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. …?


Filed under Flowers


  1. Oooo I love tea!
    Everything about it, be it brisk, smokey, earthy, musky, malty, astringent, floral, or with sweet and spicy notes.
    I have 3 cups of Assamese CTC tea boiled with milk, a slice of fresh ginger, and 6 crushed black peppercorns every morning. Picked up the habit of 4 pm tea & biscuits here in South Asia too. So refreshing & restorative.
    An entire line of bathing products scented with Earl Grey sounds amazing. I have never seen Maison de The products outside of Singapore. I bought some comparatively pedestrian L’Oreal Rapid Reviver hair products from Thailand. Unfortunately, they are scented strongly with the cheapest ethyl maltol saturated dupe of Coco Mademoiselle I have ever smelled. Blah.
    Favorite cheapie green tea perfume: Pacifica’s Tahitian Gardenia – a very fresh, modern take on gardenia with sweet orange zest and crisp green tea. A very simple but pretty composition, not heavy nor overly indolic, buttery, or dankly earthy as gardenias can be. One of my favorite Summer fragrances – smells fresh (and surprisingly long-lasting) even in the sweltering humidity of South Asia.
    On Tanukis & their ilk: just saw a mongoose strolling down my driveway snatch a shrew from the shrubbery and swallow it whole. Going to be a boon year for creepy crawlies!

  2. Sharon Strıplıng Worcester

    Hı, you know raccoon dogs are not related at all to raccoons? They are canıds, closer to a fox, but really they are unıque, only a sıngle specıes. And you are rıght, lıke foxes and other wıld canıds, they don’t make good pets. They are really a faırly ınoffensıve lıttle anımal ıf left alone, but lıke bears or coyotes you don’t want to start feedıng them eıther. How sad about theır skın dısease! Hate to see anythıng suffer lıke that. No doubt no one ıs tryıng to do anythıng for them as they are not endangered and so I thınk are not treated well where they occur. They dıdn’t spread or hıke all the way across Russıa and Chına to Sweden and northern Europe, but were ıntentıonately ıntroduced. Before that I belıeve they were only ın Japan and a small part of East Asıa.
    I love your rıchly detaıled, fascınatıng (and also often hılarıous) newsletter, have enjoyed readıng for years. Thank you!

    • Hi. I love meeting new (old) readers. Thanks for the extra tanuki info as well. I do really feel sorry for this animal, and if I could I would leave medicine-laced food for it, as some people seem to believe it helps them. At the same time, our cat is traumatised, and the night sounds are HIDEOUS.

      Mavis, Mavis: wherefore art thou, Mavis

  3. I’m glad you have diverted to write about something fragrance related that isn’t perfume.

    I just tried a shampoo soap bar from a German company called Klar. It’s a wonderful product, about $10, and it smells of figs. It lathers up tremendously and my hair felt soft and my scalp did not itch.

    We need more of you brilliant insights into shampoos and body products.

    • I rarely do write about these things because in truth I am not a huge consumer of them: we just have our regular simple soaps, deodorants and shampoos – but sometimes it is nice to delve into them a little. If I try any more curious Japanese products I will share them with you!

      • Robin

        I love those Japanese bath salts that come in a dozen different scents said to evoke memories of some of the famous hot springs and baths of the country. Each is a different colour in the bath water — I kind of like the murky green ones — and they really do smell incense-like and atmospheric. Are they there, too, or something that’s just made for export? They do have Japanese writing on each packet with a sticker in English and a bare-bones translation.

      • Bath salts here are also a wonder. I think people work so hard that they truly need all the luxuries that are available to unwind; all the bars and restaurants, more than is imaginable, to let go and indulge.

  4. I love Earl Grey tea, and can imagine a shampoo of that scent would feel quite cleansing. As for raccoons, they have become quite domesticated in some areas—my other half went on a bike ride in Miami a couple of years ago and sent photos of the critters coming right up and staring up at him with big puppy eyes hoping for food. They weren’t threatening or anything. Not sure what they’re like when they’re having to raid trash cans at night, etc.

    • I think they are cute too. I once actually had a strange experience walking up the hill at night. Quite a big tanuki had just been hit by a car and was nearing the end. I sat with it until it went, watching its eyes fade. We like animals, which is why we initially left it some food. But the noise is really quite genuinely scary.

  5. Robin

    ” . . . like a giant human Twinings tea bag.” That’s nice.

    I love the sound of all those layers. There’s something unmistakably you about vetiver tinged clothing. Super sleuth like, I could investigate the scene of a crime, pick up a bloody shirt, and announce, “Neil Chapman was here.” I hope it’s never you, clawed to death by a mangey Japanese raccoon seeking revenge for taking a stuffed brother out on the town as a mere accessory.

    I was chuffed to read that you liked the green tea and rose combination.

    We always have a raccoon or two or more wandering around the forest here. They’re the North American kind with bandit mask markings. They are invariably well-furred and well-fed. I’ve never seen them being aggressive. Just shy, really, curious sometimes, overall pretty relaxed with a live and let live attitude. We had a neighbour once years ago who made the resident family a whole pan of chocolate cake every night. Left it out on the porch before they went to bed, licked clean every morning. Those were some fat raccoons. Probably with terrible teeth.

  6. Oh, Earl Grey tea is my absolute favorite, but I don’t know if smelling of it would be my thing. The only tea scent I really enjoy is L’Artisan Tea for Two, which is quite different from EG. Since I wear so much fragrance, I tend to like my shampoos, conditioners and body washes very lightly scented. I always wear my hair in a chignon, so no one would really be able to smell the shampoo/conditioner eminating from my locks anyhow.
    I do love the sound of your layering though. Rose and tea would be divine.
    Poor tanuki, how sad there are so many suffering from mange. He sounds like he needs a nice bath in Earl Grey shampoo. I would feel so bad for him as well, and would probably feed him also. Thats how we ended up with our fourth kitty, named Kit-T. She was a feral who kept coming around and we would feed her, now she is a beloved memeber of the family and has no desire to go out whatsoever. I don’t think the tanuki would make too beloved a pet though, but stranger things have been domesticated. Not that you and D want a mangey tanuki as a pet.

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