As I was walking down the escalator of the Saikaya department store – a fusty institution in Fujisawa from the sixties or seventies that seems to be perpetually haemorraghing money but is still somehow clinging on and that I use as a shortcut to the station, in the cramped Shiseido concession on the third floor, hemmed in at the back on the left side, through the glass of a cabinet, I saw the above.
Always a sucker for Shiseido packaging and their general aesthetic, I couldn’t resist having a quick look (although I was already late). I had never heard of Cymbidium Sinense – though looking it up I find we have one growing in a suspended hanging vase on our balcony, I just didn’t know its name; but without even properly smelling it, at ￥2200 – about £13 – I spontaneously got it for my collection of florals, and just because I like looking at the box.
Purchasing perk aside though, I must say there is something slightly baffling about this product.
As you can see, ¥2200 is the suggested retail price for this perfume, which is extraordinarily cheap for what we initially would naturally imagine to be a special niche, limited edition and probably ultra expensive.
And as it turns out, this perfume is a limited edition, and a collectible.
It is a one off fragrance for the Tokyo Grand Prix Orchid exhibition.
The official orchid website tells us that :
“Each year at the Tokyo Dome Grand Prix Orchid Festival, Shiseido releases 3 orchid-based perfumes.
They are only ever released once, as the next year will be 3 different orchid fragrances.
The cym. sinense perfume has a slightly sweet musk scent (similar to the flower). Typically Japanese perfumes are not overbearing. They are sweet and light overall. Since these are only ever released once at Tokyo Dome and not sold anywhere else, they are instant collectibles!”
And how, also, if they are exclusively sold onsite at the orchid Mecca, did this unofficial boutique scent creep its way down the Tokaido line all the way to Fujisawa?
Was this, in fact, an illegal purchase?
If not, it probably should have been. As a perfume, it is dreadful. D’s pronouncement when I got home in the evening was was : “Foul” – a one word review, but I wouldn’t go that far. Part of me genuinely kind of likes it : a childishly potent peach pourri oil blended with mandarin, some greenery, and a mystifying, slightly unreachable florality lurking somewhere in the inner mists; on me, it smells a little like taking out a half sucked fruit boiled sweet and then rubbing it on your hand; but there is also a coquettish muskiness as well that I l know could probably be very seductive on the properly cutesy coy lolitagoth pretender. It’s all about the lace, and how you use your eyelashes.
Ultimately, I am not sorry I bought it. This scent is yesterday: embottled forever now, going to bed with an oversugared ‘orchid’ floating somewhere in my night conscious. And, like the bizarre fortune tellers booth I found in the corner of the semi-deserted restaurant floor at the top of the building later that day, the whole enterprise for me captures some of the unexpected (for westerners expecting only neon and robots and gleaming skyscrapers) dowdiness of Japan; its unwillingness to sweep away the cobwebs of the past; its embrace of the clandestine layers.