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!”

Who knew?

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.


Filed under Flowers

11 responses to “CYMBIDIUM SINENSE by SHISEIDO (2017)

  1. Hanamini

    Oh, that is funny; you’re so spot on about the dowdiness. My heart sank as I began to read the review as you said it wouldn’t be available except on site—all my Shiseidos so far, your recommendations, have been lovely, so I was dismayed I wouldn’t be able to get hold of this one—so what a relief to read that’s it’s somehow ghastly. Thanks!

    • Yes, the DOWDINESS. Don’t you think that this is the one aspect that people who haven’t been to Japan can’t possibly imagine before coming here? Me and D, of course, adore that aspect in some ways, as we were saying in that podcast the other day, it is as if whole swathes of the country are still stuck in the seventies, but on the wrong, rainy day, it can feel dusty and suffocating.

      Glad you saw my immediate attraction to this as an object; also that you definitively don’t need it. I associate orchid perfumes with a certain creaminess and voluptuousness (I once had a miniature extrait of Borsari 1840 Orchidea, which is shockingly curvaceous and comely, practically pornographic) – this is more like a wannabe sucking a peach lollipop with too much hairspray.

  2. Orchids naturally have an amazing variety of fragrances. Usually when a perfume states orchid as a note it is some sort of fruity, vanillic lily of the valley of varying intensity.
    I know what you mean about the 70s dowdiness in Asia. It pervades most homes, businesses, and government offices in India & Nepal too. Lots of dreary earth tones, dusty artificial houseplants, and overstuffed furniture here. Is Narita airport still a sea of oatmeal beige and puke pink?

  3. OnWingsofSaffron

    This „dowdiness aspect“ of Japan is really most intriguing! I find it quite incomprehensible when you look at videos from the imperial court. The empress dresses more or less like that SA in the photo of the orchid show; the palace (which we once visited) looks so unbearably drab, like some waiting area in a run-down airport far away. If one wants to up the dowdiness coupled with absolute mind-numbing boredom than a video or two of some imperial to-do, say the annual visit of the ambassadors to the emperor, will catapult you into instant brain death.

    • !!

      I had forgotten you had been here.

      The centre of the city – Ginza, etc, has its lacy frills, but is not dowdy. In fact it is magnificent in many ways with all the gleaming edificies and the technology companies. But the further you go out into the sticks, the dowdier it gets. I think Deutschland has some of this too though, as does England. Think of our charity shops and the furniture of the suburbs. And yet Japan goes a little bit FURTHER in preserving the detritus .

  4. I love that Japan has a dowdiness about it still. Having not been there, I imagine it being all either high-tech or ancient, but I forget there is so much probably stuck in that 60s and 70s blahness,
    Too bad the perfume wasn’t a fabuloous hit, but I guess everything cannot be a perfect winner. As long as it brings you some joy, that is all that matters.

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