restaurant, then smoking and drinking at a bar. Phew....give them a very wide berth!
I guess this must be a problem mainly with the crowded trains. BO can be even worse.
“Have you ever been disappointed by an American person’s breath?” So, foreigner = American?
yes my family love it, except me and my father inlaw. Natto is very healthy for you, but sorry I make sure to steer clear of my kids when they eat it. Natto breath is worse than bad breath LOL
Hence the reason they like wearing masks ! and refuse to give them up even if they are the only country in the world still doing so Lol !
Some people's breath here is so bad I can smell it through their mask and mine.
If this is true, then masking surely has made this worse. I bet some people have just stopped brushing altogether.
Surprised it's only 72%
Anyone interacting normally with people everyday is bound to have an encounter with all sorts of people at one time or another
But if anyone encounters a big proportion having bad breath then its really a problem
Add me to the yes vote. Some people have dreadful breath here in Japan.
What a ridiculous statement.
What absolute nonsense. Just excuses excuses.
Definitely agree about the breath article. Worst breath in the world. Like it or not. Loooooool
Interesting, to be sure.
I have noticed that the times when I had bad breath correlated with having a rotten tooth that needed to be dealt with. Sometimes a tooth will cause breath problems without causing pain, at least for awhile.
I have also noticed bad breath associated with smoking, but not with drinking.
This part about maintaining personal space is a joke, right? Hugs, etc may be more rare but when I'm out anywhere, on an escalator, on the train, in the elevator, grocery line, etc, there is no such thing as personal space.
it might be helpful to distinguish categories of "bad breath" to further identify the possible causes of it. While smoking and drinking are common ones, others have not been identified. I notice bad breath also includes odor like something is rotten or decaying. There are also smells that are rancid and foul. If a person has infected sinuses, that also could be a contributing cause. Then there is the category of consumption of particular food items that may also cause unpleasant odors, such as heavy consumption of garlic and other spices prevalent in some food cuisines.
I work with a guy whose mouth smells like someone took a dump in it decades ago and he just never bothered to wash it out.
There is COVID, why would anyone be getting so close to another to be able to smell someone's breath. In addition, with everyone wearing masks I find this story very silly.
The most common type of bad breath in Japan is the rotten kind. The type that can strip off paint or instantly kill flowers if blown on at short range. It has nothing to do with what they just ate or drank...
The main culprit is gum persistent disease. The cause is poor oral hygiene (especially lack of flossing). The result is constant decaying (rotting) food trapped between their teeth. It causes massive colonies of bacteria to thrive. Which in return causes the warm almost vomit inducing breath. It you've experienced it (probably if you live in Japan) you know the exact type of breath i'm referring too. Nasty business.
Yes some people have bad breath, for me, not a big problem, Just stay away from the Garlic. but then again, we all love it so.
Tooth brushing, cavity fighting mouthwash, maintaining good oral hygiene, and having access to good dental care and education are important health concerns which may also reduce bad breath, halitosis.
It is interesting that a culture that places so much emphasis on appearing clean, does not place more emphasis on avoiding being malodorous in public.
I use to brush my teeth after a meal, but at work very few Japanese do it after eating, this is a standard behavior of no oral hygiene, so bad breath is a consequence
Can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed by someone’s breath (Japanese or otherwise). Disgusted or dismayed perhaps, but not really disappointed.
I had no experience with bad breath in Japan, I find that many Japanese have orthodontic and orthopedic problems. What surprises me.
I don’t get the sense that many Japanese get annual / semi annual teeth cleaning, and many do not floss (using the toothpick does not count). I’ve had a few cab rides where I can smell the drivers evil breath even with the Covid barriers.
Dry mouth, dehydration breath is the worst and very common in Japan. People just don’t drink enough fluids, and if their main drink is coffee - yuck. Gastric problems also cause bad breath,.
Popping mints and mouth wash are just allusions and in no way eliminate bad breath and stench; mint combined with stench can also be pretty awful to smell. Remember good dental hygiene needs time and requires a long-term commitment.
I often think that Oyajis and Salarymen clean their teeth with Cigarette & Dog poo toothpaste......death breath is a real problem on the morning commute
No more thanks to the pandemic and masks.
Oh- and I no longer use trains- I drive to work so no problem
That gave me quite a good laugh! Thanks David!
This reminds me of an old Listerine commercial where a dragon breathes on a bird and roasts it.
I don't know if kids are sufficiently educated about dental hygiene here. Quite a few teens I've talked to seem to regard flossing as optional. Would have thought the dentist would at least have advised them about it during their regular checkups (unless they're not going to those either).
This is one of those articles that keeps kicking around inside my noggin.
Here's the thing. Asian Americans are a very large minority here in California, where I have lived almost all of my life. I am sure that I have interacted with many hundreds in my lifetime, and in all that time, I can only remember two times when the individuals had halitosis. This figure would mean things are much different here than in Japan, and I have no idea why.
I have also noticed that many fewer people, of all types, have bad breath these days, than they did when I was younger. Again, I have no idea why.
For purposes of comparison, it would be nice to have a similar survey done with Japanese people being asked the same question about their fellow citizens and a followup question asking about their feelings about the importance or lack of dental care awareness.