I have woken up alone. D has gone back to work. There are no children, no students, because they are off – by law – until May 7th. But teachers……





It was hard for me to sleep last night thinking about the sheer futility of the delay in calling a lockdown, as Tokyo finds new surges in corona cases. And to imagine : sixty or more teachers in a windowless, unventilated room ‘preparing lessons’ for a studentless beginning of term when it is epidemiologically obvious that they instead should be self-isolating at home. I can’t stand him being there in that situation. I feel enragedly helpless. I myself am due back on Thursday, theoretically, but am not sure if I will be able to go back, psychologically. I don’t know if I could tolerate having to do it when it is so against my will and my feeling of common sense. I have just this very minute heard that there is apparently about to be a state of emergency declared, but I can imagine this being limited to Tokyo (even though all the trains I have to catch are going back and forth, back and forth, all day long between the megalopolis and where I work; teachers live in those places and come down; the trains and buses are full of people; it makes no logical sense. My blood is inflammable this morning —- you could take a match to me —- so I think I will leave it there before I say something I regret…)




On Sunday afternoon we sat on the balcony in the warm sun. (Well, we call it the balcony: really it is a ‘veranda’ or whatever you call a place that you hang out the washing). That is what Japanese people would use theirs for, in any case, and probably find us very eccentric for turning it into our outside relaxation space  – usually just functional places made of plastic, the previous owners of this place had instead made a really nice one made of wood which we have decorated with furniture and hung with rugs and plants – and curious seventies furniture and metal ashtrays, so I suppose it could also be thought of in truth as being a ‘deck’ – in any case, it is the place we often go when the sun comes out for just sitting and reading the newspaper or drinking wine and listening to music. Just staring out into the sky. Taking in the pleasing ambient sounds of the neighbourhood that we live in; children in the distance, cats, the sounds of bird song. People laughing. Our retreat. Sadly, we were intensely aware that the spring vacation was coming to an end and that we were about to be senselessly forced back into the worksphere right in the middle of a silenced epidemic (Japan just really doesn’t want to admit that this happening. The recalcitrance, the refusal to accept reality is astonishing in this case…………………..but in a land where ambiguity is key, and it is the ambiguity that has probably kept us here, as it is so much more beautiful and malleable for people like us than the Anglo-Saxon overemphatic dissection, and is the basis for all of the things that we love about living in Japan), except on this occasion : : : :  when our lives our literally at stake, and my vote most definitely goes for European rationality,  and precise, completely logic-based, action. 






In perfume, though. We get so used to the vamp, the hooker, the slugging showstopper. The contextual mindfuck; the ‘latest addition’, ‘the new eau de toilette’. All these heavily contrived and market researched perfumes that command such attention and require such commitment as you endure them through your day from their top notes to their unwashable bases that you sometimes forget that the quieter, more gentle perfumes – at the right moment – can feel like a godsend. Like moments of awakening. Cue Koke Shimizu, or Moss Water, a perfume I have neglected to ever try on properly previously as it seemed so light and inconsequential when I undoubtedly had more ‘lordy’ preoccupations on my mind and was flouncing or stampeding through the house like Napoleon Bonaparte meets Charles Baudelaire: at other times I would have probably thought to myself, when dripping laboriously in unguent, that I couldn’t even actually smell it.

















In the rays of the sun coming down onto the balcony, on clean skin, I applied some Koke Shimizu onto D’s left wrist. And I must confess when I came closer to smell it I did something I am not sure I have ever done before: I instinctively brought my whole head down onto his arm. In exhalations, and rested there inhaling from that spot, like a fawn in a forest coming to drink water near to a pool of light in an afternoon clearing.  Air. Grass.  The muffled quiet of moss on trees. A pool just in the visible distance. A moment of grace. How perfumer Satori Osawa achieved this effect I don’t know – the notes available online do not correspond with how I smell the result – she has crafted something of great delicacy here – but it is wonderful to know that a whole other world of perfumery exists, if you are lucky enough to come across it, in which private moments of reflection like this can create an oasis of calm that you can truly retreat into. Just pause, and look up. Admittedly, the ending of the scent is not as interesting as the beginning, ceding to a delicate oakmoss powder that does not quite contain the clear serenity of the opening, but even this, later in the evening, on D, had become like moss in the moonlight. Alone in the garden of the temple precinct; self reliant; unconstrained.










Filed under Flowers


  1. Tora

    I am totally freaked out that Duncan went back to work. And I’m also incredibly worried about you going back. It makes no sense. Like all the crazy Americans who just go about their business as if nothing is wrong and it’s fucking crazy. On a lighter note that perfume sounds amazing. Please stay safe Neil.

    • Help!!!!

      What should I do? I am glad you are freaked out on our behalf as it compounds my own sense of resolution. His school is usually quite sensible and errs on the side of caution (so D’s mum, if you are reading this, don’t panic too much. They are unlikely to put him in danger). At the same time, the samurai fight to the last drop of blood bullshit does prevail which is why they are still holding out (have they not SEEN New York and Madrid? What is wrong with them?) I don’t know if I will be able to tolerate getting on a train in truth. Next Wednesday and Thursday I am twenty minutes from Tokyo in those schools, and the virus doesn’t limit itself to catchment areas. I might not be able to stand it.

      As for this perfume, honestly, it is how I describe it. Those first moments put me into a beautiful state of calm; just of green and outsideness. Later for a while it went into just a light, androgynous oakmoss, and then the end was a lovely white, powdery fougere type scent, a little like Penhaligons English Fern. It would be a good one to share with your husband, or just keep for occasions like this when you need a moment of clarifying sanity.

      So glad I have people to talk to on here! It means a lot to me xxxx

  2. Persolaise

    This is one of the (many!) things I find fascinating/agonising/ghastly about this whole situation: it has created massive tension between what we are told/expected to do and what we feel we ought to do for our own self-preservation. That tension has always existed, of course. But this crisis has made it more acute, I feel.

    Look after yourselves.

  3. David

    This situation is very stressful.
    Why don’t they just start online teaching? My dad, a semiretired university professor, is teaching classes with Zoom. He is 77 years old and he is making it work.

    If I had to go into a classroom or office, I would wear a mask, gloves, Bono-esque sunglasses and I would make sure the students were at 2 meter distances. No exceptions.

    There’s a grassroots movement of people making masks for themselves and for hospital personnel (there are still shortages). But it’s turning into a bit of a drama/ shitshow. Some people are ripping up vacuum cleaner bags to line the masks. Some are using coffee filters. Some are using paper towels. Many FB battles are erupting over this. It reminds me a bit of 9/11 security theater when people were fighting with TSA agents over things like pie: “Sorry, Ma’am, that cherry pie filling is considered a liquid gel. It needs to be discarded in that trash can over there. Or you can eat the pie before passing through security.” / “ Do you really think I can eat a whole pie before passing through the security gate? “ / “I don’t know your life. Maybe you can.”

    I think with a state of emergency you won’t have to go in.

    Moss is so beautiful. I really want to try Satori fragrances.

    • I love that cherry pie story! Divine.

      As Sade Adu said, sweet………..like cherry pie, but I have already forgotten the next line as I liked the second album much better.

      It is the trains that are freaking me out. The government says avoided crowded places with no ventilation, so don’t go to restaurants and clubs but DO ride the subway. IT is this contradiction and the stupid nonsense that has driven me crazy today. All they need to do is close EVERYTHING and get it under control first. But you know how it is here. They just won’t RELENT. D says today maybe I need anger management, and maybe he is right. I just can’t stand stupidity, especially if it affects me directly. I had all the pissing around. I like to be DECISIVE, and they easily could be, like other countries, just to get this shit under control. We don’t need piddly measures; we need hard hitting ones so that we can get over this fast.

      As for the moss, this is a very gentle one. You might find it disappointing. I liked its evanescence though, with the grassy top notes: at that particular moment on Sunday if felt perfect.

      • David

        They probably won’t make a decision until the very, very last moment. It’s their way of maintaining a modicum of control to the bitter end.

        Yes, I too would be freaking out about the crowded buses and subways.Older folks, unfortunately, might not be taking this seriously (“I lived through WWII and the air raids. I helped rebuild this country. This virus has nothing on me.) Again, mask, scarf, bandana, gloves if you have to go in. And keep them on in the work area.

        Are they even considering online classes? It’s bit wonky/giggly at first, but with Zoom or Google Classroom it’s possible.

      • I am supposed to make online classes for the time being.

        Am sitting here preparing, but a huge part of me is refusing to go into school to film them.

      • The current attitude is definitely :

        I keep singing and dancing to this bullshit. IT makes me laugh.

  4. I would fight for working from home. If students are off by law (thank goodness), there’s no reason to expect teachers or other workers to go somewhere to do something they can do just as well at home. Does the company really want the responsibility for putting employees at unnecessary risk?
    I know it’s all easier said than done.

    • The strange thing is, I would prefer to risk going there and doing it in person than doing online, the thought of which fills me with horror. It just wouldn’t work for my style of teaching which is very spontaneous and ‘in the room’ and involves people doing a lot of talking to each other. I could do one to one teacher on a screen, but I honestly can’t imagine how it would work otherwise. The government should have acted earlier. Been more decisive. The first responses were utterly pATHETIC

    • There is a wartime mentality going on here right now, and the government has just declared this state of emergency but company workers are STILL GOING IN. D is off from tomorrow, but I am supposed to continue going. I don’t know if I can bear it psychologically. I think they should have a complete, REAL lockdown like everywhere else, wait for the virus to subside, and then start up, rather than have everybody continue using the trains etc to go to work. It is insanity.

      • They really should. Isn’t that what a state of emergency is for—mobilizing measures that are not usually taken? I don’t see why you can’t all record online lessons from home, even if the style has to be adapted. Several medical congresses have converted their large, expensive gatherings to virtual ones in the last couple of months at short notice. It isn’t setting a good example to all the students if teachers are doing exactly what students are told not to do, either. Can they come up with a single valid reason why going in is required? Crazy.

      • I know. But this is Japan. A friend of mine here has just told me that ‘Only 0.04% of the population has been affected by the coronavirus!’, meaning that she is taking literally the government’s number of confirmed cases as being the number of people actually infected (asympomatic, mild symptoms completely ignored). She is buying the bullshit. D said that in Kamakura yesterday it was pretty much business as usual. We are doomed.

  5. Renee Stout

    Keep talking to us about perfume and telling your stories…you are a bit of sanity and consistency within all of this chaos and madness. Thank you!

    • I find it amusing that I could be accused of sanity (but am flattered nonetheless!) How is it your end in America?

    • I am supposed to go in to work tomorrow (to record online lessons, with no students in the room), but all the teachers and staff will be there.

      I don’t know what to do. I am tempted to ask for unpaid leave and live off D’s salary for a couple of months, just living frugally and having home cooking etc. If I do so, I will be like a pariah when I go back to work – if they even have me – as I won’t have ‘gone through it’ with all the other people and thus will be considered even less of one of them than I already am, but I just don’t have that martyr mentality; it’s not in me. It’s so stressful. My brother and sister have both lost their jobs – god knows what they are going to do.

  6. Tara C

    I hope a miracle occurs by Thursday. Sweden was taking things very loosely and is now getting kicked in the teeth. Japan needs to smarten up. Things are not looking too good for Boris Johnson, in ICU now. This is serious and Abe needs to act decisively.

    • Wow I hadn’t heard that Boris Johnson was in ICU (nor anything about Sweden)- and agree that Abe REALLY does need to act decisively. Sometimes the dragging of feet and inaction sends me almost into a frenzy :i think it is just pure exasperation. I can’t stand it.

      I have heard this morning that the students aren’t going in, but that teachers will need to go in sometimes to record lessons to be broadcast online. I will have to comply, as without this job my life would fall apart here. I don’t know how long it would go on for though.

  7. Ann

    Moss in the moonlight…that does sound wonderful.
    We are all in social isolation here but it took time! Initially the beaches were packed, backpackers partying, cruise ships landing and passengers allowed off with no testing. It could have been like New York and some elderly people have died who were on that ship. But so far we are managing to keep Sydney from becoming like New York. You are young so even if you do get ill chances are that you will be ok. Abe needs to act and also legislate so that if people are unemployed they receive benefits. He needs to pump money into the economy now and restrict movement. He is smarter than Trump…not that that is a high bar!

  8. Katie

    I hope you don’t end up having to go in to work. The more we’re experiencing the virus here in the US, the more random it seems. Massachusetts is taking strict measures but we’re (unfortunately) not a world unto ourselves. But as others said, your blog is a much-needed escape in these times, so thank you for keeping up with it! Perfume is the only thing I want to think about these days. Last night I ordered 26 different perfume samples and am going to sniff my way through the rest of quarantine.

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