I have no idea what the meaning of life is, but I do know that while half the world is starving, a significant proportion of the richer quotient is wandering around department stores and bijou little fashion concessions just looking for something to buy, to spend some of that hard earned money else what’s the point? A naughty, unneeded item of luxury on the way home just to pamper; something to buy for the sake of buying, just……….because.
Nowhere is this more true than Japan, where young people live rent-free with their parents until their mid-twenties or thirties and thus have more disposable income than anyone else on the planet; money to be spent on clothes, accessories, sundries, cute nonsense, games, or prestigious European imports: food, drinks, sweets, gums; purchased, wrapped up, ribboned immaculately, in sweet little designer-printed paper fukuro.
Tuesday evening, bored, with time to kill before getting on the night bus home, I myself understood this impulse: I had just been paid and I just wanted to buy something, and so I squandered five hundred yen on a tin of unneeded bonbons I didn’t really want. Finding myself in Seijo Ishii, beloved Japanese purveyor of fine things of that nobody needs, I discovered myself wandering the luxurious aisles with the other post-work consumers, espying on one of the shelves some violet-perfumed confectionery - Les Anis De Flavigny, Violette, véritables anis de l’abbaye de Flavigny to be precise – which I got for the journey home, curious as to how the white, sugar-coated spheres might taste; if I could somehow end up perfuming the dull environs of the bus atmosphere with my silent, violet mouth ( they apparently contain actual violet flower extract, whatever that is, which, as I looked over the tin in the comfort of my seat, I somehow found unusual, and vaguely fascinating).
And how did they taste? Weird. A brief moment of innocuous hard-shelled sugar: then, an attack of strong-tasting, perfumey violet – tanged, almost acerbic and rich, like perfume, like putting your mouth down in the bath water and sucking up some of the bath oil.
A sensation that only lasts a quarter of a minute or so, though, before a more bland, blanc sugariness comes back onto your tastebuds giving a more anisic, softer core that you can, eventually, after three minutes of sucking or so, begin to crunch down on; your tongue lolling in violet sugar, your brain temporarily lulled, further comatosed.
Woe-betide you if you fail to read the fine print though: ‘DO NOT BITE’ they warn, like a hidden edict from Alice In Wonderland: or your teeth, if the enamel has not already begun melting off from all the sugar, might crack into fractured pieces upon impact with this hard candy; proffering up your lips, expectantly, to be kissed: liquorous, purple violets, and a magma of hot sugar dripping from your pucker, as splinters of denta-fragments dribble, glacially, from your chin…