There is a very big generational divide in Japan when it comes to men’s fragrances, known here as ‘kolon’, or cologne – there being no real concept of an ‘aftershave’, particularly when half the Nihonjin males of the nation are heading towards electrolysis and the beardless pretty K-Pop androgyne becomes the culturally favoured norm. While boys in their twenties smell fruity and hair-gelled; of increasingly strong smelling fabric softeners, or of nothing, older men usually stick to their favoured aldehydic woodies like Auslese, Eroica, Bravas, and other, similar musky spiced much of a muchnesses that you sometimes smell lingering in the interior of Tokyo taxis and which younger people generally despise, at the gut level, as the smell of the jiji ; the old git, the antiquated, thin-stranded pate greased just that little bit too much and drenched in the wide range of auxiliary products available at every local Shiseido drug store – shaving cream, facial lotions, stick deodorants, and especially the popular ‘hair tonics’ which men in their sixties and over often wear (sometimes to very pleasing effect, you can feel your heart melting slightly), sometimes not – (just trying too hard, slightly sad). Whenever men of a certain age gather for reunions and annual get togethers you are guaranteed to smell a whole conglomeration: unlike the UK, where you can pretty much share your dad’s aftershave, whatever that might be, on a Saturday night and get away with it – I think a young man or adolescent here would rather die than wear his dad’s bygone-be-bygone smell of an earlier era: the Bubble they never experienced and never will, when Japan was in a hysteria of revisionist capitalist mayhem as it boisterously worked and drank its way into a frenzy of world confidence and consumer dominance, and the proud breadwinners reeked of these perfumes; their pomades and brilliantined thick black hair broached by the smell of yakiniku and cigarettes, in neon blinking after-office izakayas, and sultry hostess bars.
This last Saturday night I couldn’t quite make up my mind, coming alone from the cinema in Shibuya, whether I wanted to transform myself into another being. As something of a middle-aged salariman myself (I dress pretty much identically to all the other workers here; black suit, shirt and tie, smelling usually of lemon and caucasian); on my way to Uguisudani to meet Duncan at midnight to see him perform on a huge stage in a stairwelled, ruched former cinema now host to all manner of creatures of the night all dressed up for dancing – he was due on stage at 1:40am – I thought fuck it – I might as well just go for it and freakify myself into another entity (after all, D had provided me with a bag full of robes and accoutrements, including some former orange velvet curtains that he had stitched into a beautiful hooded garment, and which had been used, the week before, strategically, to mop up a tragically spilled, perfect, pristine 29.5ml parfum bottle of Bal A Versailles – I am sure my screams as it hit the kitchen floor disconcerted people in the neighbourhood: it tumbled from its badly designed box and eviscerated itself – but which at least been put to good use (and which, seriously, on this material, soaked and put in a suitcase for a week beforehand for maturation purposes smelled incredible).
Wondering where I could whip off my gear, and costume myself up, I was praying that the multi-use disabled toilet in Uguisudani station – everyone uses them here, there is no social disgrace involved – would somehow be free, and miraculously, it was. Someone else had also had the same idea just before me – you could feel a certain haste there still in the air; a man I will never know the identity of, who had obviously checked into the same restroom and abandoned all his spruced up little helpers for a night of seduction somewhere out there in the megalopolis; a bottle of mouthwash, a comb, and a full bottle of Shiseido Tactics that I didn’t even hesitate to put into my bag before emerging a few minutes later as an unrecognizable white-faced being drenched in the aforementioned Jean Desprez amber; on the wrists and the neck Antica Casablanca, and on the huge, freshly washed hair, reams of the original Guerlain Metallica, all of which just made me smell so decadent and swoonsome I glided along on a cloud of oblivious, carnation-kissed vanilla spice.
Today is Monday and I am at home trying to tidy, being gratefully subdued; calming down. I have just found the bottle of Shiseido Tactics left out in the genkan, the Japanese entrance – among the other detritus; these weekends of performances and filming require such heavy baggage – clothes for the actors and for D’s stage wear, so many bits and pieces that the way we are going I sometimes feel that I will need another leg operation; we seem to be constantly going between Kamakura and Tokyo weighed down like a travelling circus (I love it); but at this particular moment, to be able to just sit in the silence of this house, and smell this old Shiseido perfume, is precisely what the doctors in white coats ordered.
Tactics is, it goes without saying, of the Old School. A classical, classic men’s aftershave. When you look at all the notes, a whole orchestra of them from juniper, pine, galbanum and sage and thyme and mint and citruses through the usual flowers and mosses and tonka bean (and in this new version clearly some quite loveable white musk), you know what you are going to be smelling, but unlike the blousier, more obvious men’s colognes that I mentioned earlier – which sometimes just read as testosteroned Chanel No 5s; such hair, such throw, this more subtle Japanese variable on a standard French theme is much more forested; seemly; and low key. Slightly reminiscent of other green masculine classics such as Christian Dior’s Jules, or Loewe’s Esencia, but without the bullfighting domination of those pituitary-charged men’s seduction pieces, Tactics also has the limed freshness of Sport De Paco Rabanne, a scent I still wear on occasion when I feel like recreating my own former lithehood; a leaf-freshed, subtle viridity that is actually very pleasing. I am glad that we have it. This Saturday was allegedly the last, or perhaps penultimate weekend of Josephine Baker for 2019;after this we are supposed (he always keeps it quiet until he reveals that er, actually, there is this other thing that we might have to go to next week….) to be calming it down a bit; having some normal weekends at home in the more conventional manner: cooking, reading the newspaper, going for walks, sleeping in. Talking. Tactics will be amenable and snuggedly sexy in this imagined environment (perhaps while he is wearing this, I should go for my ultimate autumnal cardigan fragrance, Hermes Equipage?); behaving, while the leaves turn to brown, as though we are ageing in any way that could be considered, by the majority of the world’s population, as graceful.