Every city has its posh, expensive areas but also its more thrifty, down-to-earth and even downtrodden neighbourhoods, and Yokohama, the bayside, third biggest metropolis in Japan, and a place I have become increasingly fond of over the years (just twenty two minutes from our  nearest station, more easy-going, breathable  and wider streeted than Tokyo) has it all. While I do love the fancier areas, such as the quaint, chichi Motomachi, with its French restaurants, designer shops and boutiques, I also love to walk from there along to seaside Yamashita park, through upright business district Kannai, with its upscale bars and restaurants, but then to traverse the busy thoroughfare and find myself in Isezakicho, the more Asian, gangling and rambling zone full of Thai and Korean restaurants, clothes shops of questionable taste, massage parlours, pet shops, prostitutes, and second hand ‘recycle’ shops; streets where I instantly find myself relaxing somehow, for all pretensions disappear here. All is human, feet on the ground ease for me and I sense instinctively that I can just disappear into the ether, into the neon anonymity of city life.



I am in a period of intensity at work at the moment and on Saturday night, after a really long, if enjoyable day of teaching, I was completely mentally exhausted and just wanted to be alone. I talk all day, and sometimes at night there are simply no more words. My well is dry.



Duncan was out in Tokyo, dancing at a friend’s birthday party that I had also been invited to, but, having decided instead to go and see a film by Danish director Winding Refyn, the strange, hypnotic red-steeped Bangkok-set Only God Forgives ( I just need to sit in the dark, isolated, absorbing someone’s art, my own thoughts temporarily silenced), prior to going to the cinema,  I just wanted to drift. Have some food, a beer, read my Morrissey autobiography, just blend into the background.



But first. Have to check my haunts, the three shops I know of that occasionally give windfalls of cheap, vintage perfume that never fail to give the boy a boost. First one: nothing. Second one: a slightly degraded, but still rather lovely Eau De Calandre for 1000 yen, a very strange serendipity seeing as I have just been writing about it the other day ( this often happens, incidentally); and a full bottle of Guerlain’s Winter Délice that I couldn’t resist for the price of 2000 yen, an odd but satisfying blend of fir, frankincense and vanilla that I am extremely fond of come Yule.



It is the end of the month and I don’t really have much money to be honest. In truth I probably shouldn’t really be ‘wasting’ money on things I don’t ultimately need, but sod it, I am not letting these bargains go. Probably I should have bought Flora Nerolia as well, but buying everything in the shop just makes me feel like a whore.



One more to check. Yes, Opal, our favourite, which is set up in an old Odeon cinema, tucked away behind the facade, just an elevator ride away from the street, a hilariously trashy emporium selling second hand Prada, Chanel and Gucci clothes and accessories at fairly high prices ( I love watching, from a distance, the interesting looking types from the area’s netherworld who peruse these flashier, more high investment items),  but the shop also has bargain bins of half-used lipsticks, foundations, and old, half-used perfumes sometimes tossed into the unhygenic cheap mêlée for good measure that I love to rootle about it in. There is an exquisite, astonishing  Diorissimo there at the moment that I imagine could be worth quite a lot of money;  it has ‘collector’s item’ written all over it,  but as it is 5, 000 yen (50 dollars) I keep desisting, seeing as I would never wear it myself. Amazing bottle, though; black enamel, stunning. Should I go back and get it for my collection? Do any of you need it?



You know, I also didn’t buy the Madame Rochas in the picture, despite its amusing little price. No, I have learnt my lesson regarding vaporisateurs; those ‘natural sprays’ that I have found don’t last as well as dab-on bottles during the inevitable passage of time; some chemical perhaps, added for preservation, that always seems to ruin the blend slightly with a gassy, vegetal aspect (the Calandre spray I had picked up earlier does have these same ruined top notes, incidentally, even as it then progresses to its perfect vintage heart). Nevertheless, upon sniffing the Madame Rochas as she calls out to me pitifully to be rescued from her heap of maquillaged garbage, I detect too much degradation in the top and middle, and in any case have no use for its musky, ladyish business on my own skin. I do love that perfume, though, and know that it is always popping up everywhere at fleamarkets and vintage shops, really one of the most ubiquitous so know she will surely be back.


If you don’t know Madame Rochas intimately, I can tell you that in its original, vintage form this beautiful perfume it is ANYTHING but cheap; on the contrary; it was a solid, monument to elegance that was, obviously, entirely ruined by reformulation. No, in the original, the perfume, an immaculately put-together creature, takes a similar theme to No 5 (in a sense), but is infinitely less soft, wide-eyed and fleshy: yes, there are woods, flowers and shimmering aldehydes, but the perfume refines the whole to a more aloof, superior level with harder, enamelled edges. In parfum there is a marble translucence, a dimension of light not seen in any other scent of this genre that lends the perfume a very refined, white-gloved dignity. With genius, the complex list of ingredients is tightly bound into such a scented, glinting fuselage that the effect is almost startling. When you apply Madame Rochase vintage parfum, in exquisite, concentrated dot to the wrist – at first the perfume is silent, wondering where it is. It waits, unrelenting. From an imperturbable, cool smoothness then sing out, gradually, individual flowers: rose, ylang ylang, lily of the valley. This accord graduates gently to a tender, yet very sensual, soft woody finish that lingers until it finally disappears much later in the day. In the Madame Rochas I find in the trash box, age has taken too much of a toll. I pick it up, I smell it. I put it back.



Filed under Flowers


  1. Madame Rochas, one of the last greats of a certain type of scent. Truly the dowager empress of scents from the Golden Age of fragrance. Too true though about the reformulations; so much taken away and a skeleton of the original left behind.
    I have to confess my envy of you. Not of fragrance as one might think, but that you are residing in Tokyo. Would live to live in either Japan or Hong Kong, at the least would enjoy South Korea. Instead I seem to be passing the time away here in the states; dreadfully lacking in true culture I must say. Would live to chat more about life in Tokyo one day.

    • I am ready. Personally, having been to both Seoul and Hong Kong, I know I work better in Japan. It is vexating, and drives you insane for a myriad of different reasons, but deeply beautiful and dream-inducing in others.

      And in any case, I don’t actually live in Tokyo. Although I go there every weekend or so, it would be too much. In fact, we live in Kitakamakura, which is the PERFECT place to be. Seriously. When I first moved to Japan I was going to leave after three months because I couldn’t take the ugliness and banality of suburban Yokohama life. It was hellish for my Eurocentric mind, used to the European way of architecture (unarguably beautiful). I couldn’t take the ‘architectural vomit’, as my friend who came to visit so subtly put it (there is no rhyme or reason on Japanese streets: anything goes).

      But when I moved to Kamakura, it all changed. Kamakura is a mini Kyoto, with mountains and temples and a real sense of culture. It is also by the sea, and also only an hour from Tokyo, so you get the best of both worlds. I am constantly stimulated. If I want walks in the woods, I have them by my house. If I want Tokyo madness I can be there in 80 minutes. And I always love it when I get off the train and can smell the trees and flowers. Love the lack of neon and the darkness.

      So hard to leave!

      • Sofia PW

        What an apt description of Japan and Kanto. Now I really will have to go to Kamakura at some point. I live in Matsudo, but for various reasons, including simple interest, I like visiting the Yokohama area. However, I have never been to Kamakura, despite the reviews. After your lovely description, I am hoping I can go tomorrow 😉

      • Go to Strawberry Fields ( see my Christmas article for more)

  2. Marina

    Thank you for sharing that wonderful little story of a day in your life.

    • Well I don’t know, it seems these days that I have this inexorable need to just express myself for some reason; to try and capture something (is it fear of death?)

      It is meant to be a perfume blog, but who cares, really, what it is ‘meant to be’. It is what it is. I sometimes wonder if I put too much of myself into the Black Narcissus, as in autobiographically. Sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed afterwards, like in my Black Swan piece where I went right to my bare bones. And yet I can’t help it. I AM obsessed to the core with cinema, perfume, and music, and I love combining them together in writing as they form the constant backdrop.

      Saturday night was not in any way extraordinary, just me wandering around Yokohama, picking up cheap perfume, and going to see a film, but it is always interesting to see if you can capture something and pin experience down like a butterfly. Time is always so elusive. It just goes. But sometimes if you can nail a truth, even of just a simple, daily reality, it can feel almost as if you are transcending it.


  3. Oh how I wish that I found stray bottles of Mme. Rochas for 48 cents!

    But have never even been to Tokyo and can only read your blog, and dream of such excursions and uncovering marvels in dollar stores.

    • Do such things turn up in dollar stores? I know they wouldn’t in England.

      You know, though, old parfums with all their essential top notes gone aren’t really worth buying. I am waiting for a pristine number of Madame Rochas before you buy it again. Are you a fan of the original? It was gorgeous, wasn’t it?

      • blacknallallen

        You’re so right about top notes going on vintage fragrances. I have a Ma Liberte that breaks my heart because all the citrus has evaporated and it’s rather like having the bubble go off champagne.

        Love the original Mme. more than either NO 5 or Arpege.

      • I am an Arpege adorer myself, but think that Madame Rochas is more wearable on a daily basis. So perfect in its original incarnation. No 5 is just a splay-legged floozy in comparison.

  4. I long for that Diorissimo.

    Don’t worry about sharing too much. As a wise Broadway musical once said, if you worry about what others think of your writing, you’ll end up with nothing but two oerfect paragraphs about kittens. That your grandmother would approve of. I love reading your perfume reports.

  5. I inherited a ‘Brand Old In Box’ formulation of Mme Rochas from the 60s (I believe), still in its original – very crumbly as it turned out – cellophane. Let me know if you would like to try it for the purposes of comparison. I am looking for a home for it, assuming it has also not turned, which it doesn’t seem to have to my nose. I have a bunch of other vintage bottles too which may or may not be of interest.

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