According to ancient Chinese astrology, 2022, a Year Of The Tiger, is set to be a powerful time of change, vitality and strength – and I am all here for it. After the slow endurance of 2021, when the Ox ruled – and we all slowly endured, if only barely – the yang and positive energy of the coming months are said by those who believe in these things to ‘evoke self-confidence and enthusiasm as well as competence and courage in the face of challenges’, according to a long article in the Japan Times on the subject that traces the country’s traditions of tiger festivals back to the deep influence of Chinese culture and the roots of the reverence towards the tiger in history, politics, art, and religion. It probably goes without saying that the spirits of the creatures ( roosters, rabbits etc ) that represent each of the years in the twelve year cycle correspond with their characteristics in nature – I am a Metal Dog, which presumably explains my keen sense of smell and my aggression (!) – D is a boar, which explains precisely nothing.
In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that we need a change, as well as some bravery, to move forward from the last two years : so for me, the predominance of the tiger’s energy over the coming period – even if just in my imagination – feels pleasingly auspicious.
There was no tiger when we went to the Yokohama Noge Zoo over Christmas. It was crossed off on the map, presumably on sabbatical (many avian specimens were also off due to a new form of bird influenza, which made the grotty and dreary free local attraction even more unappealing). Instead, in the centre of the zoo there was a huge and miserable lion, trapped in a cage, pacing backwards and forwards, which suddenly let out such a deafening roar that D’s face immediately went white from pure terror, like a child (I don’t think I have ever felt such tenderness as I did at that moment), even if my overriding feeling – the families and children shouting ‘kawaii! kawaii!’ (cute! cute!), when they should really have been exclaming kowai -so!’ (poor-thing) was irritation and dismay. But then animal rights and consciousness of the cruelty of zoos has never been the most laudable aspect of this part of the world, to put it very mildly, and we had only gone there because I thought I wanted to try studying and writing at the Yokohama library just down the road (we lasted about two minutes), and to retrace our steps from over two decades ago when – and this next sentence will stretch your credulity but I swear it is true – we went to Noge Zoo for the first time and I was attacked by an orangutan.
This incident would undoubtedly explain why we had never been back since, aside the fact that the place is disgusting (let the magnificent tigers and lions and other animals run free in their natural habitats! How can a condor be kept in a cage like that when it should have an entire continent to roam free over the Andes?) ; crocodiles and alligators clearly extremely depressed, the iguana listless. The lion was bellowing with rage and frustration – it was palpable inside your body.
The touch of the orangutan was also very palpable as it suddenly bounded towards me and hugged me firm in its grip, me screaming my head off; the zookeeper – who had been taking it for a walk around the grounds because it was a weekday and there was nobody there – excitedly assuring me that it wouldn’t bite; D and a friend laughing in hysterics, presuming it wasn’t dangerous and scorning me for being so stupid in the first place in approaching (because: : : : it was just so unusual to see an ape being led by the hand like that: how could I not venture just a little bit closer just to see? I do find animals very fascinating : our cat often swaggers towards me with her flanks on the go in close up with rather tiger-huntress- like motions as I wake up on my pillow : this morning I hugged her warm black and white fur to me in a morning tuggle; the very real communication between humans and animals a treasure chest of delightful experiences that truly can embellish a life in so many ways).
I have very little interest in orangutans, though, I must say, and certainly didn’t want one within kissing distance (literally, I couldn’t move; its arms were so strong; once those mothers are wrapped around you in a whipflash second you can’t move a muscle and can do nothing but wait for the monster to be prized off; on this second, and definitely last visit, I eventually found the toilet where I remember looking into the mirror after the incident, laughing and crying simultaneously, tears of real fear flowing down my face, yet also of course realizing the hilarity of the situation, a story I have woven into lessons over the years, where in pairs, one student is me, the other is the interviewer, and they have to tell the story from memory). Part of me was hoping on this occasion that just for ‘nostalgia’ there would still be an orangutan there, but there was not (just petrifyingly violent looking chimpanzees instead in a cage that were screeching like madmen; looking at them I thought fuck, they look big enough – how the hell did I cope with being squeezed tight by a leering and grinning orangutan?). The memory was enough.
The wild success of Netflix’s The Tiger King – whose ultra-kitsch first series I thought was beyond fantastic; the second, not so much, just milking the tiger and the murderous melodrama for all its worth but far less effectively, gave us plenty of opportunities to look at the beautiful beast that is the tiger up close. Much closer than I would be comfortable with personally – not only did one park attendant have their arm ripped off in the programme when feeding one of the inmates – also a couple of days after we went to Noge Zoo here in the North of Japan some young zookeepers at a municipal zoo were attacked by a male tiger that was in the wrong pen, one woman having her hand bitten off in the process – —these are definitely not creatures to mess around with : but still, undeniably, so beautiful and mesmerizing to behold. What would it be like to have one of the babies bouncing on your knee, I wonder? How bad would be the bite? How soft the hair?
Astrologically, the personality of those who are born in a year of the tiger is exactly how you would imagine it to be. Tigers are said to be ferocious, born leaders, extremely energetic, and sensual, with an untameable sex drive (one book I looked up said that ‘these people sow their wild oats much more than you or I, although they do, in most cases, eventually settle down’). They are of course also affectionate, loveable – – and extremely attractive.
All of this unavoidably plays into the portrayal of the tiger in scent: you are unlikely to ever have a dewy magnolia or light lemon being called something tiger: even the appearance of the animal, those stripes that evoke YSL fringed dens and seventies’ bohemian dope parlours, look slightly dirty, at least rather lived in (and surely Opium is the ultimate tiger perfume of all time?). The majority of tiger scents, therefore, follow these instinctive directives and predictably go for the feralized spiced amber look.
Sana Jardin’s appealing Tiger By Her Side is fortifying in its prominent use of cinnamon, Siam Benzoin, vanilla, labdanum and all the usual suspects – my full review is in the vaults if you like the idea of a dry, spiced scent that gives you a bolstered feeling when feeling a little hollow; similarly, Givenchy’s Ambre Tigré (“a feline fantasy”) which I remember sniffing at an airport once on the way home and wishing I had some cash left as I do enjoy a ‘straight’ mellifluous vanilla amber on occasion, is one that you can just sink (your teeth) into, sigh contentedly and purrrr. Argentinian brand Fueguia 1833’s The Other Tiger -El Otro Tigre, which I haven’t smelled – I just wanted to lure you into this piece with my tiger-like cunning – is supposed to be a bizarre animalic musk with tuberose and ambrette; very expensive (and if you know of any more tiger perfumes, or scents that remind you of tigers, let’s make this a thread); Tyger Tyger, a luscious white floral jasmine ylang ylang by Francesca Bianchi that practically glows in the dark, like the eyes of a tiger prowling the moist night forests of Sumatra.
Flowers also combine with vanilla in the much tamer Le Tigre, a nineties perfume from Kenzo that is now extinct (unlike L’Elephant, which has survived); this was a lovely kumquat tangerine osmanthus dream over cinnamon and amber by Dominique Ropion that a Japanese friend of mine wore back in the day – very easy to wear; calm. Gently magnetic. A tigrette.
The tiger scent I am most drawn to personally at the moment though, now this ‘fortuitous year’ has begun, is the dry, Tiger Balm-like cocoction by James Heeley – Esprit Du Tigre. This perfume is much more masculine and ‘difficult’ – intractable, even – than any of the tigers mentioned above. With camphor, mint, cloves, cardamom and pepper over an arid vetiver, there is a medicinality to the scent – a cool heat of independence. Though the nutmegish aura suits me perfectly well and will be used in situations where I feel I need a more covert, directed energy – there is an air of assertion here, a feeling that verges on arrogance – blasphemously, just because I want it even spicier, I am actually using an amended version of the scent in the house right now as a room perfume. Having added copious quantities of clove oil along with an Indonesian vetiver; brand new rattan sticks have been placed in the small jars of this perfume and are now absorbing this Esprit Du Tigre Extrȇme slowly, day by day; giving off a quiet fervour to the air that feels bold; enlivening,…