There can be no doubt whatsoever that over the last five years or so there has been an intense ( and commercially cynical ) drive to make the Japanese people – traditionally unscented, bath loving people- intensely, and ubiquitously, paranoid about their personal odour.
And now that it is summer, aside the hugely increased proliferation recently of special washing powders, fabric conditioners, and clothes sprays ( what used to be extortionately expensive, imported Downy only is now range upon range of clothes scenting products covered with roses, domestically created highly perfumed laundry products to fill the hysterical void to have sweet smelling clothes), there are also, now, rows upon rows of deodorizing body products, ready in time for the coming July and August sun, some of the hottest in Asia, and a time when advertisements everywhere on trains, on billboards, on TV remind the unsuspecting salaryman or office lady that she had better not stink on the way to the office as she raises her arm to grip the handrail on the crowded, rush hour train, that she had better depilate; wipe herself down with a ‘ powdered, refreshing shower sheet’, body lotion, deodorant spray, and special anti hair stink summer shampoo.
All this is such a far cry from how it was when I first arrived, almost two decades ago ( yikes!), when a common gripe among foreigners living here was that you couldn’t get a decent deodorant.
Now they come in all kinds of perfumed variants: mostly fresh, obviously: soapy, lemon, grapefruit, rose, marine, and light musk, as sprays, as wipes, as roll-ons, as anti sweat-sheen (‘teka-teka’) face towels; body washes, mouth washes, ‘shower perfume’.
Marketing-wise, it is extremely clever. Get an entire nation of 120,000,000 people, a culture that is notoriously prone to be conformist, fad-driven, afraid of being different, addicted to the fear of smelling bad and you have a perpetual, cyclically winning formula. No one can resist: once the ‘natives’ have been convinced by the conglomerates, foreign or otherwise, of the need to be artificially scented there is, basically, just no going back, like the tribes in the Amazon jungle being visited by Avon ladies.
And today I am as fresh as a mosquito, just moments before doused in a bouquet of citronella, mint, and deodorizing, mentholic body chemicals. Lemon Tequila Nano Ion Body Shower spray to be precise, icy, cooling, sweat-eating, unhuman.
I kind of like it.