Around the World in Scents : Japan

Today Lauren explores attitudes towards perfume in Japan and invites us to experience its various scents.

It was a rare night for us young English teachers in rural Japan.  We were escaping our hot, stuffy apartments amid the tea fields for a glitzy night out in the bright lights of Tokyo.  I greeted my friend Mayumi in the parking lot.  Her skin was creamy and flawless, as always, but as I hugged her hello I noticed something different.

temple-wishes

“Mm!” I said.  “You smell so nice!”

“Thank you,” replied Mayumi timidly, smiling as she put a finger to her lips.  “I’m wearing it for our big night out in Tokyo.”  Her eyes pleaded with me to keep the secret.  Our friend Jun was picking us up shortly, and she didn’t want to discuss perfume in front of him.

Though I’d been living in Japan for several months, it was the first time I smelled a fragrance on anyone with whom I’d come into contact.  The light, gently tumbling cloud of lilies, vanilla and sparkling orange was enough to make me thirst for big doses of perfume.  I was a vampire who’d caught a whiff of blood. Cultural differences in Japan meant that wearing personal fragrance was generally considered rude.  In a country that is so crowded with people and so limited on space, extending your personhood via a bubble of perfume – however pleasant – is considered intrusive and inconsiderate.

Soon we hopped into Jun’s car, and as I smoothed my skirt in the back seat, I heard him exclaim,

“Yech!  What stinks?!”

I turned to Mayumi with wide eyes, unsure of whether to laugh or be offended.  Her finger was back over her lips.  I winked at her and turned to gaze out the window, settling in for the ride.

I missed perfume in Japan.  But the country was far from lacking in any sensual scent stimulation.  Perhaps it’s because I didn’t own a car and spent so much time walking, out in the world.  One of my most treasured repeat memories of Japan was my stroll home after a late night of teaching; I passed through tea fields and residential neighborhoods to my apartment high on a hill.  I would leave the school building and say goodbye to the scent of sweaty shoes and rubber slippers that everyone was required to wear inside, past the slightly dank, hay-like tatami floors and out into the dusk of clean mountain air laced with diesel exhaust.  I knew diligent mothers were folding laundry as the comforting, floral notes of dryer sheets formed puffs outside their homes’ ventilation units.

Chasing the smell of clean Japanese laundry would be heated soy sauce and sweet rice vinegar, often spiked with a shot of ginger.  Raw fish.  Cooked fish.  A slightly sour, sweet floral note of cherry blossoms, petals raining in the breeze.  And the sharp yet lush greens of passionflowers and snapdragons that populated so many people’s tiny yards.

I would arrive home sweating, climbing my structure of damp wood and drywall, only to reach my own hay-scented tatami, slightly moldy from the recent monsoons and constant moisture that made each and every fragrance so tangible in the thick air.  I’d hang my clothes in a closet scented with cheap, scratchy lavender from the dehumidifying gel meant to keep the tatami mold (often unsuccessfully) off my clothes.

Yes, I missed perfume.  But I did love all the smells in Japan.  At the time, they were home to me and I wonder how many cultural nuances I would have missed if everyone were wearing perfume.

Extra: Japanese Fragrance Conundrum

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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65 Comments

  • george: A really interesting post: I am going to have a think about this. September 12, 2013 at 7:43am Reply

    • Lauren: Thank you, George…inspiring others to ‘have a think’ is definitely one of my goals as a writer. 😉 Glad you enjoyed reading. September 12, 2013 at 10:47am Reply

  • BlinkyTheFish: My mother is Japanese, and she has a large family of mainly sisters. I remember the care packages they sent her when I was little, and there was lots of perfumes! Maybe perfume was something they only enjoyed amongst themselves in their homes, but nevertheless, enjoy it they did. I especially remember the bottles of L’air du Temps (and soaps, they were big fans of the soap) and Guy Laroche Fidji. Maybe it extended to the men of the family as well? One of my aunt’s husbands met up with my parents on a stopover several years ago and gifted my father with a bottle of CdG 2 (the one that smells of sumi ink), which my father loved (he was a big scent fan anyway). But going around Japan myself back in the 80s, I don’t remember any perfumes on people, just clean skin, that curious camphor-woody smell of their incense. September 12, 2013 at 7:55am Reply

    • BlinkyTheFish: Oh, and tsubaki oil for one’s hair – that was a big smell I remember too. September 12, 2013 at 7:58am Reply

      • Lauren: What did the tsubaki oil smell like? Woody? September 12, 2013 at 10:48am Reply

        • TheSnailsPajamas/Blinky the Fish at home: No, just an odd ‘oil’ scent – my memories are very tied into my Japanese grandmother combing it into my washed hair with a boxwood comb so in my head a steamy clean smell and the woody scent of the comb is what it smells of to me. It’s Oshima brand, which is meant to be pure unscented camellia oil, but even unscented oils seem to have their own smell. September 13, 2013 at 2:01pm Reply

    • Lauren: That is so interesting, because little round L’Air du Temp soaps (given to me over the years by my grandmother) were really what sparked my interest in perfume! Hah. It all comes back around somehow. 🙂 Maybe it was an indulgent or private pleasure for them too like it was for my friend. September 12, 2013 at 9:40am Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: It was a great read. Thanks, Lauren. I originally come from Korea so I can relate to your experience of the ‘perfume free’ environment. But things are changing and now there are more people who wear perfumes, especially for special occasions.

    In my opinion, asians prefer to smell good (maybe clean) but in a subtle and natural way. That’s why they pay more attention to haircare and bodycare products which smell nice without being overwhelming. That’s also why they prefer colognes to parfum extrait. Imagine wearing a perfume like Angel in Korea or Japan! 🙂

    Since perfume wasn’t part of the culture, not many people grew up seeing their parents or relatives who use perfume. One of the things I envy about some people on this blog is that they have perfume related memories of their loved ones (e.g. Perfume x used to be my mother’s signature scent). Even now my mother doesn’t like the idea of wearing perfumes and it’s a pity that I can’t share my passion and joy with her. But being in a perfume free environment may be an advantage, as you said, because it makes you more aware of other natural scents around you. September 12, 2013 at 7:55am Reply

    • Lauren: Anne…,

      Thank you! Perhaps there is something else naturally fragrant that you can still smell today and associate with your mother. Did she like green tea or a maybe a certain flower? That could be her “signature scent” in your mind! September 12, 2013 at 9:43am Reply

  • The Smelly Vagabond: Lauren, you hit it spot on when you said that wearing a bubble of perfume, however pleasant, is usually seen to be intrusive and inconsiderate in East Asian countries! I especially loved how you concluded that you might have missed cultural nuances if everyone had been wearing perfume. You’re right! We often forget to take in the smells of our environment, smells that are often magical and unique. But perhaps people who aren’t into perfume don’t take notice of such smells either? I’d say, wear perfume, enjoy it, but take time off from time to time to not wear perfume and just breathe in what’s around us. A lovely read! 🙂 September 12, 2013 at 8:25am Reply

    • Lauren: Smelly Vagabond,

      (Funny name, by the way!) Thank you so much for your nice comments. 🙂 I agree with your fragrance philosophy. September 12, 2013 at 12:10pm Reply

  • Lucas: Fascinating! From my youngest years I’ve been quite fascinated with Japan. I watched anime and read manga when I was a child. Later I watched some travel tv programs about Japan and fell in love with the view of pagoda surrounded by cherry trees in full bloom.
    I hope I will be able to visit Japan one day in the future.
    As for the perfume I’ve heard they don’t use it often and when they do it’s something very subtle and light, often watery. And I remember somebody told me they like Masaki Matsushima scents. Few years ago they were also available in Poland September 12, 2013 at 9:03am Reply

    • Lauren: Lucas,

      Yes, some of the scenery and garden imagery in Japan is just incredible. I highly recommend a visit if you ever have the chance. Recent issues like the tsunami and nuclear leaks have made me so sad. I was there from 2005-2006.

      And you are right about the fragrance preferences with perfumes. I remember Gucci Envy Me 2 was the big new launch in department stores when I lived there. It’s a very light, green floral with watery elements, if I remember correctly. September 12, 2013 at 10:02am Reply

  • solmarea: Beautiful post.
    What are the thoughts on perfume & feminine sensuality in Japan? September 12, 2013 at 9:14am Reply

    • Lauren: Thank you, Solmarea! I think femininity and sensuality in Japan is expressed more through behavior and movement than via fragrance. For example, the art & ritual of serving tea, being quiet or not being loud, not taking up too much space, eating with proper table manners, wearing a beautiful kimono…there are many things a woman can do that are traditionally considered feminine. Does that answer your question? September 12, 2013 at 10:11am Reply

      • solmarea: It does, Lauren, thankyou. As a female deeply interested in expressions of feminine sensuality {especially in other cultures} I just wondered whether perfume wearing might suggest a more overt sexuality? {Fragrance used to beautify, enhance, attract}, therefore being a ‘louder’ womanhood statement & less acceptable? Interesting that your reaction to your friend was that she smelled lovely, & her reaction was to wear it like a secret. Subtle, intimate, knowing.

        Other comments seem to suggest perfume in Japan is enjoyed in private, so I was curious whether women felt they couldn’t wear it in public, or whether it was simply an issue of personal space & not being part of the general culture? September 12, 2013 at 10:47am Reply

        • Lauren: It’s really interesting you ask that question because I am interested in the same topics. I think the perfume in public is more the latter (more an issue of personal space & general culture). But I love the analogy you draw between wearing noticeable perfume and being loud. On expressing sensuality – another thing I missed in Japan was dancing. Not formal or studied dance, just wild, free, expressive dance for fun with loud music. I couldn’t find any clubs with pop music, or anybody who wanted to visit Tokyo with me, in search of a place like this. Maybe somebody will refute, “Of course you can find dance clubs like this in Tokyo,” but if there are none at all, I truly wouldn’t be surprised. I felt like this method of expressing feminine sensuality – which I love and really find necessary – just didn’t exist there. September 12, 2013 at 10:54am Reply

          • Lauren: …so I danced in my apartment, in private. Maybe Japanese women do the same thing, just like with their perfumes! September 12, 2013 at 10:56am Reply

            • Santa: There are dance clubs in Tokyo, though they are certainly less prevalent than karaoke places!

              I have some strong scent memories from Japan (where I lived for 5 years) but, like you, my memories are to do with the environment (tatami, rice, Tokyo sewers!), and the scent of incense, which I became very interested in. The few memories that I have of scent on a person, the person in question was not Japanese. September 12, 2013 at 8:28pm Reply

              • Lauren: Somebody found the dance clubs! (Did it take the whole five years? Haha). To this day one of my FAVORITE smells is cooked rice… September 13, 2013 at 10:36am Reply

          • solmarea: Did you feel any disconnection between your sensuality / femininity & the culture? Or did the lack of certain things actually connect you more, internally {as it did with greater awareness of outer surroundings}? September 14, 2013 at 7:16am Reply

            • Lauren: Personally, I felt a disconnect…for me it was like something was missing. September 16, 2013 at 9:06am Reply

  • Zazie: I loved every word: living in Japan must be an amazing and enriching experience – I hope to be able to visit the country in the future.
    But do I really have to leave my perfume home?
    😉 September 12, 2013 at 9:28am Reply

  • Lauren: Zazie, thank you so much! Living in Japan was definitely one of the most enriching things I have ever done. I was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of good people who taught me a lot. As another reader said, perfumes might be gaining in popularity there, more so than when I lived there 7-8 years ago. And if you are fragrant, they will most likely excuse it as the behavior of a foreigner who just doesn’t understand Japan. But if you really want to get close (physically or emotionally!) to the Japanese, then I would recommend leaving your perfume home. 🙂 September 12, 2013 at 10:06am Reply

  • Jillie: This was a beautiful evocation of Japan.

    I’ve often wondered why the wearing of perfume seems frowned upon there, and I suspect it is because the Japanese have always been so attuned to their environment and the odours of the natural world; our big-hitters assault their senses. They don’t dislike fragrances – after all, they have the most delightful incense, and Shiseido has produced some of my favourite scents – but they are more discreet in application and choose more natural-smelling formulations.

    I’ve read that the youngsters are adopting our habits, good and bad, and are keen to wear the latest Western perfumes and make-up. I imagine it may not be too long before public spaces there smell similar to ours! September 12, 2013 at 10:58am Reply

  • Lauren: Jillie, I agree! I wonder too about any nuances of language; for example, when my friend said the perfume “stinks,” maybe he really meant that it was too intrusive and not actually that it smelled bad. But he did say “stinks”!

    And yes, I believe in some public spaces that are already very stimulating to the senses (such as pachinko parlors with noises & lights), there is a growing trend to fragrance the space.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. September 12, 2013 at 12:14pm Reply

    • Anne of Green Gables: Did he actually say くさい (kusai) instead of におう (niou)? I’d be interested in knowing which phrase he used to describe the smell? September 12, 2013 at 1:31pm Reply

      • Lauren: Hah! Yes he did say kusai. Kind of rude 😉 September 12, 2013 at 2:55pm Reply

        • Anne of Green Gables: Oh, that is rather rude but could it be that he wasn’t aware of the fact that your friend was wearing perfume? If it was a smell that he wasn’t used to smelling or he couldn’t recognise then he could have perceived it as a strange, unpleasant smell. Lauren, I have a few questions I’d like to ask you. Would you mind if I send you an e-mail? If you feel uncomfortable, please feel free to say no. September 12, 2013 at 4:50pm Reply

          • Lauren: I can only wonder what you want to ask! But you are welcome to email me – lauren@thelittlenose.com. It was rude but honestly at the time I thought he was flirting, or just being rude on purpose as our friend, to make a joke. September 12, 2013 at 5:17pm Reply

  • Belle: Perfume in Asia, huh? Well, at least in my place, perfume is sort of worn, but only the richest class usually wears perfume from the west. My own family doesn’t wear perfume, at all. In fact, they dislike it. So like Anne of Green Gables, I don’t have a “my mother wore x” scent. Except for maybe Light Blue, the only one she dare wears, but it’s a once in a blue moon thing. Interestingly enough, my grandma, whom I never got the chance to meet, wore all those big perfumes like Opium and Obsession. I wonder how my dad survived, because he hates almost all perfumes!

    I think we don’t really wear perfume in Asia because it’s so hot here and we’re pretty addicted to being clean, even from the older times. Perfume was used to cover bad smells before, which is understandable because it can get bloody cold in the West.

    Speaking of culture and smells, I don’t really wear florals because I smell them usually during wakes or on statues called Santo Niños. I can’t get jasmine’s carnality at all because there’s no such association with that here… September 12, 2013 at 12:26pm Reply

    • Lauren: Belle, you bring up some really good points. It was, at times, unbelievably hot & humid where I lived in Japan, which I know amplified all the existing scents. And, while I love the scent of stargazer lilies, I have heard people here in the US complain that they hate them, because they’re so often present at funerals and wakes. September 12, 2013 at 5:19pm Reply

  • Joaquim: I can’t remember the name of a japanese niche house of ultra-expensive all natural perfumes that looked very interesting…it’s driving me crazy! Can anybody help me, please? The bottles are small, the juice colorful, and the name very short…

    Mmmmm….tatami scent, I remember my days in the dojo…a very powerful memory-trigger

    Thank you! September 12, 2013 at 12:54pm Reply

    • Lauren: Tatami is DEFINITELY a memory-trigger! I can conjure the smell in my brain right now…Unfortunately I have no idea which niche house you’re referring to but I want to know if you find out! September 12, 2013 at 2:54pm Reply

    • TheSnailsPajamas/Blinky the Fish at home: Ask Lady Murasaki who comments on NST – I saw her post on one of the quarterly buying posts about getting some Japanese niche perfume, I think that might have been what you’re after. September 13, 2013 at 2:03pm Reply

    • Belle: Looked around a bit for it, I think you meant Parfum Satori? September 14, 2013 at 9:42am Reply

  • Nefret: Perfume wasn’t something I encountered much in S. Korea, certainly not on my aunts or even on passersby. My mother enjoyed wearing Dune now and then, as we lived in NYC. But the scent I associate with her is Dove soap and Lancome face cream.

    It seems to me that among the Koreans I know, perfume is frequently given as a gift but used rarely, so that it ends up being more of a display on the vanity than anything else. September 12, 2013 at 12:59pm Reply

    • Lauren: Nefret, I remember that being said about perfumes in Japan, too – they were mostly given as gifts and just not worn as much. Interesting! September 12, 2013 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Mel: I’m very surprised by this post b/c, having never been to Japan, I just assumed (based on my love of a few CdG offerings) that Japanese air was infused w/ Kyoto incense smoke and the scent of hinoki, etc. September 12, 2013 at 6:47pm Reply

    • Lauren: Strangely enough, I have come across several requests for a hinkoki fragrance working in the fragrance industry…but I don’t remember this scent at all from my time in Japan! September 13, 2013 at 10:38am Reply

  • Andy: I loved the story you told in this post. It is mainly for the reasons you described that I rarely wear any perfume while traveling. I love to experience the new and exciting smells of a different place, rather than bringing a fragrant cloud with me from home. Plus. quite like in Asian cultures, I am always concerned about being heavily scented in public places, where people with allergies and asthma don’t have a choice if they get caught in my sillage, no matter how small it may be. Also, I was wondering from your time in Japan, what ways did the people you interacted with use incense? Is it something used as an everyday pleasure in the home, or for practical purposes, or mainly just for ceremony? I am currently getting very interested in Japanese incense and was just curious if you had any insight. September 12, 2013 at 8:33pm Reply

    • Lauren: Andy, thank you so much! I really like your idea of traveling sans perfume, period. One less thing to worry about packing when flying, and one more way to really delve into your surroundings. Regarding incense, nobody I met or visited used it for pleasure. Sometimes at temples, monks burn it during meditation sessions to mark the time. In other cases, some homes have entire tatami rooms set aside to house altars to deceased family members. At certain times when people would go into these rooms to pray, they would burn incense at the altars. Many Japanese people told me they did not consider these rituals “religious,” even though they involved praying, but cultural practices instead. September 13, 2013 at 10:43am Reply

      • Andy: Thank you so much for your insight! I have been using Japanese incense just for personal pleasure, and adore its subtlety. And it’s very interesting to note the treatment of rituals as a cultural, rather than religious practice. September 13, 2013 at 11:04am Reply

      • Hannah: We were always given incense as gifts from our exchange students (almost every year from 1988-2007, so we’ve had a lot and they almost always brought incense). My friend’s mom burns Japanese incense regularly, but she’s Japanese-Brazilian. Sometimes I wonder if things she does are outdated in Japan but she doesn’t know because her connection to Japan is her grandmother. I’ve had this thought more than once but I can’t think of any examples now. September 13, 2013 at 1:17pm Reply

        • Andy: As an exchange student, I can’t think of a more gracious way to greet one’s new host family than with incense. Since you have seen your fair share of it, do you have any favorite brands/types of incense you remember having? September 13, 2013 at 2:10pm Reply

          • Santa: Andy, a couple of my favourite brands that are fairly easy to get hold of outside Japan are Baieido and Shoyeido. If you’re interested in exploring more, I found the Olfactory Rescue Service blog a truly excellent resource.

            When I was in Japan I found that the bigger incense houses sold a variety of lines. Some were more modern and were clearly aimed at just scenting your house, while others were, I think, meant for burning at religious events, or at least for meditation. A couple of times when I was buying some expensive stuff at Kyukyodo, I was asked whether I wanted it wrapped for a wedding or for a funeral – clearly they didn’t imagine I was buying it just to burn for my own pleasure! September 14, 2013 at 8:49pm Reply

            • Hannah: Yeah, I don’t think what they brought is really exported. It seemed like really mundane incense just to make the house cozier.
              I did look around on a few incense sites to see if I could find one that I distinctly remember the box for because I loved the cute little plum blossoms, but I’ve come to the conclusion that ume designs are very common.
              I’ve been interested in Shoyeido for a while but I can’t decide which set I want. September 14, 2013 at 9:09pm Reply

              • Andy: I’m interested in Shoyeido too, and I’m thinking of getting their sample set of 9 sticks from their Premium Incense line. It’s actually a great value considering that some of the incense in the set would normally put you back about $60 for less than a dozen sticks (!). September 16, 2013 at 6:58pm Reply

            • Andy: Thank you! I’ve been reading the Olfactory Rescue Service blog and found it to be a great help. I’m especially tempted by some of the offerings by Shoyeido… September 16, 2013 at 6:56pm Reply

  • Aisha: I actually went a few years without wearing perfume when my son was first born. I used to have an irrational fear that he would develop an allergy to fragrances. I think that’s because my mother (once a perfume lover) eventually developed allergies. It’s only been recently that I’ve started testing and wearing fragrances on an almost daily basis.

    Yesterday, however, was a scent-free day, and I guess I did notice different smells more than usual. When I visit my parents in Hawaii, I’m usually fragrance free because I love the smell of the islands — both good and bad.

    Very interesting post. September 13, 2013 at 7:35am Reply

    • Lauren: Ooo I would love to take a scent safari to Hawaii…or anywhere else for that matter. It would be interesting to dub a trip a “Scent Safari” and record in a journal all the different smells you encounter…

      The allergy topic is often discussed, but since fragrances are so regulated these days, I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Sadly, I was allergic to one of my favorite perfumes (Ralph Lauren Glamorous), but I still haven’t figured out why. I have worn at least 100 other perfumes in my lifetime and never had a problem, so hopefully that continues for all of us! September 13, 2013 at 10:46am Reply

      • Ziggy: I also fear the development of perfume allergies. I had a bout of environmental allergies this summer and my favorite scents bothered me horribly…I have since recovered, thank goodness, but really, my life would be poorer without fragrance. I usually wear perfume in the creases (the “antecubes”) of both arms, so that way, I can enjoy it when I want to but it’s not directly in my nose as it would be in the decolletage; I do think scents would disturb me otherwise. It’s an adaptation I’m happy to make. September 15, 2013 at 9:14pm Reply

        • Lauren: Ziggy, perfume placement is key! I use the decolletage only when it’s very hot out and the perfume is very light and fresh (or when I know it will dissipate quickly) to give me the illusion of a ‘cooling’ effect that lasts about as long as my commute. When I want to keep the perfume out of my face, I like the back of the neck. Even though it’s relatively close to my nose, somehow it’s never intrusive there. September 16, 2013 at 9:12am Reply

  • Natalia: “I was a vampire who’d caught a whiff of blood”

    Love that!!! 🙂 I am sure I’d be like that, too, in your situation.
    It’s a beautiful and thought provoking read. I’ve never actually stopped to think about it but I’ve just realized that the global perfume market must be pretty small. Considering that China where I presume the attitudes towards fragrances are similar to those in Japan and Korea is not on the immediate perfumers’ map means that the industry misses a huge chank of potential profit. Also I am thinking how much the industry might change if the demand in the East Asian countries would rise. Come to think of it, would they adapt to wearing “big scents” or would we change our preferences from “COCOs and “Angels” to something soft and understated under the Eastern influence? September 13, 2013 at 1:19pm Reply

    • Natalia: Sorry, chunk 🙂 September 13, 2013 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Hannah: A lot of the lighter flankers are meant for the East Asian market. September 13, 2013 at 1:42pm Reply

    • Lauren: Natalia, thank you! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed reading.

      I do think that the Asian markets are growing…slowly but surely… September 16, 2013 at 9:13am Reply

      • Lauren: I think in general the Asian markets still prefer lighter scents: dewy green florals, light fruity blends, pale fruits mixed with delicate florals… ‘Angel’ types are probably too much this early in the game. September 16, 2013 at 9:14am Reply

  • Dao: Very compelling article, love the description on your way back home:) I went once in Japan and surprisingly my attention was caught by a dazzling mandarine scent: Some cologne spray being sold in the street in Shibuya. I bought a bottle and religiously used it. Very fresh and delicate, yet with true signature, as yuzu would be distinct from lime. To this day I haven’t found anything equivalent. Another comment is that in Vietnam there isn’t this bareer to fragrances. I don’t know if this is French heritage, or acceptance and sensibility grown with a very aromatic cuisine, or cultural (sniffkiss), but in any case fragrances are really present. I remember santal fragrance from my grandmother. More powdery and light florals like Chanel 5, Bourjois Soir de Paris, L’air du temps, Diorissimo. Also Y, Calandre, Eau de Molyneux, some Avon roll-on..from my aunts and mother. Actually I do have tons of memories! Unfortunately most of these fragrances have disappeared or been reformulated… September 13, 2013 at 6:09pm Reply

    • Lauren: Dao, this is a really interesting observation about potential French influences in Vietnam. I’ve never been there before, but I do remember friends commenting on the delicious bread (especially baguettes) you could find there. So I think your theory is a good one! That makes me want to smell all their fragranced products (from detergent to body wash to perfume) and see if the French influence has touched more than just fine fragrance. September 16, 2013 at 9:22am Reply

  • Poodle: This was a really interesting post and so were the comments. I find the cultural differences fascinating. I’ve never been to Japan and chances are I’ll never go so it’s nice to live vicariously through others. September 13, 2013 at 9:29pm Reply

    • Lauren: Poodle, that is the beauty of the internet, and blogs! To explore without necessarily going anywhere… 🙂 September 16, 2013 at 9:25am Reply

  • Maureen Ruth: Lauren–I was a teacher in Japan also! I lived in Kawasaki and took the train into Tokyo to teach one of my classes so I didn’t have the same rural experience you did, but many of the scents you describe are so familiar to me! I must have missed the memo about ‘no fragrance’ because when I lived there–20+ years ago–I remember bringing fragrance with me. I can still see my bottle of Lou Lou sitting on the shelf in the tatami mat room that was just big enough for my futon. I adored my time in Japan and when my son is older I hope to take him there and show him (and let him smell!) how wonderful it is. Thank you for this lovely tale that took me dreamily down memory lane. September 14, 2013 at 7:29am Reply

    • Lauren: Maureen Ruth, how cool! I love connecting with others who have also lived and/or taught in Japan, because instantly you have a small understanding of the other person’s experience. I’m happy to hear that you have similar scent memories. I have always said that if I have children one day, I’ll go back to Japan to share it with them!

      I love LouLou, my mother had a bottle when I was very young so it is sentimental for me. September 16, 2013 at 5:01pm Reply

  • MontrealGirl: Thank you for your interesting personal perspective on Japan. You may be interested in a very good article by Chandler Burr on the same topic for The New York Times called “Display it, Don’t Spray it” (dated May 1, 2005, and available online) which highlights the enjoyment in Japan of showcasing the bottle but not using the perfume. Fascinating how perfume has developed so differently in the West and the East. September 18, 2013 at 8:00pm Reply

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