Hair is taken very seriously in Japan. The country has the most hair salons per capita in the world. Hair is thick, lustrous, well groomed. Pharmacies and supermarkets stock a vast range of hair products; toiletry megastores have mammoth gamuts of every shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, hair cream imaginable, with little microball filled pomanders for you to sample the fragrance to make sure you make the right choice : for boys there are ultra specific pomades, often scented slightly differently, for every possible style you could ever want just to get that like of hair in perfect position; spiked; curled; slicked back; wavy; straight; shining; matte: slightly bouncy; for me, in fact, I would say that the perfume of Japan is the waft of a carefully groomed young woman or man passing on the street with an alluring fruit musked floral aroma emanating from her carefully treated do. Hair, here, is everything.
Killing a few minutes the other day with nothing to do, I scanned the shelves of a particularly well-stocked product emporium, wondering whether I should try the very expensive apricot jasmine hair care being offered, though remembering the last time I tried The Botanist’s shampoo range – apple and rose I think it was – my hair clung slimily to my scalp like seaweed to a rock. I looked like some old pervert. Or, as my mum would say, a ‘Cedric’. D and I both tend to use a product aimed at men our age : one that’blocks the stinking scalp smells that women hate!’ though I am wary of the man-hating advertising that seeks to demonise the male of the species as being irrevocably smelly, this hair cleanser does do the job and smells quite fresh. Earl Grey Tea though?
Tea is a drink. It is tannic, and smoky, and caffeinated. Lovely. But can it work as something to wash your hair with? To be honest, I couldn’t resist. I felt like buying something. I LOVE Earl Grey, the bergamot infusion, the elegance of the savour and the scent, and have recently been in the mood for tea perfumes as well in warmer weather as I find them ideal. Having just had a long shower and washed myself all over with this shampoo this lovely sunny afternoon (less bergamotty than I was anticipating; more oolong-like; quite an intense tea scent, thick and brown like a medicated Vosene), I have now blowdried my beveraged locks and am now wearing some Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, as well as trying Robin’s suggestion of a touch of rose (the new Cartier Pure Rose; yes, delightful, it works perfectly, green tea and rose; quite elevating,) with some vetiver oil tinged clothing and the lingerings of Sisley’s divine, powdery Eau D’Ikar on a sweatshirt. I smell subtle and elegant. I like this overall olfactory assemblage. Perhaps before work on Tuesday I can even have a bath with bubbles provided by the shampoo, add some bergamot essential oil to the water, and then marinate in the result like a giant human Twinings tea bag.
On the subject of hair, we are currently being terrorized at night by a bald raccoon.
Inflicted with mange, as many tanuki are in Japan, rather than the hirsute fluffed out number you see above, a healthier exemplar of the species, ours looks more like
This is not the actual tanuki in question – ours, which Duncan has christened Mavis, even though he hasn’t laid eyes on it yet (but he has certainly heard its blood-chilling night screeching), has fur and hair on the lower section but a terrible affliction of eczema around its neck and upper body like a vulture; an albatross of red raw skin. Poor thing. I have seen it scuttling along when on bike rides, a few times, but it now seems to have taken a shine to the corner of the garden of the house next door, where early one morning I saw it catching some sleep in what looked like a nest.
The first time we heard it, squealing like a slaughtered piglet in the deep hours of the night, it was truly blood curdling. D assumed that an eagle had come down and was fighting to the death with our cat – we ran outside, imagining we would find her mangled or impaled having plunged from the roof opposite. It is a guttural, high pitched screaming, like a banshee, a strangled cat, and a dash of pterodactyl : last night we were woken up at 4am by it – an unholy sound that makes you start and reminds me of being a child and of feeling my veins run cold thinking one night that a murderous witch was killing babies outside my bedroom window in the moonlight; my heart pounding and adrenalised with terror, I eventually struck up the courage to run wailing into my parent’s room and pounced on their bed crying with fright: it turned out that these were the sounds that foxes make – we have a lot of them in our gardens in England – but petrifying though fox howls can be, I think that this raccoon’s vocals take the biscuit.
Feeling sorry for the animal, because it looks such a ragged, wretched, suffering solitary thing, D and I (foolishly) initially left it some food, imagining it must be starving. We then started reading about them in more detail, and discovered that they can actually sometimes be quite dangerous. Although some empathetic people here occasionally attempt to domesticate them and even try to administer medicine to help them clear up their scalp conditions, their behaviour varies considerably as they proliferate globally : they have multiplied in Scandinavia as they have made their way from East Asia through Russia and into Sweden, and even been found in England now terrifying and attacking children and livestock.
I have just been talking about our tanuki trouble with a neighbour and he told me that they are a nuisance with their reeking defecations and habit of biting, so kind though he is, D has decided not to feed the poor critter any more ; we will instead try to dissuade it from paying us nocturnal calls. Last night I saw it in the dark, but didn’t approach. In Japanese folklore, tanuki are traditionally known as tricksters and con artists, and judging from the frenetic howls it was making last night, I can imagine its teeth packing a nasty bite.
Earlier, it then suddenly struck me: is this perhaps a form of animal kingdom revenge, for my once irreverently taking a stuffed Japanese raccoon out with me as an accessory to an all night party in Tokyo? ; Burning Bush’s long flowing locks, and leopard, and tiger print coats complemented with a taxidermist’s rendition : of the very same animal that is now haunting our garden. …?